RAJ Chada, the former Labour leader of Camden Council, wants to take over from former Health Secretary Alan Milburn as the party’s candidate for Darlington, according to the local paper covering the area.
No quotes from Raj himself appear here but the Northern Echo nevertheless goes to town with the full Chada biography in its article on the selection process. If it wasn’t the intention of the Echo to firmly establish Raj as an out-of-towner, it couldn’t have done much better if it tried.
The newspaper reports Raj is one of 30 candidates interested in taking over from Milburn, who over the summer announced his plans to step down as MP at the next general election. No wonder the big interest: win the candidacy here and you are more than likely on course for a seat in Parliament, whatever the Conservatives do on election day.
Raj, who was liked by both colleagues and political rivals and sometimes got ribbed for being ‘too nice’ and not ruthless enough, led Camden for only six months, just prior to Labour’s council election defeat in 2006. Friends say he simply did not have time to make his mark and it has been suggested to me many times that some members of Camden’s Labour Party wished his predecessor Dame Jane Roberts had moved aside earlier. They say he was handed a poisoned chalice and Camden never got to see the best of what he can do,
However talented he may or may not be, it will be tough getting the gig in Darlington. Wherever you go, whatever party you belong to, members in constituencies you haven’t already established a track record of hard work in hate to see one of their own – such as Milburn’s former researcher and current councillor Jenny Chapman – beaten to the line by someone who has hardly visited their town before.
And the Echo’s report may lift his name from the long list of candidates, making people more aware of his interest, but it threatens to do Raj more harm than good, casting him as a flash lawyer from London with an Oxbridge degree who has already tried but failed to win a nomination for a parliamentary seat elsewhere.
The comments which have already appeared on the Northern Echo’s website from one reader describing Raj as “a career politician, whom has no ties or interest in Darlington” and who “only wants to get on the expenses band wagon” is unfair. I always felt he could see through the hypocrisy of New Labour’s worst excesses and was trying to change the party from within. And he certainly isn’t in politics for the money either.
But the spikey first welcome in Darlington shows what a supreme charm offensive is needed when you drop in on a town at the last moment and try to win over the locals. Just ask former Camden Conservative councillor Mike Greene, who looked for all the world to be heading for the candidacy for a safe Tory seat in Bournemouth until local branch resistance appeared to stymie his efforts recently.
Even moving there from Hampstead and setting up home didn’t help Mike’s cause, so the message to Raj should be: Don’t up sticks just yet. A decision in Darlington is due on December 5.