IT’S 45 days to go until Camden (and the rest of London) goes to the polls to decide who runs our local authorities, so it’s time to start up the blog’s election daily again, a quick morning briefing on how things are shaping up as we enter the home straight.
OWEN JONES’S UNOFFICIAL CAMPAIGN VISIT
JOURNALIST, writer and campaigner Owen Jones swept was a guest of honour for Labour in Swiss Cottage on Saturday, although please understand this was strictly not an official campaign event. Apparently, as with Dianne Abbott’s troops-rallying speech in the rain last November, members less associated with the group’s left-wing did not see much fun in hanging out with Mr Jones. You can play spot their ‘no-shows’ in the group photo, if you like. Perhaps, it’s easier to understand the ‘shows’.
The official reason for absences, however, was that it coincided with an ‘action day’ in the Fortune Green ward. Slightly ironically, there are members who think running too hard in that ward shouldn’t be the order of the day, either. Here Labour is looking to unseat Flick Rea, the enduring Liberal Democrat councillor who even survived the 2014 council election avalanche, but some insiders say resources – ‘without seeming arrogant about what will happen in Camden or anything’ – should now be going over the borough borders to Barnet and Westminster where whole Conservative-held local authorities are under threat.
Fortune Green is a sticky one, though, for the Labour leadership. If Cllr Rea was to hold on, with the help of a good personal recognition locally, it doesn’t automatically follow that the sitting Labour councillors, Lorna Russell and Richard Olszewski, would automatically be returned in the other two seats available. Any combination of ‘two from three’, when you add third Labour candidate Sorin Floti, presents a mild chance of the council’s finance chief, Cllr Olszewski, being, in cricket terms, accidentally run out by his own team. That’s a prospect the top table will not risk.
ANOTHER BREXITEER (BUT THIS ONE HATES HS2 TOO)
THE Conservatives also had a guest to keep the street stall troops happy on Saturday, with the arrival of MP Cheryl Gillan. She is one of the most vocal critics of High Speed 2 among the Conservatives in the House of Commons, so a good fit for colleagues in Camden where the train line has proved so controversial. Her views on Europe, however, will not tally with the 75 percent who voted for Remain across the borough; for here was another Brexiteer arriving on patch. Her assessment of our divorce from Europe reads: “The EU has consistently eroded national sovereignty and undermined the nation state, but most alarming it has been done against the will of the people.” Still, the Conservatives in Camden are not talking about Europe at this election. Altogether now, it’s about who will take your rubbish away, etc etc
ON the subject of street mess, the Tory team thought it had found the perfect illustration of the deterioration of our streets when they came across red Labour campaign balloons left unclaimed on the streets of Hampstead. Now, as you know, campaigns these days cannot just be about leaflets, hustings and kissing babies. You have to have a slick social media campaign too. So here’s campaign agent David Douglas on duty with a vid to go viral:
Hmmm…. but surely, with that smooth pin action just waiting for the call of ‘now’ from party leader Gio Spinella filming on a smartphone and that unmatchable pleased-with-himself grim once its popped, couldn’t this film have been jazzed up a bit?
WILL Labour’s hopes of gaining seats in swinging Belsize be hampered by more disruption and uncertainty for the residents of the Chalcots estate towers, the PFI-refurbed blocks which were evacuated last summer due to fire safety fears in the wake of Grenfell. When the evacuation began, Labour had not even picked candidates for the ward, so the then new council leader Georgia Gould became the main Labour focus for residents, and she responded by trying to meet them in their temporary accommodation, looking them in the eye, nodding sympathetically and stroking their dogs.
The constant delivery of bad news, however, has led to major distrust with the council. And let’s not forget, you can trace the sorry saga at the Chalcots, and attempt to make them safe and warm, back to 1999 and the first discussions over a PFI deal. At a residents meeting last Monday, Cllr Gould’s name was mentioned two or three times in terms of her council needing to be sent a clearer message about how angry everybody is; the latest update was the revelation that all of the windows need replacing and some of the curtain wall is inconsistent, an issue raised in the New Journal almost immediately after the evacuation nine months ago. “We also haven’t ruled out fielding candidates to run in the local election, so that all residents – those living across the ward, and not just on the Chalcots – have their voices heard,” said one of the leaders of the tenants association.
THE IDES OF MARCH
THERE was an outside chance of a spot in Pseud’s Corner for Andrew Dismore, the London Assembly member for Barnet and Camden, as he fired out a gleeful press release last week making sure everybody was aware that the Conservatives have effectively already lost control of Barnet Council after a deselected councillor, Sury Khatri, threw the Tory whip back in their face. People say this blog can be dramatic in the way it characterises our small world of politics in north London with all its talk of Haywardites duelling Tulipistas and coups and long knives and so on, but take a bow Assembly Member Dismore, the panache in his supplied quote outdoes anything on these pages. ‘The Ides of March’, inspired.
“How ironic that the Conservative backstabbing of three respected members should come to a head on the Ides of March,” Mr Dismore said. “The hubris, arrogance and nastiness that has come to characterise their administration in Barnet has come full circle. The rightwing coup has already started, and the next target for Daniel Thomas and his miserable men will be Richard Cornelius.”
It’s a page-turner in Barnet, and the next chapter should be interesting.
Each daily, will have a flashback picture, and let’s start with Cllr Rea. Sometimes it feels like some of us journalists at the CNJ have been knocking around for a long time, but she was here before any of us (bar the boss). The first Town Hall elections I covered were in 2002, which might sound like an old ham counting them off like World Cup appearances, if it wasn’t actually slightly weird to be reporting on the same council’s politics for 16 years. But there you go. From the count that night, here’s Cllr Rea celebrating Lib Dem gains with the sadly passed Jane Schopflin and Jonathan Simpson, who later defected to become a Labour councillor and has since been a long-term member of the cabinet.