30 days to go
A sad day for Camden politics, whatever your political persuasion.
THERE will be much more to write about the contribution that Frank Dobson made to Camden, so it seems almost inappropriate to include this on a gossipy election blog, but the day can’t end without a word for our old MP.
As the tributes came flooding in after news of his death was shared this morning, I saw some tweets from a couple of politicians I knew he could not stand and some from people who had not always been fair to him. It’s often the case that history is retouched in these moments.
But after 36 years as an MP, and before that time served on the council, Mr Dobson commanded an unusual respect from all quarters, even among those at odds with him politically.
Right now the Labour Party stands, let’s put it politely, slightly ragged by division but everybody today came together to acknowledge his service. I wrote about what I felt his strengths were when he resigned as MP; it was an unerring fact that somebody who didn’t tweet every achievement moments after they had achieved it was somehow far more interesting than those permanently glued to a screen. When he was at community events, you didn’t see him with a phone out.
Of course, that’s a generational thing, but you could feel that the community appreciated the undivided attention. I – we, the paper – appreciated his straight-talking too. The newspaper was thankful of his support when he was among politicians (from all sides) who helped stand up for the need for a local paper to exist when the old Camden Journal became the Camden New Journal. I was two at the time, so I can’t tell you what I saw. He was generous with his time, though, when I was a mumbling new starter, and when I finally got the hang of it years down the line we would occasionally have lunch where he’d share a lot of stories that began with: “This would have been before your time but…”
They were colourful and coarse, but fantastic history lessons from somebody who had soon it all.
This didn’t mean he didn’t answer harder questions from us, but truth be told the only ones he ever really tried to dodge were about how he felt about the mayoralty election in 2000 – it was wound he did not want to return to – and in his final 18 months as MP whether he was going to step down. He could sense an unseemly queue waiting to jump in while the seat was still warm.
I say that, but he was more than happy with the party’s choice of successor, and resisted being a back seat driver.
He was, of course, regularly attacked by some newspapers for living in a council flat near the British Museum. The flat had actually been bought up by the council while he was living it, part of a home-buying drive which meant Camden amassed more stock than most local authorities. While he was voted as the best health secretary of recent times, housing may actually be the part of his legacy which lasts longest, and whatever the disagreements over the current CIP, it was good that Mr Dobson saw ‘Dobson Court’ in Holborn open before he died. Too often, that’s the kind of tribute that only happens after somebody has died.
After nearly 40 years in the job, he deserves that recognition in bricks. I’ll think of his coarse, booming jokes and speeches about ‘fooking ratbag profiteers’ whenever I cycle past.
See Thursday’s paper for tributes from the people who knew him best.
THE LIFT ANECDOTE
FRANK Dobson was known for repeating his favourite anecdotes time and again. Writing in the CNJ in 2007, he included one of his absolute favourites in his tribute-obituary to Lena Jeger, his predecessor here as MP. Everybody has heard this one at least once. It’s only right that I include it in his own words tonight.
TORIES ON TOUR
SO back to the selections… yes we are 30 days away from polling day and we are still talking about who is actually going to be the candidates. Henry Newman, the Conservative councillor in Frognal, missed out on another safe seat selection in Wantage last night. There’s not really anywhere else for him to snap up now. Don’t write him off becoming an MP one day, though.
Elsewhere, a whole gang of local Tories are heading out into the field: Roberto Weeden Sanz, the London Assembly candidate is Barnet and Camden is standing in Doncaster Central, Mark Dormer is on the ballot paper in Leeds West and Marc Nykolysyn is the candidate in Nottingham South. Then there’s former Camden Council election candidate Sanjoy Sen – perhaps better known for his semi-final appearance on Mastermind – has been selected to run in the Welsh constituency of Alyn and Deeside. Havord Hughes, a former constituency chairman in Hampstead, will also be in Wales standing in Carmarthen East & Dinefŵr. There are probably more.
Then there’s the former Frognal councillors mentioned yesterday who are in with a good chance: Laura Trott in Sevenoaks (very good chance) and Siobhan Baillie in Stroud. The latter had some campaign help this week from Will Blair, a former parliamentary candidate in Holborn and St Pancras, and Camden campaigner Sam Dyas.
CLAUDIA LANDS IN LEICESTER
AFTER missing out on selection elsewhere, Islington councillor Claudia Webbe was placed by the Labour party into the hole in Leicester East left by astonished Keith Vaz‘s decision to step down. With a 20,000 vote lead there, she is almost certain to be an MP by Christmas. She said tonight, however, that she is undecided over whether to step down from her Bunhill council seat.
Ms Webbe, a Corbyn enthusiast, said: “It is too early for me to make a comment about my position in Islington. I am just very proud to have the opportunity to represent Leicester East, the area where I grew up and where my family still lives. My parents are not alive to witness this but my aunts and uncles are and they say they are proud of me.”
Resigning from the council before rather than after the general election would save Islington money, as a by-election could also be held on December 12. Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign agent and former mayor Kat Fletcher has already announced she is stepping down from the Town Hall, with a local poll in St George’s ward now scheduled to take place on general election day.