THE CNJ got a little bit of stick on its own letters page for not being at a Labour Party meeting on the fallout from the EU referendum a couple of weeks ago, as we were reminded that no issue is more important than Brexit and of the high public interest it holds in Europhile Camden. Suggestions that we have ignored the issue seem a little unfair. Before the meeting, we more or less printed what the meeting’s host, Holborn and St Pancras MP Keir Starmer, was going to say through an interview and by publishing his opinion piece. Our coverage actually helped boost attendance there, but the dilemma for a paper like the New Journal lies like this: Local newspapers can’t survive on just reheating news and debate which has already been widely published elsewhere in the national titles and news websites. We must look for new, local aspects on what is a giant national and international debate, which is not always easy. As Labour’s official Brexit spokesman now we can’t expect Keir to reserve each of his breaking thoughts exclusively for us, as nice as that would be, but if he has said all he has to say to Robert Peston and Andrew Marr on Sunday, we can hardly run it all again at the same length four days later in our paper, to give one example. Everyone would soon stop picking it up.
I was reminded of this scalding for missing a meeting of such high public interest last night, when the both important and now vogue topic of air quality was discussed at the grandly named Camden Air Quality Conference. Sure enough there was a healthy attendance, with no green seats spare in the council chamber, and the event seemed a sensible way of opening up dialogue between worried residents and environment chief Councillor Meric Apak. While there was frustration at the speed of action, there was a real sense of public unity in the room too, against a common enemy. Again, Keir was on hand to chair a question and answer session, but, looking around, most of our other local politicians were no-shows. As far as I could see, only Meric, Paul Tomlinson, Danny Beales and Samata Khatoon were listening in to the public’s first hand concerns and suggestions, with the cameo sights of Julian Fulbrook and Jenny Headlam-Wells by the water cooler for short periods. The lack of any more of our elected politicians being there to hear views on what is supposed to be a crisis issue seemed to be noticed in the public seats by Paul Braithwaite, who of course used to represent Cantelowes ward on the council. No longer a councillor – nor for that matter a Lib Dem – he defiantly holds on to the Twitter handle @AQCouncillor – or Air Quality Councillor. On this turnout, you wonder if there no serving councillor interested enough in the challenge to take that title from him?
Or maybe our councillors felt they knew what was likely to be said at this conference. A bit like that EU meeting the other night.