THE honours system is a funny one: in our North London enclave, people often raise eyebrows about how the gongs are dished out and why, until somebody they like gets an award and then we are more likely to hear ‘I’m not a fan of the honours system but xx certainly deserves recognition’. This year the caper was particularly intriguing to watch from the outside as both a Labour and Conservative figure from our recent local politics was awarded an MBE, and the most uncharitable members of each side wondered at varying volume: What for?
In the case of David Douglas, or ‘D-Dog’ to his Conservative colleagues, Labour members were questioning, some publicly in the usual forums, why a party agent who had lost so many elections in Camden was being acknowledged with an honour; the timing – 18 months after Labour increased their parliamentary majority in Hampstead and Kilburn to five figures – was particularly provocative to those who still bear an election match grudge.
In the case of Theo Blackwell, the former Labour councillor hired by the Labour mayor Sadiq Khan to be the city’s tech guru, again there was muttering from past Town Hall foes: the shared IT deal with Islington and Haringey which has been abandoned since he left was mentioned in the whastapp groups, as was the wi-fi monoliths in Camden Town which the Ham and High reported last year seem most used by drug dealers and their slumped customers. Take a walk down there and see the queue. There is also that now familiar caution about the Community Investment Programme from a little group of his own former colleagues, but this criticism, beyond a recent housing scrutiny, is more commonly reserved for backstage chat.
Camden Council’s press office was quick to remind residents that Mr Blackwell’s long service in Camden amounted to more than any of the above. Giddy with festive excitement it tweeted out, with a dash of cringe, a ‘he’s one of our own…’ song in celebration (Spurs fan sing this in relation to Harry Kane) after listing ‘making us one of the leading open data councils in the country’, ‘transforming our working environment’ and ‘leading the way with outcomes-based budgeting’ among his achievements.
I should say no more, as even though most of the mentions of Mr Blackwell on these pages praise his time in Camden, despite his… let’s say blunt approach to the local press, the slightest hint that people who didn’t agree with him when he was here still don’t agree with him now could trigger another barb, and those scraps are hopefully now part of the past.
Better to congratulate them both then, if honours are your thing.
On a local level, they have something in common, and that has been resolute commitment to our politics over several years. Mr Blackwell was not a one-term, stepping stone man who was always angling to succeed Frank Dobson. He more than did his time in Camden, and most strikingly did so when Labour was out of power, as well as in. Some walked away from the fight when the Liberal Democrat and Conservative coalition took over in 2006, wondering perhaps how being frozen out for four years would effect their political careers. Mr Blackwell, while never leader, was one of the spearheads in Labour’s response.
Mr Douglas, meanwhile, toils on in what time again has proved to be a left-leaning electorate. Occasionally, he – and the Tories – have been on the brink of a breakthrough, such as Chris Philp’s famously narrow to Glenda Jackson in 2010, but he must feel like he’s pushing a mountain up a hill.
Both men’s durability in their own cause is not what they got them invited to the palace, of course, but, love them or hate them, they’ve left a big stamp on our local politics.