A done deal? ‘They won’t countenance a Camden candidate’

IT’S not just in our local Labour Party that stitch-up claims and conspiracy theories are being shared, although more of those later: the process to find a candidate to stand for the Tories in the twin-borough constituency of Barnet and Camden at next year’s City Hall elections is also strangely fraught.

The party is down to a final shortlist of three to face final hustings later this month. The young Barnet councillor Roberto Weeden-Sanz, the Camden hope Ben Seifert and one from outside, Chingford councillor Emma Best. Absent is the leader of the Camden Tories Oliver Cooper, who applied but was squeezed out of the running when the list was whittled.

When asked why, it depends who you talk to but some Conservative sources say that the public tweeting of a historic Whatsapp cache by former running mate Hamish Hunter may have been below the belt, edited and an invasion of privacy, but has nonetheless had an effect among people friendly with those who were referred to in the messages.  A legal saga goes on (and a one-user hashtag CooperOut), with Mr Hunter not letting up with his grievances about losing his place on the ballot paper ahead of last May’s council elections.

The party is not commenting on any of that but says nothing untoward went on. This doesn’t stop Cllr Cooper’s opponents, some near and some moved on, from being anxious for somebody to ask: How can a candidate from Chingford get closer to this selection from the most senior Conservative in Camden.

The friction in this selection race is more significantly felt along borough boundary lines. From the outside, it is sometimes puzzling as to why anybody would want to be a London Assembly member. The debating chamber is often a drone zone with limited power to slow down the mayor of the day, as wrong as this may be. For the last two terms, Barnet and Camden has had a member who occasionally gave the impression that he would rather be back in the House of Commons. In the middle of his stretch, Andrew Dismore unsuccessfully tried to win back his parliamentary Hendon seat, describing ‘unfinished business’ he felt he had at Westminster.

For those hopping In the other direction from Mr Dismore, from the London Assembly to the Commons, James Cleverly and Kemi Badenoch recently, it may be a useful stepping stone but you’ve got to put in a lot of tedious hours to get there due to the mayor’s singular powers. And on paper, Barnet and Camden looks like a hold for Labour with a new candidate soon to be installed.

Ben Seifert standing in Highgate at last year’s council elections

There has always been a broadbrush view within the party that Barnet is roughly Tory and Camden is roughly Labour, and there are more people in Barnet so this should be a win for the Conservatives, however: Brian Coleman (pictured above with Lucy Anderson) won three times in a row until his behaviour became too polarising with his uncompromising and loose-lipped approach to politics. Labour probably could have put any candidate up in 2012 and won, with some evidence that voters were that day willing to vote for Boris Johnson for mayor but not for more of Mr Coleman.

By the time Dan Thomas, Barnet again, had a crack at winning the Barnet and Camden seat back, Labour were on the up and were so confident about success in our neighbouring borough a couple of years later that the story was put around that the blue council could fall to Labour. It didn’t, and the post-mortem included the view that anti-semitism controversies had punctured the mission and that Labour would struggle to do much better in the future while the Jewish community felt the issue was not being treated seriously enough. This is partly why the Tories, while outsiders, are not totally dreading the local side of next year’s elections, even if you could fit the number of candidates applications into a small binder (25).

The sore point on this side of the border, however, is the domination of Barnet over Camden in the selection process. A sort of ‘it’s our turn’ cry. Nobody from Camden has really had a sniff of standing over the years, and sources say they’ve watched the process develop again feeling that the ground has been paved for Cllr Weeden-Sanz to slot into position.

“It’s a done deal,” said one Tory source. “A total stitch up. A number of senior councillors didn’t put in for it, so the Barnet establishment  have said it will have to be Roberto this time. They won’t countenance a Camden candidate. Roberto is a talented young guy but we could have done with someone with experience and gravitas.”

Another said Cllr Weeden-Sanz’s “undisguised ambition” would not play well among older members and that Mr Seifert, a persuasive barrister, was likely to perform better on the stage.

But they added: “Roberto is the one to beat, purely because in the history of the GL, Barent and Camden has never selected a Camden candidate.”

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