IN DEPTH: Glenda Jackson - Fighting talk for her most important vote

THERE is no doubt this will be Glenda Jackson s toughest election yet. On the polls, the strength of the opposition and the political picture both nationally and locally, the 73-year-old, even with two Oscars and 18 years of parliament under her belt, ha

Katie Davies

THERE is no doubt this will be Glenda Jackson's toughest election yet.

On the polls, the strength of the opposition and the political picture both nationally and locally, the 73-year-old, even with two Oscars and 18 years of parliament under her belt, has her most difficult months ahead.

It is, she says herself "one of the most important elections in our history" and clearly she understands it will be the most important in her own political narrative as well.

After her maiden win in 1992, Ms Jackson was able to glide through under the wing of Labour's electoral landslides of 1997 and 2001.

The last election, in 2005, would have been a harder sell if she hadn't evoked huge support from her constituency for her opposition to the Iraq war, thereby distancing herself from the real opponent of the day - "as I said to Blair, I wasn't fighting the Conservatives or the Lib Dems, I was fighting you," she explains.

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As a constant thorn in the side of the former Primer Minister - she dismissed the notion of weapons of mass destruction as "absurd" and presciently warned that military action would leave the most "terrible legacy for generations of Iraqi civilians" - she was the sort of outspoken MP constituents admired and neighbouring boroughs envied.

But now re-election is not looking so easy. For a start, she's lost her maverick status. Over the last five years she's supported the government on 91 per cent of the votes she has attended in the House of Commons.

She has also firmly pinned her support to Gordon Brown's often flailing mast. "I am a big, big admirer of his and have been for a long time," she says. "He is so passionate about Labour's principles and I do sometimes think, 'Let that passion out a bit more Gord'."

Now she has to fight his corner to save herself in a newly redrawn constituency which is the 12th most marginal in the country, according to 2005 results.

If that prospect is filling her with panic, she doesn't show it.

"Certainly it seems to me to be the first of what I call real elections," she says with a glint in her eye. "And it is not exclusively down to Gordon. As I said to my constituency party, the cavalry isn't going to come riding over the hill to save us - we're the cavalry we have to get out there and tell people what the choices are."

Bold statements aren't so surprising given that Ms Jackson is used to stirring up fear in others rather than vice versa.

Previous interviews with the incumbent have rarely cast her as the most welcoming of elected representatives. "Dour" is one adjective used to describe her. Another article is simply entitled "The Ice Queen".

This po-faced profile doesn't hold in our interview, where she is friendly, relaxed and surprisingly introspective even though I haven't always dodged Glenda's wrath in the past myself.

She has a certain directness which bulldozes through tiresome political pleasantries, but sometimes ploughs straight on into common courtesy.

Whatever the result, it is a briskness she prides herself on, particularly as she considers it is lacking in her two younger male opponents, Tory Chris Philp and Liberal Democrat Ed Fordham.

"It may simply be it has to do with age and gender," she says with her native Wirral lilt still undamaged by her training at acting school. "It's what I hate about this place. This completely empty, pointless, political point scoring. It's time wasting and pointless when people have real issues and need real answers."

When it comes to being portrayed as the Wicked Witch of Westminster, she shrugs it off, as prejudice which has followed her from the beginning.

"I honestly don't know why people say I'm like that," she shrugs. "When I was still acting the recurring adjective then was frightening - I had cold, cruel eyes. After the people in here, as well as the political commentariat, got over the fact that I didn't fall flat on my face or I wasn't actually some kind of hysterical diva, then the prevailing cry was 'She dresses badly and she doesn't smile'. It doesn't bother me because I'm used to it. It is to do with pointless externals."

What is perhaps less forgivable is that the MP has refrained from calling on this straight talking efficiency in the House.

She has taken part in fewer than half the votes in Parliament since 2005 and a Hansard study has revealed that her name appears just 40 times in that period compared to the average for London MPs of 1,822. This criticism is dismissed by Jackson who says it misses the point of where real power lies in Westminster.

"To sit on those green benches for hours to possibly be called to make a speech to a virtually empty house seems to me to be a waste of valuable time," she says.

"To me the most interesting work is in the constituency. The government of the day has a huge majority - when we were in opposition there was a real possibility we could have got them out before an election. Well that doesn't prevail at the moment and the concerns of the constituency and constituents take priority."

If being part of a large majority had dulled Ms Jackson's love of parliament, she is now savouring a return to the days of conflict.

"I said yes to Hampstead and Highgate because it was around the time Thatcher said there was no such thing as society," she explains. "For me that was the last straw, I walked into my closed French windows and nearly broke my nose.

"If there was anything I could do that was legal to get her and her government out of office I was prepared to have a go at it.

"I can't see that they have changed one iota. The first targets they announced for cuts were Sure Start [the government-funded childcare programme] and pensions - both ends of the age range - bang, gone. It is going to be them and us."

The other side will be taking pot-shots too and - with the seat central to ensuring a change in government - no area will be off limits. The fact she lives in Blackheath rather than Hampstead Heath has already been played as a trump card.

"I don't live in Darfur and I don't live in Burma or Tibet and I didn't live in Iraq or Afghanistan - are you saying I can't have an opinion about any of those situations or that I can't inform myself?" Ms Jackson retorts, "I don't understand it."

And if a Conservative government gets in?

"I would be gutted," she says. "The future of this country would be held back not just by years but decades. We saw it in the two recessions they gave us and we are still picking up the social damage they inflicted on this country. "

Eighteen years on, Ms Jackson says she still has an affinity to those constituents who took a chance on an actress with no political experience.

"We have the most amazing cross-section of people who care about issues that are not exclusively local," she explains. "I get huge postbags on things to do with the environment, animal welfare, tackling poverty and that makes me very proud.

"The majority of people have taken on board John Donne's "No man is an island" and that is marvellous to work with because it happens to be my philosophy too.