Election Daily: ‘Don’t start all of that’

40 days to go

UNITED FOR THE ELECTION?

KEIR Starmer launched his own campaign to be re-elected in the hip Camden Collective building in Camden Town yesterday surrounded by a group of people who clearly love the fact that the director of public prosecutions is their MP and are more than happy with the choice they made when Frank Dobson stepped down.

His admirers are not supposed to say they hope he will be the next leader of the Labour Party out loud but occasionally it slips out in conversation. Even those who have been frustrated by the party’s Brexit position(s) over the last three years, do not seem to blame the party’s shadow Brexit spokesman for the confusion. He has done his best, they will tell you, and that he’s been working at times with people who are comfortable with leaving Europe and that he could never have said what he really thinks all the way through.

Out with the leaflets and knocking on doors, people in the street are allowed to tell him that they want him to lead the party without breaking any Labour party discipline or loyalty rules. It was happening yesterday when I watched one of their canvassing sessions. One woman asked for a selfie as she encouraged him to take the reins. “Don’t start all of that,” he said. But this kind of thing happens too often for him to pretend it doesn’t.

Mr Starmer is adamant that the party always stops fighting itself once a general election is called. In those terms, it could easily be forgotten that Camden’s Labour council group has called in ‘conflict resolution experts’ to mediate between sharp views and his own CLP’s meetings are more or often than shoutfests, full of last wordism from both ‘sides’, which some people have given up going to.

At his launch, it was not easy to pick out many Camden Momentum members or councillors from the left-wing caucus at the Town Hall. But when asked how some members could go from  arguing debating among themselves to working together to make Jeremy Corbyn the prime minister, Mr Starmer insisted that they were all in it together.

“I hope what you will see here is different sections of the party,” he said. “This genuinely is a mixed group, and I hope that reflects the fact that I’ve managed to work reasonably well with everybody in the Labour Party, whatever position they take.”

He added: “I think the way in which the party has pulled together since Tuesday is a reminder for everyone. It happens at every election, and we forget it happens, which is we can certainly have an argument about a thing or two, and we do, but as soon as an election is called, something profound happens in the Labour Party and people massively pull together. That happened immediately after the election was called and we’ve got off to a really strong start I think.”

THAT OTHER SELECTION CONTEST

THE longest local Labour selection contest in history – it feels like – is likely to stretch into the new year with the party still without a candidate to stand in the Barnet and Camden constituency at next May’s London Assembly elections. The process has now been suspended so not to distract from more pressing matters.

First things first, of course, but people are still going to be asking for your vote well into 2020, at least, with the city deciding who the mayor and their assembly members should be. Who knows, depending on how things fall we may also have a second EU referendum, internal leadership elections and don’t even think about ruling out endless further general elections.

The looming ballot on December 12 may make working out who stands in Camden and Barnet, where London Assembly Andrew Dismore is stepping down, seem a little small fry but somehow the Tories, Lib Dems and Greens have managed to get candidates in place while the wait drags on and on for Labour.

RACE FOR TWO CITIES

CHUKA Umunna, the former Labour MP, ex-Labour leadership candidate and co-founder of The Independent Group/Change UK (you can’t blame him for briefly forgetting which party he’s now in earlier in the week), must be licking his lips after landing in Two Cities and finding both the Conservatives and Labour without a general election candidate yet.

Frogmarching Tory MP Mark Field is stepping down and Labour candidate Stephen Saxby was suspended after allegations of sexual harassment (which he denies).

Perhaps it’s an unsurprising then that Mr Umunna, now a Lib Dems, has become the favourite among some guessers to win the seat from the Conservatives. It could be one of the most intriguing seats in London.

The Tories are to fill their vacancy by holding a quickfire candidate selection contest featuring Westminster City Council leader Nickie Aiken and two of her Tory group councillors Antonia Cox and Tim Barnes. The latter stood in Holborn and St Pancras last time and is well known in Camden but has found it’s easier to make in-roads in the Conservative-held neighbouring borough. He’s also a cabinet member there, and seemed to be loving life at the council when I bumped into him at the party’s conference in Manchester. A decision is due later today.

As his party are looking to win this election to get Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal through, I’ll be cheeky and use the photo of Mr Barnes, who was a Remain voter, looking up at the ceiling in despair on the night of the EU referendum count at the Camden Centre. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then.

TRACY-ANN AND THE ‘SO-CALLED HERO MPs’ 

DESPITE the hand-shakes and selfies in Camden Town, don’t be fooled into thinking that everybody loves Keir Starmer. You know about the left-wingers who fear that he is biding his time to take over the party. Then there’s moments like this:

The former Eastenders actress Tracy-Ann Oberman, who has spoken out many times about the way she thinks the Labour Party has failed the Jewish community, suggests in a tweet that Mr Starmer said three years ago that “Corbyn would soon be over” in a private conversation. That’s a cutting claim from a well-followed and well-known celebrity, and one that will upset Mr Starmer and his supporters. As I understand it, it’s not accepted that Mr Starmer has ever talked about Mr Corbyn in these terms at all.

She goes on to describe Jess Phillips, Wes Streeting and Yvette Cooper as “so-called hero MPs”.  In Camden, anger over the party’s anti-semitism controversies appeared to have no effect in voting terms in the 2017 general election or last year’s council elections but will it be a greater factor this time around?

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