March for the Whittington

WHAT a day, an amazing, truly inspirational day.

The sheer number of people who came together in north London on Saturday should not have been so astounding – the cause is a worthy one – but in the end the never-ending train of protesters who stopped the traffic in Holloway was overwhelming. They came in their thousands. How can anybody still have the stomach or the heart now to close down services at the Whittington Hospital in the face of such public distress?

From the front of the march, you couldn’t see the back. From the back you could only just about see the top of the bus the New Journal and Islington Tribune hired to lead the way to the hospital. And by the time the whole procession had made it to the Whittington’s front entrance, a few of the speakers had already spoken. No exaggeration, this was a sea of objectors. There were some seasoned marchers of course, arriving with loudhailers, but more on this march were people who had seen the poster, read the story or been told in the cafe about plans to cut the Accident and Emergency department – and felt moved to take to the streets. To be heard saying: ‘No, this is not alright.’

It didn’t matter what political party you vote for, whether you came from Camden, Islington or Haringey, what local newspaper you read, or what personal reason you might have for holding the Whit in high affection. With each step of the walk, past the Emirates Stadium and the Nag’s Head, the numbers seemed to swell.

At one point, the split-splat rain grew heavy. It made no difference to the mood at all. The jazz band on the double decker just kept playing, Red Jen’s band did the same halfway down through the crowd.

By the time the politicians took to the stage outside the hospital, the sun was peeping through the clouds and in their puddle-drenched shoes, these men, women and children were going nowhere. This was defiance. A message in bold human form that you can’t just decide to take away a cared for hospital service without a fight. Even if the ‘administrators’ weren’t there to see it, news of the size of this gathering will already have got around to the highly paid architects of these cuts.

Peter Gruner, the Islington Tribune reporter, whose brilliant commentary on the mic from the top of the bus,raised more than one smile on the path to the hospital, joked: Whittington turn again. You could see the cliche coming from Highbury Corner, but there is still time for the number crunchers to think this one out again. There’s a people’s army who want to see another momentous change of heart on Highgate Hill.

An invite to the main stage

DAVID Cameron’s just finished his Spring conference speech in Brighton, delivered as we were repeatedly told by his party press people without notes. This crude freeze-frame from the Sky News coverage shows how he gathered the big names in the Conservative Party, their familiar faces to sit behind him as he made another pitch for Number 10.

See. There’s George Osborne (Shadow Chancellor) and William Hague (Shadow Foreign Secretary). If Caroline Spelman (Shadow Local Govt Secretary) and Grant Shapps (Shadow Housing Minister) craned their necks a bit more on the left hand side, then you could pick them out too. Bang right behind DC is Baroness Sayeeda Warsi (Shadow Community Cohesion Minister), she of pointy eyebrow and tackling-the-BNP-on-QuestionTime fame. With a steely stare – or maybe an itchy nose – she actually looks horrified here as to what she’s hearing. Hey, I admitted at the start, it’s a crude freeze frame.

But look who else has bagged a prime position behind the potential prime minister. That’s right (* exaggerated blink, rubs eyes, blink again *) it’s George Lee, an unlikely outsider standing against Labour’s Frank Dobson in Holborn and St Pancras. The Tories must know that his chances of becoming an MP this year are slim – he won’t be in Cameron’s first cabinet if the Tories win. So how did he scoop a slot on the main stage and in a chair where the cameras couldn’t miss him?

Chris Philp, who has a far better chance of getting elected for the Tories in Hampstead and Kilburn, must be green with envy. Where was his invitation to the main stage?

Tamsin: The first weekend

TAMSIN Omond’s big arrival in the Hampstead and Kilburn election race has yet to make the big splash in the newspapers. The Evening Standard gave her a large picture and story on Thursday but her candidature hasn’t tickled any national newsrooms… yet. News editors must still be weighing up whether she is a big story or a time-waster with little chance of winning the seat.

In her first few days as a PPC, Tamsin had to spend her time answering questions from Green Party members rather than journalists. She has found herself having to reassure them that she is not really trying to draw votes away from Green Party candidate Bea Campbell. Apparently, it’s the people who don’t vote, she’s trying to engage with, yeah, not people who already vote Green. Right. Got it.

This offbeat (nothing wrong with offbeat per se)  approach was confused further when she asked her Twitter followers whether they wanted her to spend her Saturday on the Save The Whittington Hospital march or canvassing in Brighton for Caroline Lucas. That’ll be the Green Party leader and MEP.

While she says she wants to be galvanising a united army to take on the political system head on, she appears to have antagonised people who might have been expected to ally with an ‘Eco-Suffragette’. And as she plumped for the march and protest for the Whit yesterday afternoon, a hacked off Wikipedia editor (that sounds ground but anybody can edit Wikipedia) was somewhere else tapping ”posh’ and ‘chronic show off” into her entry. The changes were removed by one of the encyclopedia site’s volunteer vandalism-spotters earlier today, but you can see the mischief below.


Although anybody can edit Wikipedia, you can see the number of the computer what done it. Search for the location of that computer and it’s not in Hampstead and Kilburn, but somewhere near Glasgow. Maybe she’s not just a news story in north London.

Confused Clegg?

Nick Clegg's letterSPEAKING of the Liberal Democrat tilt at Hampstead and Kilburn, the party’s famous leaflet factory has fired out another despatch. This time it’s a personal letter to voters from the party leader himself, Nick Clegg. “We need real change and we need it now. Here in Hampstead and Kilburn, only the Lib Dems can deliver that change,” he tells us.

But have a squint at the postcode. NW5? Kentish Town? Last time I looked at the constituency boundaries, people in Ryland Road don’t have the chance to vote anybody in Hampstead and Kilburn. They. Don’t. Live. There!

Holborn and St Pancras candidate Jo Shaw must be wondering why Clegg isn’t using letters like this to tell people in Kentish Town about her constituency and her chances of unseating Frank Dobson.

Clegg Letter


TO the Pax Lodge in Hampstead on Thursday night where money-know-all Vince Cable was speaking to Camden’s crowd of Lib Dems. It was a public ask-me-anything event but the chairs were filled with admirers rather than opponents. It’s worth noting there were actually a few people in the audience who I had always recognised as thick-and-thin Labour supporters clearly now sporting Vote Ed Fordham stickers.

As the wine flowed, the response to Cable’s responses grew louder. The most determined cry of ‘HA!’ came when he said big businesses could not be expected to be bailed out by the government if they folded in the recession, regardless of the jobs they accounted for in the British economy.

Although there is no sign that this would happen, Tesco was used as a hypothetical suggestion by one questioner. Cable was quite that there would be no bank-like bail-out for a company even of that size. Then came the ‘HA!’

But who was behind the harumphy ‘HA!’ from the back rows?

Could it have been one of the NW6 councillors who noticed recently a discrepancy in Tesco’s application for an alcohol licence in its new Fortune Green store? The chain, who faced opposition in the area from the start for wanting to open up yet another new branch, failed to put up a public notice for the application. This triggered a complaint which in turn means it must now wait to see if it will be allowed to sell booze there. That’s a crafty opposition at work.

Ping pong politics

BACK to the ping pong: Gordon Brown had a big chancellory grin as he lost at the New Horizons youth advice centre in front of the cameras ten years ago (see Brown’s backhand). But it turns out the vote-winning act of playing table tennis in a suit and tie is an everyday part of politics. Like a rite of passage dreamed up by a this’ll-make-a-great-picture press officer, you can’t get elected unless you have a trial on the table tennis table. All apart from Barack Obama, who gets to just sit at his desk and be applauded for having a couple of bats in the White House.

Tony BlairBoris Johnson

Parking chief: I deserved to be towed

CONSERVATIVE Chris Knight was pretty candid when we talked parking at the House of Lords on Tuesday. He told how he copped £260 in parking penalties recently when he parked on a junction and his car got towed.

But the man with the final say over Camden’s parking policies – he is the ‘executive member for environment’ – reacted differently than a lot of drivers who get hit by tickets and the tow truck in these parts. He quickly pointed out: “I deserved it!”

I asked him whether he will still be environment supremo after May’s elections where he faces a wrestle with the Lib Dems to keep his Hampstead Town ward seat. He didn’t look the slightest bit worried, shoving him me a smile like I had asked him the most ridiculous question in the world.

Brown’s backhand

Gordon Brown

SARAH Brown helped open the new-look New Horizons day centre in Somers Town on Tuesday. While cutting  the tape, she recalled her last visit to the service in 1999, then accompanied by her husband: Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister. She said her hubby that day loved his game of table tennis even if he got “thrashed”. So before that ineffective paddle-swiping gets forgotten in the pages of history, here’s the snap of Brown which featured on the front of the Camden New Journal in March of that year.

As newsreader Jon Snow, one of the biggest supporters of New Horizons looks on, Brown looks like he hasn’t got a care in the world.

The revolution will be televised

CLIMATE Rush activist Tamsin Omond will undeniably provide some excitement to the election campaign in Hampstead and Kilburn. Who’s to argue with her idea of getting MPs to do one day of community service every week?

Exciting. But if I was any of the candidates already running in the constituency, I would be most excited if I was Conservative Chris Philp. If Omond’s campaign gathers steam – Katie Davies’s exclusive interview in the Ham & High today suggests she has the supporters and drive to have some impact – it will surely be Labour, the Green Party and the Lib Dems who could see a share of their votes suddenly sucked away.

Chris Philp’s core support is less likely to be distracted, however eloquent Omond makes the case for grass roots MPs who spend more time in the community than Whitehall.

In this sense, Hampstead and Kilburn is not the most obvious place to confront the main parties head on. Full marks to Omond for standing in her home patch – take note Luciana Berger et al – but who’s the target here? Glenda Jackson? Sure, residents in the north of Camden think she’s been thin on the ground but is she so behind the times on climate change politics? Beatrix Campbell was meant to be one of the Green Party’s best candidates in London, and Ed Fordham, the Lib Dem man, has repeatedly promised to put the politics of the environment first. Are they really the bogey men and women that need beating at the ballot box first?

Cynics would say the press coverage, not just on a local level, is too hard to turn down for independents in this particular constituency. In the coming weeks, Fleet Street will send their correspondents here (expect lots of stereotypical ‘colour’ features about Hampstead voters and what the punters in the Holly Bush are saying and the views of NCT new mums). The possible fall of Glenda Jackson, an Oscar winning actress who has reigned supreme for so long in NW3 and environs, will be a media event. On election night, cameras will be zeroing on Glenda as she takes the stage to hear the results. Her opponents dream of a ‘Portillo’ moment.

Omond and her team, whether they somehow collect a significant number of votes or not, will bag maximum exposure in the crossfire. She’s proven she is capable of causing a stir and making sure the cameras are pointing in the right direction – think scaling the Houses of Parliament – when she does. One thing’s for sure, her revolution will be televised.

Is the champ standing?

WE can’t stand the tension: is energetic Lib Dem councillor Alexis Rowell, Camden Council’s uncompromising ‘Eco Champion’ seeking re-election or not? Half of Camden councillors say he is, half say he isn’t. Yesterday he himself was telling people he is still undecided. The wait is unbearable. The Town Hall wouldn’t be the same without him.