Election daily: A pledge we’ve heard one or two times before

17 days to go…


CAMDEN Labour’s manifesto has a more of the same element to it, a point of frustration among some of the left-wingers looking for a more radical agenda. After breaking a manifesto promise not to reduce weekly bin collections over the course of these last four years and with uncertainty over how much money it will actually have to play with, the party seems keen to avoid too many cast iron promises in terms of figures and spending pledges. Maybe this is why one of their more interesting offers appears in a typeface so feint you can hardly read it, but it’s there: ‘Explore options for a school south of the Euston Road.’

It should be great news for the campaigners in Camden’s southern wards who have for nearly 15 years been trying to explain to anyone who will listen why the borough needs a secondary school for the communities there which fragment once their children leave primary school. There was an opportunity when UCL decided to sponsor an academy school, but the then Liberal Democrat and Conservative power-sharing partnership at the council helped place it in Swiss Cottage instead; a school now in direct competition with the Harris Academy (still regarded as QK to most of us) and Haverstock.

Two years ago, it looked like the ducks were finally all in a row to set up The Holborn School in Wren Street, but the Department for Education spiked the idea. I haven’t spoken to them for a while but the demonstrators who started this campaign, Emma Jones and Polly Shields, must have children doing exams by now. The dream that they might be creating something their own families could use had gone many years ago, but they plugged on with others. If they see this little mention in the Labour manifesto it will no doubt make them smile. But they’ve had too many glimmers of hope before. The question the campaign is still asking all these years later is the name of their website: Where Is My School?


WHENEVER Labour councillor Sally Gimson tried to move up a rung, to be an MP or the leader of the council, a whisper emanating from fans of her opponents would go around reminding everybody that she was married to a Tory, the former Daily Telegraph sketch-writer Andrew Gimson. Even in progressive north London, and even from some supposedly right-on politicians in Camden, the mean suggestion would be that Cllr Gimson is somehow told what to think by her blue husband. There have been numerous occasions when this has clearly not been the case and Mr Gimson, himself, has always looked puzzled at the idea that he could somehow politically gaslight his own wife. Appearing on Sky News at lunchtime to promote his new book, Gimson’s Prime Ministers, he provided more evidence as to who leads their inter-party marriage. “I voted Remain, not least because I was told by my wife that if I voted Leave then she would leave me,” he told presenter Adam Boulton. Cllr Gimson, a councillor in Highgate is standing down in May after some highs and lows which included falling just five votes short of successfully challenging for the Town Hall leadership.


THE chief executive of Barnet Council, Andrew Travers, resigned two years ago when voters were turned away from polling stations because of an administrative mix-up during the London elections. Problems in Haringey, revealed earlier today by Harry Taylor at the Ham and High, are not quite on that scale, but there’s still been an inauspicious start to the election operation in north London. Postal ballots have gone out there with incorrect instructions that tell people to vote for one candidate, when actually everybody gets three votes. The council said: “We have yet to receive any incorrect ballots. We are writing to all affected voters to ensure that they have the correct information.”


FORMER Liberal Democrat councillor Paul Braithwaite, who appeared in the Flashback section a couple of days ago with the ‘irritant’ t-shirt he proudly wore to the council election count in 2010, is still keenly interested in the outcome of his old Cantelowes ward on May 3. He quit the Lib Dems two years ago, as his vote to Leave the European Union was hardly compatible with the party’s position on Brexit. Mr Braithwaite is, however, endorsing Catherine Hays, one of the Lib Dem challengers looking to break through the Labour lockdown on the ward.

In fact, he has taken to hand-delivering his own leaflet across the neighbourhood.

“My opinion is that a community is best served by those who are a part of it,” his leaflet letter says. “The fact is that this time around all three Labour candidates in the Cantelowes election live outside of our ward – their new candidate Ranjit Singh being a long-term resident in the West End. Labour is, in my view, destined to achieve 45 (or more) of the 54 seats on Camden’s Council. But for democracy to function well there needs to be an active Opposition – to provide checks and balances. I know Catherine Hays would be an effective councillor. So please consider splitting your votes to help her get elected. There’ll certainly be plenty enough Labour Councillors in Camden.”

While the Lib Dems had seats here in 2006, Labour has been in command in Cantelowes for the last eight years and was one of the wards where its most popular candidate, Danny Beales, topped more than 2,000 votes.


NOT supposed to dip into football on these pages but Athletico Madrid vs Arsenal and their potentially crucial Euro semi-final has been scheduled for… the evening of May 3. Good luck knocking on any Gooners’ doors asking them to go the polling station once it’s kicked off at 8pm.


JAMAICAN prime minister Andrew Holness already had a trip booked to London before the Windrush scandal broke, but there surely will not be a shortage of topics of conversation when he meets the Queen later this week and then Prime Minister Theresa May. For a more relaxed meeting, he will be on the Kilburn High Road from 7pm evening when he appears at the old Gaumont State for what is being described as a ‘Town Hall meeting’. He will have to go some to invoke as much passion and anger as David Lammy, the Tottenham MP, in the House of Commons today. The video is below, in case you are one of the few left to watch his trademark start slow, get loud style. A little aside: the market odds on him becoming a future mayor of London were shaved very slightly as this went semi-viral on the web today.


ANOTHER old CNJ front page today: SOKX (Save Our King’s Cross). I think it was the former Labour councillor John Thane (but could be wrong) who described this as the most ridiculous front page headline we’d ever run. Camden was in the middle of squeezing in the final planning consent decision on the King’s Cross railwaylands redevelopment, just before the council elections of 2006. Many Labour councillors of the day see the cleaned-up site as one of their greatest legacies, as they walk past the Waitrose and into Granary Square. Go there this week and kids will be playing in fountains, with not a drug dealer or sex worker in sight.

There is, however, an argument that whatever went into King’s Cross it would’ve been an improvement on the brownfield hole in the middle of London. But if the application was coming through the system now, would anybody standing for election agree to only 750 affordable homes on the the biggest open site in the city? 65 acres! A large share of this affordable element were one-bed flats, it has been pointed out over the years, rather than the family-sized units which large numbers on the waiting list required.

Housing crisis back then meant the huge queue for council homes, a problem which got little national media attention in 2006, even though families were living in creaky bed and breakfasts while they waited for help. Fast forward 12 years and the term ‘housing crisis’ in London is now also used for young, middle classes who cannot find a starter home within their budget; all of a sudden it’s a headline issue (maybe some newspaper editors have seen their own grown-up children struggling to afford basic property).

Sometimes the lack of family-sized housing in King’s Cross is billed by the politicians of the day as a little CNJ bugbear, an obsession, and that somehow we are grumping on when actually King’s Cross has been transformed into a nice place to be. Nobody is saying it hasn’t, but it’s true that the housing element was a live debate across our pages. Labour’s own then MP Frank Dobson said as the council gave permission: “What I wanted was the best for people in Camden and Islington. People who come to see me in my advice surgery often want somewhere to live, they often want somewhere for their children to play, somewhere for teenagers to go. I don’t remember anybody saying they needed a new office block.” Ironically, the council itself said it needed a new office block a few years later and bagged a prime spot in the redevelopment.

Of the other Labour critics, Somers Town ward councillor Roger Robinson added: “We need large family accommodation as well. There is not enough of it in Camden. I can tell you that from the housing cases I have dealt with in the last few years. If we do not do this properly then we will have it on our conscience for the rest of our lives. I don’t want to be a part of that.” Planning panels are not whipped on party lines, but it would have been interesting to see what would have happened if the application had come to the committee a few months later, when some of the most enthusiastic members had departed the Town Hall at the May elections of that year.


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