Spooky spying on… the enthralling Kentish Town by-election of 2006

03-Sian Berrry credit Sven Klinge web cutout_0I ASKED Green Party mayoral candidate Sian Berry, who is likely to be elected to the London Assembly before the week is out, last week whether she agreed with current Labour member Tom Copley’s view that Buckingham Palace should be turned into council flats. She admitted to being a republican, and politely answered: “Well, the Queen does have a lot of palaces, maybe we could talk to her and one of them could be used for social housing”.

Chances are, however, that while she agitates for change she isn’t plotting a V For Vendetta riot through London from her Tufnell Park attic flat, where her close companion is a rescue cat rather than a Bond villain cat. Somebody at the Metropolitan Police is worried nonetheless, for when she asked see if it was holding any spy records on her, the answer left her feeling she had been put on an extremist watch list.

“I asked the Met Police to disclose any information held on me by their domestic extremism unit, or on Crimint, which is operated by the local borough police,” she reports. “The set of records they released earlier this month included a note of me signing an open letter about the Pope’s state visit in 2010, alongside other patrons of the British Humanist Association including Stephen Fry and Terry Pratchett.”

And she adds: “The most recent entry appears to be a reference to me speaking at Green Party conference last autumn, which could imply that the conference was being monitored, possibly by an undercover officer. It also includes details of a council election I fought in Camden back in 2006.”

You could forgive her for being a little spooked out by that last bit; it was a close call, three-way contest and as usual it kept the CNJ‘s letters page busy, but December 2006 was what it was, a council by-election. Just that. The most controversial thing about the contest in Kentish Town then was probably the murmurs of discontent in the Labour Party when Lucy Anderson, now an MEP, resigned so soon after Labour’s boroughwide local election defeat, a move which touched a raw nerve among those who still remember the rather humbling experience of four years in opposition. This is why if you get sight of someone like Theo Blackwell’s application to stay in the cabinet at the Labour Party AGM this week, you’ll see he makes sure it is not forgotten he was among those in the garrison when the party was fighting to come back to power in Camden.

Suddenly no longer a cabinet councillor in 2006 and with her Labour colleagues in Kentish Town defeated, Lucy said she had taken up a politically restricted job, stood down and the Lib Dems promptly landed another blow by winning the seat through Ralph Scott. It may be a little hard to believe now, but Kentish Town had been turned yellow.

As for the police and Sian, eight years is a long and expensive time to be keeping tabs on her, so long ago in fact that Labour candidate Reverend Sam McBratney’s campaigning on YouTube at the time seemed exotic in the pre-Twitter age, as this earnest paragraph from my reporting at the time suggests: “The YouTube website has become best known for bizarre home video clips showing cats opening doors and explosions created by dropping sweets into fizzy drinks. But Labour is now using the website to reach out to voters in the run-up to the December 7 by-election.”

Sian did not win, but went as close as the Greens ever have to winning a seat in Kentish Town that year. On the day of polling, I remember thinking you wouldn’t have bet against her winning after serious push which certainly had her rivals concerned.

But perhaps only her and, weirdly Scotland Yard, know the secrets behind her campaign.

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