by Flora Drury
Thursday, May 29, 2014
Flora Drury assesses Labour’s revival in Haringey and whether it offers any pointers to the outcome of next year’s General Election.
Patrick Berryman looked a little shell-shocked as he arrived to pick up his ‘new councillor’ pack last Thursday night.
He had been elected to Fortis Green ward, one where many would have said a Labour candidate would struggle to attract votes, the Lib Dems having held all three seats since 2002.
And yet here he was – and the 42-year-old was in little doubt of the reason why: Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate, Catherine West.
“I think we campaigned with good belief because of our candidate for next year,” he said. “We were keen to get momentum going for her.”
Indeed, Ms West – who was selected in June last year to challenge for Lynne Featherstone’s Hornsey and Wood Green seat – does seem to have imbued the Labour group with a new sense of purpose.
Any Twitter user will be impressed with just how many places the former Islington Council leader manages to visit each weekend, dashing from Highgate to Wood Green. She is a familiar face already – taking advantage, one suspects, of the fact Ms Featherstone is often abroad from Sundays to Thursdays for her (exceedingly worthwhile) work with the Department for International Development.
It is clear Ms West is determined to be Hornsey and Wood Green’s next MP, and it is clear she is willing to put the work in to do it. What is less clear is whether the electorate will turn their back on Ms Featherstone and the Liberal Democrats at next year’s general election in favour of a Labour MP.
But Labour obviously believe this could be their chance. On paper, it looks like Ms West would have walked it last Thursday, had it been a general election. In the wards making up the constituency, the Lib Dems polled just 29.12 per cent to Labour’s 42.31 per cent of the vote.
Jason Arthur, who was elected in Crouch End for Labour for the next four years, said: “I think [this result] is a great platform for us to win the constituency.”
Labour already has a good grounding with the campaigning undertaken in the run-up to this election. Ms West’s work ethic appears to have rubbed off on her party members – and nowhere was this more immediately obvious than in Hornsey ward, where Labour’s third most popular candidate was almost 600 votes ahead of the Lib Dems’ highest-ranked candidate.
New Hornsey councillor Adam Jogee revealed: “We worked really hard. No one in Hornsey could say they didn’t know who we were – we have not had lives for the last nine months.”
But there is obviously more at play than simply a re-energised Labour group to explain the Lib Dems’ fall from grace in the west of the borough.
The Conservative-led coalition government, in which Ms Featherstone is a junior minister, has not been popular locally. Considering that Haringey traditionally leans to the left, with no Tories elected since 1994, this is perhaps not surprising.
Nationally, there is a perception, correct or otherwise, that the Lib Dems have fallen into step with the Conservatives, waving through policies their traditional base does not approve of. The Lib Dems are clearly aware of the toxic effect.
David Schmitz, who lost his seat in Harringay last week, wrote on Lib Dem Voice: “Until Friday, I was a Lib Dem councillor in the London Borough of Haringey, where I enjoyed a reputation as an effective local representative… Despite these sentiments, the people of my ward did express their anger with the Westminster government, and I was voted out.”
It wasn’t just Haringey Lib Dems who suffered, however, but also neighbouring Camden, which returned just one Lib Dem councillor, and Islington, which now has no Lib Dems just eight years after the party was running the borough.
So could the fact that Haringey’s Lib Dems managed to keep nine seats actually indicate things may not be as bad for Ms Featherstone as first thought?
That the Lib Dems were not decimated shows that many residents are still not happy with how Labour runs the council, which means it doesn’t matter how much campaigning Ms West does, or how disliked the Lib Dems are at national level: this may still come down to a fight which neither can actually influence.
Indeed, one suspects the deciding factor, come May 2015, will not come down to what either of these women have or haven’t done, but to how well these new Labour councillors represent their residents. Either way, it promises to be an intriguing battle.