Labour’s Catherine West: ‘I know how to beat Liberal Democrats’

Catherine West stepped away from a £60,000-a-year salary in 2013 to move out of the leader’s office of Islington Council and onto the streets of Haringey, where she has been knocking on doors ever since.

Since her selection as parliamentary candidate for Hornsey and Wood Green, the 48-year-old has been embraced by Haringey Labour members who have volunteered in their droves to help her topple Lynne Featherstone, the constituency’s Liberal Democrat MP.

This owes in part to her electoral record as leader of Islington Labour.

In her two elections as leader, Ms West’s group gained 25 seats, taking control of the council in 2010.

By the time she stepped down as a councillor in 2014, the Liberal Democrats had been completely wiped from the map in Islington, having lost 38 seats since 2002.

“I know how to beat Liberal Democrats,” said Ms West. “I have an impeccable election record against them and that’s why I was selected.

“My formula is hard work and a strong policy platform. I think for a lot of people who vote Lib Dem, it’s because Labour has stopped talking to them.

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“So I’ve started a massive conversation with the whole of Hornsey and Wood Green.”

Ms West’s story began far away from Haringey in Australia, the country of her birth and home for the first 30 years of her life.

She was born to parents who were both teachers and grew up in Sydney, attending Methodist church schools before studying for a dual degree in modern languages and social work at the city’s university.

Her great-great aunt is Italia Conti, the late actress and founder of the renowned stage school which bears her name.

The mother-of-two met her husband, malariologist Dr Colin Sutherland, at university and after graduating the couple settled in Darwin, northern Australia, where she began working in a refuge for survivors of child sex abuse.

“I was from quite a sheltered background and went into this centre,” said Ms West.

“I think that had quite a big effect on me. It gave me an insight into what some people go through.”

In 1998, Ms West moved to the UK after her husband landed a job at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and settled in Archway where they live to this day, in Harberton Road, which lies in the constituency of Islington North.

Ms West’s daughter is a pupil at Hornsey School for Girls, in Crouch End, and her son, who is now at university, attended Highgate Wood School, also in Crouch End.

“My opponent may say that I don’t live in an exact street of Hornsey and Wood Green but I consider myself to be a Crouch End resident,” said Ms West.

Asked if she supported Ed Miliband’s decision to vote in recognition of a Palestinian state in the House of Commons last year, a pertinent issue in her constituency, Ms West, a committed Quaker, said she supported her leader.

Ms West’s arrival in the UK coincided with the rise of Tony Blair’s New Labour, sparking a fervour which captured her imagination.

Having joined the Labour Party in 1998, Ms West experienced her first taste of frontline politics in 2000 when she became a caseworker for the newly-elected Tottenham MP David Lammy.

It was Mr Lammy who persuaded her to stand for Islington Council and in 2002 she was elected as a Tollington ward councillor.

The subsequent decade moulded Ms West into a political force which is now tipped by bookies and pollsters to take Hornsey and Wood Green for Labour.

“I see this as our attempt to create the fairer Hornsey and Wood Green that we want to see,” she said.

“Labour is different from this government and we represent change and a step away from the privatisation of the NHS, the toxicity of the bedroom tax – I know the MP here has voted on a number of occasions with the Tories on that – cuts to legal aid, and educational maintenance allowance for young people.

“Everything feels like it’s falling to pieces.”