Sketch: Straight sets win in the debate that never was

Sketch: Camden, Leadership hustings 03/09/10

IMAGINE if they ran the specatcle of the US Open, currently in-play in New York, without some of favourites. No Rafa Nadal or Roger Federer. And then, imagine, you took out of the draw some dangerous outsiders as well. Hypothetically, let’s also tell anybody with a big serve that they can’t play at Flushing Meadows too. Imagine all of that – now, do you reckon the perennial nearlyman Andy Murray would finally win the Grand Slam against what’s left? Possibly. Maybe.

That’s certainly a way Diane Abbott could win the Labour leadership contest. She showed as much at Camden Town Hall on Friday. In tennis parlance, she virtually ‘bagelled’ a panel of stand-ins deputising at hustings which were meant to attract all of the contenders. 6-0, 6-0. There were a couple of veterans, Lord Falconer and Mark Seddon, to break, but on serve she was formiddable. All of those irritating twitches on This Week, those rolly-eyed chats to the studio ceiling she has when Andrew Neil slides her a question, were forgotten in a flurry of cliched but big-hearted socialist mantras – tailored perfectly to Camden’s naturally lefty caucus. She seemed normal again. There were still ‘ask her why she sent her son to private school’ murmurs but this achille’s heel was for another night. She came close to a standing ovation at one point. She had done her research on council housing, for example,

At times, Abbott’s ridicule was aimed at Lord Falconer, who was sent to vouch for David Miliband, a candidate presumably a little scarred by the last time he met Camden’s members. The local membership prefer his brother. Only Sally Gimson, whose losing track of election performances won’t last forever, had fought David M’s corner when Camden’s Labour group met to choose a nomination recently. He should have seen this latest gathering as an opportunity to convert rather than a risk of another wound.

Besides, Lord Falc was an odd runner. If David Miliband really wants to move beyond the Blair-is-bad arguments, TB’s old flatmate, however articulate, might not have been the wisest choice here. Ed Miliband, in contrast, was probably more sensible in sending the wildcard, Mark Seddon. The old Tribune editor – who now files columns for the Daily Mail, so he does – tested the humour of repetition by joking in each answer that he would vote Abbott first, E-Mil second. But there was pleasantly none of the ‘what Ed would say this, or Ed would say that’ babble. He just kept the ball in play. That’s enough for Ed Miliband in an event wrecked by declined invitations.

The subs for Balls and Burnham had a thankless task, like qualifiers who had suddenly been asked to play on centre court. And in hustings terms this wasn’t even centre court, just a court with seats. More Queen’s Club. No shame on them, but you could see people in the full Town Hall chamber visibly day-dreaming when they were speaking. Abbott won to love.

The trouble for the only female candidate – and Murray for that matter – is that looking good before the big seeds come out to play doesn’t translate into success. It would be nice if somehow they both could extend to the next level, especially when Abbott is at her mischief-making best. She was the only credible candidate to be leader on Friday night… but she was the only candidate there. The members deserved better than this depleted panel, and especially from the Milibands, who live so close and have long connections with the local group. The seats were full for the debate that never was. Easy ace territory for Abbott.

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