WELL, well, well.. Now, there’s a familiar face looking chumsville wth Michael Foot. Taken from a Labour election website, was this the moment Nick Smith, Camden Council’s former schools chief, visited Pilgrim’s Lane to seek Foot’s support for his election campaign?
Four years on from his departure from Camden Council – he stepped down voluntarily, he would have been re-elected in King’s Cross – Smith is standing to be the MP for Blaenau Gwent, the constituency which before boundary changes was in effect Michael Foot and Nye Bevan’s old Ebbw Vale seat. As loyal as ever, Michael had a round of teas served and sent Nick back to Wales with his blessing and a quote for the campaign.
Now, people always told me that during his time in Camden, Smith was an ardent supporter of the Labour Party’s modernisation, that he was in the thick of it helping to drive membership up under Tony Blair’s banner. This was at a time when you can’t help thinking that Foot might have, deep down, felt concerned by the direction of New Labour. But, then how many times in his older years did you hear him criticise anybody in a red rosette publicly? If he had any misgivings, they were never revealed to a wider audience.
To that extent, if you watched Michael Cockerell’s Labour’s Old Romantic film about Foot repeated by the BBC last week, you could see members of his own family – his nephew Paul, the brilliant investigative journalist for example – sounding a note of caution with Blair’s election in 1997. Foot loyally toasted the victory regardless. Having seen the Labour Party in opposition for so long. who could blame him?
And so Nick – whether old Labour or new – can genuinely say he had the old sage’s support. In Blaenau Gwent, he’ll need it. This is a constituency where the divisions over the revolution within the party are not completely healed. It is currently represented by an independent MP, Dai Davies, whose path to the Commons began with a rebellion against the New Labour takeover. When an all women’s shortlist was enforced in the South Wales seat for the 2005 election, Labour Party member Peter Law resigned in protest and won the seat as an independent.
He died the following April but that wasn’t the end of it. Mr Davies – who had been Mr Law’s election agent – duly stood himself in the by-election and won, again foiling Labour’s attempts to win back one of its most treasured seats.
So, Nick Smith has his work cut out. He’s an affable enough guy whose hometown Welsh vowels will come across well on the doorstep. He was certainly very encouraging to me personally on my early days on the Camden New Journal, this at a time when other members of the party were talking about ‘trying to shut your paper down when we get re-elected’. That said, nothing seemed to stick on Nick. Despite his seniority in the ranks, he never seemed to be there when the proverbial hit the fan. There were often grumbles about that in the Skinner’s.
As Labour’s grip on Camden began to loosen in the run up to its 2006 meltdown, he went from being someone who we all suspected might have once thought about leading the party (and the council) post-Dame-Jane-Roberts to somebody who appeared more interested in what was going on in the European Parliament. The New Journal’s former investigative journalist Kim Janssen superbly exposed his poor attendance, pointing out that he was often in Brussels when he was meant to be leading the education department through serious upheaval.
Put ‘Nick Smith Camden’ into Google and it’s the first story that comes up. As ever, former Conservatiev party leader Piers Wauchope provided one of the liveliest quotes: “It must be great eating all those chips with mayonnaise and chocolate in Brussels. But in the meantime he’s made a real hash of sorting out school dinners in Camden, putting it off for another year.”
A former agent to Frank Dobson and Emily Thornberry (the Labour MPs in Holborn and St Pancras, and Islington South), Nick knows the course well and hasn’t lost too many elections. He wouldn’t be the first ex-Camden councillor to make it to Parliament’s green benches. I’ll be watching on results day with great interest.