Lib Dem MP Lynne Featherstone: ‘History will write us as the good guys’
For better or for worse, the last five years are likely to go down as Lynne Featherstone’s most memorable in politics.
Since 2010, the 63-year-old has risen up the ranks of government to minister of state in Theresa May’s Home Office, having spearheaded successful campaigns for gay marriage rights and greater awareness of female genital mutilation (FGM).
She unseated Labour’s Barbara Roche to become Hornsey and Wood Green MP in 2005 while still a Haringey councillor and then extended her majority by nearly 5,000 votes in 2010.
But after a decade in the Commons, Ms Featherstone is now facing her toughest battle ever at the ballot box, with bookies and pollsters tipping her Labour opponent Catherine West to grab victory.
The Liberal Democrats have been badly wounded by their coalition with the Tories, as the local party in Haringey discovered last May when 60 per cent of Lib Dem seats were wiped out by Labour at council elections.
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“It was the first expression of anger about the coalition and austerity,” said Ms Featherstone.
“It’s a shame it got expressed through Haringey because half my work is about complaints against Haringey Labour.
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“I just wish we hadn’t suffered so much because when the history is written, people will write us as the good guys.”
Ms Featherstone insists the Lib Dems had no choice but to go into coalition to form a stable government to protect the country from economic meltdown.
“Any politician that doesn’t put their country first is not worthy of being called a politician,” she said.
And she believes her party has pulled the Tories to the centre ground.
“We’ve made them fairer,” said Ms Featherstone. “There is no greater praise from the Conservative Party than that they have now made their manifesto policy to raise the income tax threshold to £12,500.
“This is a Lib Dem policy which they fought tooth and nail against in coalition but they had to give it to us.
“They are now claiming the credit. So if you can influence the Conservatives to care about the lowest earners, that’s a mark of success.”
Ms Featherstone admits to having great respect for Ms May, her boss in the Home Office, who has been talked of as a future Conservative leader.
“Out of the Conservative colleagues I’ve worked with, I think she is the one I respect the most,” she said.
As for the prime minister, she has been left with questions about his abilities as a leader.
“I think David Cameron is a decent human being,” said Ms Featherstone. “Where he’s fallen down is that he’s been quite weak.
“When we went into coalition, he wanted to show that he cared about the poor and the environment and he believed in Europe and I think some of these things have been equivocated because they’ve become difficult within the Tory party.”
Reflecting on her time in government, the mother-of-two said: “It’s been the greatest privilege of my life to have the opportunity to change the world.”
But despite acting on a national and international stage while in government, Ms Featherstone believes it is her local story that serves her most effectively as Hornsey and Wood Green MP.
She is a lifelong Highgate resident, having moved to the area aged five with her family, who ran the lucrative Ryness chain of electrical stores.
At the age of seven, she said she decided to abandon her Jewish faith and insists she is now agnostic.
“I didn’t like having people in different pots,” she said.
As for the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, she refuses to take sides.
“Once you become partisan you then lose your credibility for navigating a way out of it.”
Having attended independent South Hampstead High School, she moved on to Oxford Polytechnic, now Oxford Brookes University, where she graduated with a diploma in communication and design, which led to a 20-year career running her own design company.
Ms Featherstone describes herself as an “accidental politician” who found herself thrust into activism after setting up a residents’ association in North Grove, where she lives, to fight parking restrictions enforced by Haringey Council.
She was elected to the council in 1998 and served as Lib Dem group leader between 1998 and 2002.
“I am local, this is my patch,” she said. “I came to Highgate aged five, I went to Muswell Hill youth club and I played kiss chase in Highgate Wood.
“I was married at Wood Green registry office and I was divorced by post. My aunt had a shop in Wood Green High Road where my mother used to dump me when she was working.
“These are my streets. I live here, this is my life too. People can have confidence that I will fight for them.”