WHO YOU CALLING VOTING FODDER?
IN Belsize, a key question is how will people living on the Chalcots estate vote on May 3 after last year’s evacuation crisis. Attempts to get to the bottom of what went wrong with the towers probably requires going right back to 2000 and, as the CNJ has called for, it needs a full, independent investigation without fear or favour to really get the answers we need. How could residents be left to live in unsafe conditions for so long? Who signed off what when? What was stripped out of the PFI deal in those early negotiations? Who inspected the final works? We could go on.
Nobody expects these questions to be resolved overnight, but since last June, tenants and leaseholders have more or often than not been told of new problems rather than hearing answers to the last ones. On top of this, there is the question of who is going to pay for the fire safety works. So riddle this: we have the Conservatives claiming the Labour council has failed the Chalcots tenants – see Gavin Williamson last week for example – while Labour accuses the Tory government of breaking promises made in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy.
There will be at least one independent candidate from the estate, Nigel Rumble, whose offer to stand for the Conservatives was declined but has stood as an indy before. There has also been a move from some tenants to publicly support Leila Roy, the only Conservative councillor who is standing again in the ward. She had the high-viz on and was helping out at the relief centre during the crisis last summer. She is being billed by some of the tenants as someone who will stand up to the council and her party tweeted sharply (perhaps due to a sense of insecurity) that if she is unseated by Labour on May 3, then the ruling party will simply get more “voting fodder” to back the decisions of council leader Georgia Gould and her cabinet.
This ward is meant to be a Labour target, so perhaps unsurprisingly such comments have drawn Labour candidate Sucharita Sethi into an open Twitter debate (partly with the estate’s Paul Urquhart) in which she suggests she would not automatically toe Labour’s line on Chalcots if elected as a councillor in Belsize. She is also honest enough to say she doesn’t understand what ‘calling in’ a cabinet decision means, the standard process of having a policy looked at again following a challenge by councillors.
She went on to say: “I’m not sure what you mean by calling in a cabinet decision. Speaking out against something is calling it in. If you are asking me whether I would resign the whip then I can’t answer that until I’m faced with that decision. I doubt any of the Tories would do that either.”
It’s not too outlandish to think if Labour do win seats in Belsize, then their winning candidates might get a special dispensation on the issue of Chalcots alone, a little like the way Keir Starmer and Tulip Siddiq were able to vote against Labour’s support for HS2 in the House of Commons without any major sanction. It should be noted that the party’s leadership, in general, still feels it has made the right calls on Chalcots and believes it acted decisively to make tenants safe.
The incidence of Labour councillors, however, actually voting against policy is scarce. This is one of the concerns being talked about in respect of any one party winning nearly every seat in the chamber; i.e. the risk that debate about policy goes on in that winning party’s private meetings (where opposition may be flattened out) rather than out in the open.
If we wind back to Monday’s full council meeting once more, part of departing Conservative councillor Andrew Mennear’s tribute to the sadly passed former Labour councillor John White was a reference to the night, a long, long time ago now, when Labour councillors rebelled against the closure of Chalk Farm library. There has more or less been a resolve within the party to not see a repeat ever since.
BRING YOUR MOTHER TO WORK DAY
RESIDENTS in King’s Cross had a famous face at the door this weekend, as author and columnist Kathy Lette helped her daughter, Georgie Robertson, with her election canvassing. Ms Robertson occupies the place on the ballot paper vacated by departing former council leader Councillor Sarah Hayward, although they perhaps come from different homes inside the Labour Party. The new candidate was “euphoric”, according to her mother’s tweets, when Jeremy Corbyn became leader and she is said to be still fully signed up to the cause.
“When [teenage daughters] go through that feral stage, it’s like living with the Taliban,” Ms Lette once said, with typical carefree honesty, about raising Ms Robertson. “The trick is to stay friends with their friends. My top survival tip for mothers of teenage daughters is, if she’s hitting and kicking and saying she wishes you were dead, take a drag of your ciggie and large mouthful of wine and say, ‘I’m doing my best, darling’. ”
“This is no April Fool’s joke – campaigned for Labour today when I could’ve been tucked up in bed eating choccies – a true labour of love!,” she tweeted yesterday.
THE DEATH OF APRIL 1
THERE was a real dearth of decent April Fool gags yesterday, perhaps illustrated by the Tory students at LSE who racked their brains and came up with nothing better than a tweet which said they would be backing Labour octochamp James Slater’s rambo mission to unseat the Tories in Hampstead.
JUST a reminder, as these pages will no doubt have brought out election fever, that although it says 31 days to polling day at the top of this post, residents have until APRIL 17 to actually register to vote. You can make sure you can take part HERE.
TIE flapping about, glasses on head, you can see the 27-year-old me really scrubbed up well to meet the PM back in 2006. It’s still amazing to think someone at Labour central office thought bringing Tony Blair down to Camden at the height of anger over the Iraq War would be a bonzer idea. There’s a nervous smile from Raj Chada, as he knows some of his own councillors disapproved of Mr Blair’s election campaign visit. After the party lost power in Camden a couple of weeks later – something which had seemed unthinkable four years earlier – the prime minister’s office phoned up Camden Labour to apologise to those who may have lost their seat to national issues.