Election daily: Mr Corbyn could not be with us tonight

28 days to go…


LABOUR will officially launch their manifesto next week after switching their launch event about on least three different occasions. Maybe they do not feel like they need much razzmatazz for the occasion, having been told enough times that they are all but assured of being returned in Camden on May 3. Anyway, it’s pencilled in for next Tuesday, possibly at the JW3 Centre on the Finchley Road. There is apparently no relation to this preferred choice of venue and the apparent decision by organisers not to invite Jeremy Corbyn to help kick off this final stage of the local elections campaign.

Mr Corbyn has done the honours in other London constituencies and beyond, but it’s not crystal clear as to whether he even got a text to check on his availability. The leadership insists there is not a policy of keeping the Labour leader away from the scene, even if more than 20 of Labour’s current councillors previously signed a petition demanding his resignation. There were also those not so subtle attempts to sideline him from last year’s general election campaign.

They are all friends again now however, so the story goes, and we are told it’s simply that members are happy enough to hear from Camden’s MPs, Sir Keir Starmer and Tulip Siddiq. Given they get updates from these two at constituency meetings, it’s hardly pushing the boat out though. Even the sometimes Camden-phobic Sadiq Khan is on not on the roster.


THERE’S more noise backstage about the possibility of Sabrina Francis starting in pole on the grid for Labour’s AGM, with a possible internal vote on who should become the next deputy mayor of Camden looming for the party’s successful election candidates. Deputy mayors nearly always graduate into the actual mayor the following year. Team Francis will tell colleagues that it’s about time Camden had one who is a black woman; she would be the first.

As it goes, given how proudly Camden Labour talks about its diversity on gender grounds, it took the local party long enough to select a black woman in a winnable seat anywhere in the borough. It’s all water under the bridge now, but Cllr Francis herself was overlooked for the clearly-winnable Gospel Oak by-election in 2013 before she landed in Bloomsbury ward.

You can flashback to May 1984 to find the CNJ reporting Paul Boateng telling a meeting of the Camden Black Workers Group that “it was a scandal that Camden Council still has no black councillors”. It’s been pretty slow progress over the 30 years that have followed. Could be wrong, but I can only think of six black councillors to have sat in the green seats: Cllr Francis, Awale Olad, Don Willliams, Leila Roy, Nancy Jirira and Jerry Williams. There must be more, surely, but it’s not a lot.

More pitches for deputy mayor when we hear of them.


THE Lib Dems have been demoted back down to only one councillor on a council chamber chart being shared by the Tories in the Frognal ward, almost as if the Conservatives are still aggrieved that their former leader, Andrew Marshall, now wears a yellow rosette. Even more interesting about their latest leaflet, however, is the borrowing of a CNJ front page from a couple of weeks back that read: ‘Wipe Out On Polling Day?’ There is some debate as to whether this is a helpful headline to the Conservatives or not; the most upbeat Tories say admitting there is a chance of a pounding defeat next month is not the most positive message to take to the doorstep.

Their leaflet also has some worrying aloud about ‘real committed socialists’ standing in the ward for Labour. For context, it’s worth remembering this is the Conservatives’ safest ward, rarely a place for such fearful messaging.


WHEN this blog first started, it was all a bit of an experiment, a way of noting things which were too trainspotter for the CNJ, a place for some sketches, a few light-hearted nostalgia piece and some analysis which a printed product, regardless of scale, would never have room for. I’m lucky it got a bit of a following because as devastating as it may be for a beat reporter like myself, the majority of residents in Camden – or anywhere else for in fact – do not care about what goes on at their nearest Town Hall. We do our best to get people engaged and there are good debates across our letters page, but more people still ask me about the football column on the back.

Similarly, as devastating as it may be for the people I write about, nobody really knows who they are, in the grand scheme of things that is, despite their doorknocks and street stalls. People essentially only find out who their local councillor is when they want something, or they become an MP. Given this niche nature, when I began doing this ten years ago it did not seem that I needed to worry about moderating comments under the articles, as the people who left messages were agreeing and disagreeing in the same spirit with which it was all written.

Then after a year or so, with traffic improving month on month (a bit of a surprise when you are writing about a minor spat over who will chair a scrutiny committee), comments began getting more abusive and when it turned into swearing at each other, often with a veil of eggy anonymity, I had to put a stop gap in. A moderating stage was introduced which naturally creates a frustrating delay for contributions to be published. The worst case here, by the way, was when somebody tried to impersonate one of our councillors as they left a message. However much you disagree with our local politciians’ choices and policies, that seemed like an astonishing thought pattern.

Some people think these pages are little more than stirring but my actual hope with comments is that they would form a constructive debate, with as many people contributing using their real name. This may also include criticism of my work or the paper – see yesterday’s comments about coverage of the Lib Dems. That’s healthy. Some of the use of anonymity really puzzles me, but everybody has their own reasons. I am in favour of free speech, naturally, but also in favour of people feeling able to speak freely, without fear.

There were already plenty of websites where any attempt at a public debate is undermined, intentionally or not, by repetitive jabs by the same authors. The same thing is now occasionally happening here. As such, the best thing to do is to close comments comments on some posts. I sort of want to show the stuff, by the way, that has been filtered out over the last 12 months or so. It’s not all about left wing politics. Some it so sharply personal, some of it plain rude. It’s a shame to have to change things , but a) the Labour Party in particular needs to umpire its own disagreements and it would probably be better if it did that face to face rather than on the comments on these pages, and b) it all made some readers fatigued, and I understand why. Some other measures now on the site include an automatic screening of some words so I will not even see the messages in moderation when they are used; you may be able to guess which ones.


TODAY’S flashback is in honour of West Hampstead Life, the hyperlocal blog which announced it was finishing up earlier this week. This site, particularly on its main first run under Jonathan Turton, was a sort of template for how hyperlocals should probably work, mainly I think because the editor did his best to draw in the whole community and not just people who could afford £10 lunches and like cocktails. One of the site’s triumphs was its ability to stage some great election hustings. In this photo from from four years ago, West Hampstead Life packed the Emmanuel School hall with punters and the parties responded by sending a whole cast of candidates. You can play where are they now with the panellists. In the meantime, best of luck to Jonathan and his family with their new projects.


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