Back to the polls

THE signs were there when Adrian Cohen was missing from the queue of councillors waiting to sign in for duty on the Saturday after the council election results.

Then Labour sent out a thank you leaflet to voters in Hampstead Town – where he had been a surprise winner on May 5 – without mentioning his name. No ‘mugshot’ was posted to the shiny new councillors page on Camden’s website.

And the final clue was Labour holding a street stall in South End Green over the weekend – as they hardly ever do.

The front page joke that Labour won the council elections in its sleep referred to the fact that Mr Cohen had been in bed when the count was going on, and even his colleagues said no work had really been done on the ward in the run up to polling day.

Mr Cohen’s running mate Alexandra Sufit tells me off when I say that, but I’m just relaying a common line within the group.

By yesterday afternoon, it was confirmed that after 20 days Mr Cohen was gone. It’s not clear in fact whether he ever formally became ‘Cllr Cohen’ having not signed in but either way, it’s all back to the polls in Hampstead on July 7. And it’s not a foregone conclusion who will win.

The Tories, by their new leader’s own admission, suffered from the Boris factor at the council elections – and as much as the Prime Minister was enjoying his ‘Sir Beer Korma’ gibe at Sir Keir Starmer in parliament yesterday, he’d be mistaken to think all is forgiven for his lockdown gatherings.

Labour, meanwhile, face the task of trying to convince residents they are serious about the ward after losing a winning candidate in less than a month. The Lib Dems found how hard this can be in 2002 when Justin Barnard won in Camden Town with Primrose Hill but panicked and left after just a few days. Labour promptly won the resulting by-election.

The Lib Dems will be interested in Hampstead Town too given the hurdles for the Conservatives and Labour explained above, but they have to build from a pretty poor score recorded here earlier this month; poor given they used to have seats here themselves.

In the know: Labour street stall pitches up in Hampstead Town… before it is later revealed Adrian Cohen is stepping down

By the way, over the clink of mayor-making wine, there were one or two suggestions that Mr Cohen’s victory should have been telegraphed a little better by the local Labour party.

I’m not going to say I saw it coming now because I didn’t, but those who pore over the breakdowns of parliamentary and London Assembly votes longer into the night suggest that the performance of MP Tulip Siddiq and AM Anne Clarke in the ward should have been a pointer to the possibilities.

I couldn’t get through to Ms Siddiq yesterday, but more than one person told me she is ‘furious’ about the whole chain of events and how it risks undermining her own work trying to shift voters to Labour in a traditional Tory zone.

For different reasons, you might also find some angry figures among the left of the membership too, who watched seven existing councillors blocked from standing again at these elections – reference, a million stories in the CNJ – only to see the party put up an elected candidate who now admits he hasn’t time to do the job.

On the avoidable cost of holding a by-election, Labour will no doubt be readying examples from other parties where this has happened – although a similar thing has just occurred in Hackney too where one of the Labour winners resigned almost immediately after the results.

Mr Cohen might be wondering what he got himself roped into. In these cases, the candidate is almost always assured that they won’t win.

As he got out of bed to come to the counting hall reading tweets that he may have actually won, he can’t have known whether to laugh or cry.

If it had been Ms Sufit who succeeded, she would have been signed in and at the mayoral meeting last night.  There is precedence for ‘paper candidates’ staying on.  The late Tessa Jowell occasionally described her first election in a by-election in Swiss Cottage in these terms and she ended up going to politics’ higher echelons.

This was hardly Mr Cohen’s ambition however, and the demands of being a councillor – particularly in a split ward – was never going to be compatible with his day job.

Maybe Ms Sufit will be the candidate again in Hampstead Town.

The Tories will look to have someone quickly installed as a candidate. No, no, no… it won’t be former leader Oliver Cooper, although he has said he will be out campaigning for the Conservatives again in Hampstead for this by-election despite his new chairman role for the Watford Tories. With a group of three men, there will be understandable pressure to select a woman.

It’s a bit of a ‘must win’ for them, in football parlance. This should still be considered a home pitch if they are serious about a recovery but after watching Mr Cohen hauled out of bed three weeks ago we now know anything could happen.

%d bloggers like this: