THERE’S an interesting update emerging tonight in the row from a few posts back about Labour Party members in dispute with each other over a) the future of West Hampstead, and b) the use of words like ‘quisling’ in the criticism of councillors and party policy. Former councillor Neil Fletcher had confirmed last week he was asked to apologise for his choice of language in articles published by the local press last year, but had declined the invitation to do so. An official from the party tonight says his refusal did not draw a line under internal disciplinary process (the length of time the internal review into this has taken had suggested to many it had) and that the issue is ‘still ongoing’ with further action possible. Mr Fletcher has said this would all be ‘news to him’.
ANYBODY who thought they might have seen the last of former Hampstead and Kilburn MP Glenda Jackson following her retirement from the House of Commons last year has been forced to think again. She’s returned to acting, and pops up everywhere, giving one grouch-laden interview after another to explain how her two-career life panned out. Most recently, she’s been giving her thoughts alongside a photo-spread in the US magazine Entertainment Weekly. They usually include some reference to how winning an Oscar is not worth all the fuss, which is perhaps easier for an actor to say when you’ve won two.
To EW, she explains her life living in her Telegraph columnist son Dan Hodges’ basement (which is apparently good for when he need babysitting), and reflects on how much harder it is for women to succeed in both politics and the arts than it is for men. The interview should come with a health advisory for some of our local Tories, however. Glenda, we find, is completely unrepentant about her Thatcher-knocking speech in the House of Commons which made them choke with rage due to its timing days after the former Conservative prime minister had died; it was her most talked about contribution during her final term as a member of parliament, and possibly of all time.
“Anything legal I could’ve done to get the stink of Margaret Thatcher out of government, I’d have a go at,” she tells EW, before moving on to her defence of that speech: “I didn’t expect to be called upon to speak. But I sat and listened to history being rewritten and I attempted to redress the balance a little. I didn’t go after her as a person. I went after her government and I stand by what I said and I always will.”
TENANTS living in a council block in Somers Town named after controversial British imperialist Cecil Rhodes have been asked whether they want the building named after someone else. The discussion comes amid a row at Oriel College, Oxford, over whether a statue of the Rhodes, often accused of sowing the seeds of apartheid in South Africa, should be removed.
Ward councillor Roger Robinson revealed last week that the name of the Cecil Rhodes House had been up for discussion among residents. He said: “They had a meeting about it and I think the conclusion was ‘what is the point in changing it after all this time?’ If it was up to me now I wouldn’t call it that now. But I completely respect the tenants’ wishes.”
WHILE a local leadership contest looms in Camden, another Labour local authority leader seems to have no problem with his colleagues knowing their place. Hounslow leader Steve Curran’s online diary reveals how the Labour councillors over there displayed Smithers-Burns levels of chocolate-nosed reverence last week by baking him a cake with happy birthday ‘leader’ icing. Because it’s perfectly normal, of course, to include the council hierarchy in a decorative drizzle sauce.
“Today was a big day for me, as it was my 61st birthday. After seeing to any urgent council business, I was able to enjoy a celebration meal with my family at the Foxlow restaurant in Chiswick,” writes Captain Curran, name-checking the boutique steakhouse where it’ll cost you a score for the ten-hour beef short-rib. “It was most enjoyable and to top it off, I received a birthday cake, courtesy of my fellow Labour councillors.”
[INSERT naff line about Zac Goldsmith insisting you won’t find him parroting the party line]
MAYORAL candidate Zac Goldsmith returned to Camden on Saturday to deliver a rousing soapbox speech to supporters in Belsize Square on Saturday. It’s not the first time his campaign trail has wound up in NW3 and wards which are already controlled by the Conservatives for a key weekend slot.
But for the same reason that Labour are pounding the streets in neighbourhoods which they already lead in, like Kentish Town and Somers Town, ahead of the City Hall elections in May, Zac and the Tories are out trying to reinforce support in its own strongholds. Both sides know this election is as much about getting their own vote out, as it is attracting new support. Days like this are aimed at ensuring there is no wavering or lethargy from people on their databases and clipboards marked down as likely supporters. It’s the kind of gee-up visit which the Tories may well have benefited from in Hampstead and Kilburn ahead of last year’s general election when the big name Conservative players stayed away despite the apparent marginal nature of their battle with Labour’s Tulip Siddiq.
WHY didn’t you censor our members’ letters? It may sound like a slightly curious premise to start a complaint to the local press, but sure enough that’s what senior figures in Camden Labour’s set-up wanted from us after accusing their colleagues of using Nazi analogy against them.
First Neil Fletcher, the former Kilburn councillor who was once a high-up on the old ILEA, used the word ‘quislings’ to describe local politicians in articles in both the Camden New Journal and the Hampstead and Highgate Express, and then Terence Flanagan, questioning Camden’s performance on affordable housing, reached for the words of a Nazi propagandist to say in the letters pages: “The cynic within me suggests that Camden’s Labour councillors have adopted the tactics often attributed to Joseph Goebbels that ‘If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it’.”
Such sentiments caused distress inside the party, but it seemed odd that those who wanted to make clear how angry they were about the choice of language from these internal critics seemed more cross that the newspapers had published the letters in the first place… than the fact they had come, not from rivals from other political parties or anonymous writers, but their own membership.
They were, it should be said, not commissioned by us.
Some members were very offended, particularly those with personal stories to tell, and yet nobody in the Labour Party felt the offence was of such concern that they enforced a sanction strong enough to stop it happening again. There were months between Mr Fletcher’s first use of the word ‘quislings’ – originally taken from the name of the Norwegian puppet leader Vidkun Quisling who did a deal with Hitler – in the New Journal and his use of it again in the Ham and High, yet on both occasions he was able to write as a party member.
His opponents were ready to hammer the local press for running them, but inside their own party the story goes that Mr Fletcher was asked to apologise, he declined to, and that was more or less it. And he’s still writing away as a voice from within the Labour membership.
There is clamming up when asked what other disciplinary measures have been taken – ‘we won’t discuss internal Labour Party matters etc etc’ – and Mr Fletcher says it would be ‘news to him’ if he was facing any suspension or expulsion threat.
Labour whip Richard Olszewski went on to call Mr Flanagan a “ranter” on Twitter, before fellow councillor Theo Blackwell wrote to both papers with his own comeback. If Cllr Blackwell sounded angry in the CNJ doing this, he ratcheted it up another notch for his contribution to the Ham and High: “Ranting Terry Flanagan likens hard-working councillors to Nazi propagandists, just as his buddy-in-anger Neil Fletcher has repeatedly baited us as ‘quislings’ about our attempt to build social housing on the site of the old council offices at West End Lane. It’s more evidence of the normalisation of such language within crank hard left circles these days.”
Crank hard left circles? Inside the Labour Party? Cllr Blackwell, who spoke up for Liz Kendall in the Labour leadership campaign won by Jeremy Corbyn last year, perhaps deliberately reveals the fault line here. Whether these very vocal critics really represent the hard left, or whether they even identify themselves as Corbynites is not known. Any thoughts about how the cranks these days may affect the selection of council candidates in the future is also a puzzle probably best left for another day. As is the whole question of the tetchy temperature in West Hampstead right now and whether the planning committee will truly be able to be seen to be making a fair verdict when 156 West End Lane is eventually decided after the divisive and public debate which has already taken place with some of their councillor colleagues.
It’s often said that if you want to check the pulse of a local newspaper, have a look at the health of its letters page. The breadth each week in the New Journal is one of the things that makes the paper a good thing. Sometimes people feel their letters have been cut too sharply but that’s just because we want to get as many voices in as possible, on as many different subjects. The most disappointed claim that criticism of the paper or its editorials is deliberately cut from public view, but there’s a whole archive of back issues at Holborn Library which show this isn’t the case.
But what about that Nazi analogy? Were the papers wrong to publish the comments in the form they were sent in? You wouldn’t just print anything, one councillor upset that they did go to press said to me this week. and they are right: No, we wouldn’t. Like we didn’t take ads from the BNP when they approached us.
The councillor, however, also pointed me to the internet theme, Godwin’s Law, in which it is suggested that once such language is deployed in an argument, then its user has as good as lost. If that rings the true, then the letters would expose a victory and defeat here, surely. The readers after all can make up their own mind about what they think of someone and their views from the language they choose, and whether the use of quislings and Goebbels is actually a sign of desperation and weakness.
My own view is that throwaway references to the war, Nazis, concentration camps and so on are used too often generally, and strangely enough often by people who are blessed with a natural eloquence. The respected polymath Jonathan Miller once suggested, for example, the market arch put up by the council at the start of Inverness Street Market in Camden Town many years ago resembled the gates of Auschwitz.
I used to live right by the overground station at Alexandra Palace and when they put up new fencing around the bridge, some unimpressed neighbour told the Ham and High in Haringey that the wire barriers looked like a concentration camp. I’ve never been to Auschwitz, but I’m guessing it’s got a different look and feel to Inverness Street Market or Ally Pally station.
I wrote a blog on all this then, finding from a quick scan of local newspapers across the country that there were people busy comparing holiday camps, housing estates, anything with an arch or a gate to concentration camps all over the country. You’d think everyone should be able to think of a better comparison or words to say they don’t like something, but there’s no doubting it has creeped into regular use. I can understand how that will be upsetting for many, but whether we are should censor it is an open debate.
In the end, in this case we come back to the point that we are talking about Labour Party members disagreeing with Labour Party members, and these correspondence were not a hate speech letter or an anonymous poison piece dropped through the door in green ink. Maybe the real frustration for those who blamed the papers this week actually lies with some of the people they will be sitting opposite at the next branch meeting.
SADLY, our press invitation to watch former Labour Party leader Ed Miliband’s latest return to Haverstock School (yup, he went back again) was mislaid in the post.
He was there this week as part of educational charity Future First’s Back To School event, and it would have been very interesting to see what questions the pupils had, and how he answered them.
FF say that under the scheme “lawyers to doctors, plumbers to caterers, architects to zookeepers, will return to their former state school for assemblies and workshops designed to help prepare current students for the working world”, and that Mr Miliband was there talking about his own career path and, quote, “the skills necessary to succeed in work”. At which point some of the all too cynical readers of these pages are will no doubt scream: But he’s neeeeever had a proper job, just politics.
Alas, the New Journal‘s absence means we are not able to tell you how the man who less than a year ago was asking to be our Prime Minister at a manifesto launch in the school’s hall went down with students and staff on this occasion, and what skills necessary to succeed they picked up
Instead we can only study a handout picture provided to the press. Everybody looks very attentive.
IT’S not just in Labour dominated Camden where a spot of internal unrest has bubbled to the surface. In Labour dominated Haringey, they may not be on the brink of a leadership contest, but the group has suspended one of its councillors. Gideon Bull, with 15 years service as a councillor, lost the whip after speaking out at a cabinet meeting against the council’s closure of dementia care and day centres.
“I’m deeply saddened and I don’t think this punishment reflects the democratic society we live in,” he says. “There’s no point being in politics if you can’t stand up for the people who can’t stand up for themselves.”
Those who supported his suspension say if he wants to take that line, he must also explain why he voted for the Labour budget, which included the proposed closures, alongside the rest of the group. They claim Cllr Bull changed direction when he felt the heat from ward constituents on the issue, but as all councillors are getting it in the neck over spending cuts pretty much all of the time, he should stand with them rather than against them.
Which version is correct? I don’t know, but in a way it doesn’t really matter because if you pop into public meetings in Haringey, talk to people who live there or catch the odd debate, the thing you will find that so often now clouds rational discussion on how the council uses its money is an underlying obsession with last year’s £80,000 spend on a new logo
Seriously, you hear that call-back time and again over there: They are shutting down day centres but they can afford a new logo. They can’t do this but they can afford a new logo. They’re cutting that but they can afford a new logo.
It doesn’t matter that in the grand scheme of multi-million pound council budgets, £80,000 may not be such a huge sum, and wouldn’t have been enough to save the day centres. But in spending money on something easily branded as frivolous, Haringey Council has unwittingly invited its own residents to robotically refer to it every time it makes a cut. Sensible, rational people seem to think, or at least act like, the black hole in local authority finances could all have been fixed if only Haringey Council hadn’t bought that bloody new logo.
In Camden, Labour councillors may explain their local cuts by shifting the blame onto government orders. In Haringey, they’ve surrendered this simple get-out line, because every time they blame the government, some bod will stand up at the back of the community centre and say to cheers and yelps… yeah, but you had enough money for a new logo.
The intentions behind the rebrand may have been worthy – even if to many it looks like a young child could have done better – but what a time to do it. On a local level, you could say it’s bit like Liam Byrne’s ‘no money left’ note, which the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition were able to reach for whenever they felt like they were losing the argument. But at least Byrne didn’t have to see his note plastered up on every passing bin lorry.
DEPUTY speaker Eleanor Laing could be found laying down the rules of the House of Commons this afternoon, insisting that MPs stick to the convention of not leaving the chamber swiftly after making a contribution. Far be for it to anyone to suggest that she’s been stewing over the wide media coverage devoted to a reprimand she allegedly gave to Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq last month. Those keeping up will remember how Tulip’s pals palmed details of an apparent exchange between the pair to the Evening Standard and others, and the resulting coverage came across as if Ms Laing was rather picking on her for being pregnant.
Unnamed witnesses claimed Tulip, who had left the chamber in search of a snack after a long wait to speak, was accused then of ‘playing the pregnancy card’ and in doing so ‘bringing down’ – wait for it – ‘the whole of womankind’. None of that can be verified as a 100 percent accurate record of their conversation, but the deputy speaker sure seemed keen to re-iterate this particular rule this afternoon…
AS a leadership contest looms in Camden’s Labour group with the emergence last week of Sally Gimson as a potential challenger, what happy chance for the current leader, Sarah Hayward, to find an interview with mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan purring about her performance. ‘Good interview’, Sarah perhaps unsurprisingly tweets, as she directs punters to the article in which Khan raps about her “brilliant leadership” of the council.
“Last week I was in Camden, under the brilliant leadership of Sarah Hayward,” Khan explains to Progress, the New Labour think tank. “They had a piece of land [and rather than] sell that land to a developer – where you can bring in big money to provide essential services – Sarah said, “We’ve got a housing crisis in Camden, we’ll keep this land, and what we’ll do is work with a developer to have half of homes on this site affordable homes for Camden, the other half for market value.”
Not in quotes, the interviewers add for good measure: “It is impressive stuff”. One of the Progress site’s regular writers is Sally; she writes sketches of PMQs and comment pieces for them. Quelle surprise, she’s not the author on this one. The byline instead goes to Progress director Richard Angell and Camden Labour councillor Adam Harrison, a former whip in Sarah’s administration.