Election Daily: The last days of Left Wing Corner

58 days to go

SMALLEST OF ACTIONS

PERHAPS a tissue of irony was missed as the councillors stood for a minute’s silence in the chamber last night, remembering one of their predecessors, John MacDonald, whose passing had been announced by the mayor.

While there were warm words to be shared, some younger members may not be aware that Mr MacDonald has in recent months compared the bars on certain Labour councillors from standing again at the 2022 elections with his own story two odd decades ago. One of his scrawled letters came through to the office on what seemed like just the other day; and I gather we weren’t the only recipients.

It wasn’t a direct parallel with the Swiss Cottage councillors now, two of whom have effectively been frozen out by the party machine with the other stepping down voluntarily but disillusioned. Like them, Mr MacDonald had won in a ward where victory was not guaranteed, but then was not allowed to try and defend his seat; the quarrels, as ever, were about planning and alleged disloyalty.

I think he liked being cast as one of Camden’s ‘awkward’ characters, even if he remained sore about how he was effectively deselected in Swiss Cottage in the 1990s.

The chess enthusiast irritated his old colleagues back then by signing up as an independent candidate but with the more than mischievous registration: ‘Labour councillor seeking reelection’. Rulebooks had to be checked and so on, but it was allowed to pass and it split the vote to allow the Conservatives enough room to gain one of the seats; an omen that the current Tories will hope can be repeated in some form in the new South Hampstead ward.

Maybe it was time to read between the lines when the council’s deputy leader, Labour councillor Pat Callaghan, spoke last night.

“John wouldn’t hold back,” she said. “With a wicked gleam in his eye, he would hold forth on a subject he knew would provoke raised eyebrows. And he often did – but John, who grew up in relative affluence was always true to Labour values.”

The Conservative councillor Gio Spinella was a little more explicit about what went down.

“I don’t know if it necessarily is what Councillor MacDonald would want to be remembered by, but I am reminded that it was his act of rebellion in the 1998 local elections, which ironically, led to the election of one of my friends, Steven Hocking as the first Conservative councillor in Swiss Cottage,” he told the room.

“No matter what personal connection I might have with him, I was always reminded of this element that the smallest of actions, decisions that any of us can take, can have consequences even in the world of local government and politics.”

LEFT WING CORNER

THERE were no last hurrah fireworks from Left Wing Corner at the full council meeting.

Councillors who have been told they are not wanted either stayed well away (a continent away) or came along and carried on voting for the Labour budget plans. As much as the anger persists over how a record number of seven councillors have come to be told they can’t be candidates again by their own party, the line was: let’s be dignified about this.

The Tory leader Oliver Cooper tried a bit of goading, reminding the room that Leo Cassarani had said only ‘yes men’ were welcome on the ruling group’s backbenches but he did not bite.

Instead, Cllr Cassarani sat with the rest of the room and watched Awale Olad and Jenny Mulholland deliver last-game-of-the-season softballs to Georgia Gould and Angela Mason.

The fact that those-who-must-be-defeated were being the opposite of a naughty awkward squad was perhaps meant to show that they did not require being boshed out with such blunt tools; no council vote for Labour over the last four years has fallen, after all, due to their contrasting worldviews on Labour’s meaning.

It’s been said once or twice since autumn, but imagine if today’s process was applied to the Labour rebels who ignored their party whips and voted against library closures at the end of the 1990s; the old giant Phil Turner recently said that while he didn’t think so at the time, those who broke through the lines had done the right thing.

It still remains the starkest example of any real uprising from within. Nothing Left Wing Corner has done comes close.

Last night, the exception to the dutiful behaviour was Simon Pearson, the last of the seven to learn that he will be barred from the ballot paper (as a Labour candidate).

You can find Labour loyalists who privately think Cllr Cassarani was dealt a particularly harsh wallop and I have sometimes over the last couple of months come across some strictly cloaked sympathy for Paul Tomlinson too, but you’d do well to find a Gouldian (or anything close to a Gouldian) blinking twice about Cllr Pearson.

His recent letter to the CNJ suggesting Greens would be laughing all the way to the ballot box because the Holborn and St Pancras CLP voted against recruiting a new climate change officer was the latest triggering move.

His hand went up to speak in the budget debate but we will have to guess what he wanted to say, as amid the usual long trail of grandstanding speeches he wasn’t called by the mayor.

Of course, those around him thought this was deliberate; councillor Sabrina Francis insisted it wasn’t. Then, when it came to the votes, he ignored the party lines to vote in favour of both Labour’s budget and the Green amendment.

And, apart from a huddle in the Simmons cocktail bar on Camden High Street afterwards, that was the fizzling end of Left Wing Corner in the council chamber.

The gesture small enough to hardly register with those who march on with the party now; for those who it did, they shrugged their shoulders and moved onto the next report.

I’M NOT GONE YET…

OFFICIALLY, the former mayor Roger Robinson is in the list of Labour councillors stopped from standing again in May, but the local organisers see his case differently.

His enforced departure has not really been about partisan politics or crossed swords, and more for concern about how demanding another four years could be for a councillor who has astonishingly already done more than 50.

Nobody deserves a proper send-off more than Cllr Robinson and he is due to become an alderman of the borough; an honour which Camden is normally a little stingy about giving out.

A party will no doubt take place on the other side of the elections but there was a panic when he stood up in the middle of a finance report last night; was he leaving the last scheduled meeting without a proper thank you?

Cllr Tomlinson quickly interrupted and instructed everybody to start clapping. It’s not quite clear whether Cllr Robinson was simply popping out to the loo or examining the attendance book. He seemed a little perplexed to look around to see and hear the ovation.

I hope he was touched by it, at least.

He then sat back down, and the meeting continued. 

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