Former train guard to keep Labour on track in Fortune Green election
- Credit: Richard Olszewski
The local elections in 2014 presented a high water-mark for Camden Labour. Wards which had been Liberal Democrat strongholds years earlier were decimated.
The Lib Dems had been the largest party as recently as 2010, but that night Labour got their highest seat haul since the boundary changes in 2002.
One man who was part of that 2014 Labour surge was Richard Olszewski, who is standing again in Fortune Green.
Cllr Olszewski had previously been part of Camden Council from 1994 to 2002, before leaving to serve as a special advisor to John Reid, who held six ministerial positions during the Tony Blair era.
However even with this hinterland, Cllr Olszewski didn’t think he was likely to return to council.
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“I realised the bookies wouldn’t have given me short-odds on winning. I thought I’d quite enjoy being back on the council, but also I’d want to stand for where I lived in Fortune Green.
“I thought I might be lucky with how national politics were going at the time, and I might squeeze through and I did.”
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In the end the Chiswick-born councillor scraped home, winning by 17 votes.
Cllr Olszewski grew up in Stirling in a political era of the 1970s. His parents, Polish migrants who moved to Britain after the war, were Labour supporters. However a young Cllr Olszewski was one of the original Labour election entryists, joining to have a say in the divisive 1980 Labour Deputy Leadership election.
He said: “It was when Labour started going into its periodic internecine infighting wars. I knew my politics were reformist, centre-ground politics and I instinctively supported Denis Healey.
“I thought if I joined I would get a vote, however back then people didn’t.”
He then came to London as an official for the National Union of Railwaymen, having worked as a train guard for British Rail in Scotland, which included a work canteen dispute over his Celtic scarf.
Eventually, while a Camden councillor, he became an advisor to Mr Reid, including when he was Scottish Secretary, and Northern Irish Secretary. It’s therefore no surprise he is dismayed over Northern Ireland being turned into a political football during Brexit.
“Boris Johnson’s comments about comparing the borders in Ireland, with Westminster and Camden are insulting to the 3000 people who died, with it being treated so flippantly.
“It’s an insulting irony that he did it on the 25th anniversary of an IRA bomb exploding on Camden High Street.”
With six weeks until voters go to the polls, he’s one of three candidates campaigning to win all of Fortune Green’s seats. This would mean unseating Lib Dem stalwart and leader Cllr Flick Rea, who was the sole survivor of the Labour surge in 2014.
While he hopes Cllr Rea will be defeated on May 3, he paid tribute to her record.
“Flick has a tremendous record in achieving representation in Fortune Green and Camden. She was on the council when I was on before, so I know her well and I can acknowledge how hard she works,” he said.
However unsurprisingly, the current cabinet member for finance and transformation is fighting the election to win and is hopeful of a clean sweep on polling day.
“You should never take the electorate for granted, regardless of where you’re standing. We’re working hard, we’re currently going through the grind of elections, knocking doors, speaking to people and we’re positive.”