WELL, well, well… Who did the Labour Party get to launch their council election campaign for target wards in the north west of the borough yesterday? Step forward shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott.
Less than six months ago there was muttering among the membership that her visit to the Hampstead and Kilburn during the general election campaign was deliberately downplayed (our invite got lost in the post) amid claims that the local campaign was worried that too many close associations with Jeremy Corbyn would be a turn-off on the doorstep.
Fast forward to Saturday afternoon and there were a hundred request for selfies with the Hackney MP – and it was Ms Abbott who was leading the election pep talk, suggesting that this time next year we could see Corbyn as prime minister. In the rain, they crowded outside the Waitrose in Finchley Road, a sort of flag in Tory territory. The Conservatives stand there every Saturday. In fact there might have been a placard fight for the upmarket supermarket vote if Labour had turned up a few hours earlier.
Ms Abbott suggested her party was on such a roll that it could even land the ultra-safe Tory territory of Frognal at next May’s council elections. What they are really targeting, however, is victory in Swiss Cottage which has been blue for the last two decades and a poke around in Belsize. The former is more attractive to the party because affable Tory councillor Roger Freeman is stepping down and Andrew Marshall, the former deputy leader of the council no less, sits as an independent after quitting over Brexit,
Labour’s Swiss Cottage candidates with Georgia Gould and the Tories in the same spot on Finchley Road earlier in the morning
It was an interesting turnout. Big, given the rain. Smaller than it might have been, when you thought about some of the faces who could’ve been there. Labour leader Georgia Gould was there though and told everybody how bad the Tories were. People with ‘ohhh Jeremy Corbyn’ stickers applauded.
Given the all around enthusiasm and election big talk, it seemed only right to ask Ms Abbott why Labour leaderships on London councils seemed to be controlled by people who were sceptical of Corbyn: think of the trouble we’ve talked about in Haringey, on our own patch Sarah Hayward was hardly a superfan of the Labour leader and Cllr Gould was among those who signed a letter calling for him to step aside before publicly changing her mind.
“I think most of them have changed their mind. I think you will find the party is now behind Jeremy,” Ms Abbott said, with a sort of straight face. “I think a lot of these council leaders have changed their mind and are all supporting Jeremy now and we are looking forward to a general election and having a great victory.”
She had departed by the time by Tory councillor Gio Spinella strolled up the road. His flat/comic cavern sort of overlooks the Waitrose battleground. The activists that were left hopefully shoved him some Labour leaflets. He laughed along, but if past elections are anything to go by, he will strike back with a large Tory banner across his second floor flat during the run-in to polling day.