IN-DEPTH: Lib Dem Jo Shaw hot on the heels of Labour

JO Shaw is standing at the centre of a halo of fluorescent orange. It isn t an ill-advised new hair-do, or nuclear fall-out at the centre of Camden, but the fly-postered window of her Camden Town campaign headquarters. Stating her name in heavy black fon

JO Shaw is standing at the centre of a halo of fluorescent orange. It isn't an ill-advised new hair-do, or nuclear fall-out at the centre of Camden, but the fly-postered window of her Camden Town campaign headquarters.

Stating her name in heavy black font, the glaring diamond-shaped signs are plastered across the election office.

Inside there is a hive of activity with boxes stacked to the ceiling and volunteers armed with letters and envelopes going into battle resolutely - determined in their mission to both fold and stick.

This paper war is entirely the image that local Lib Dems' campaigns have come to be known for. It is utterly grassroots, enthusiastic and requires buckets of energy and often the very young.


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Previously opposition parties mocked them for such a back to basics strategy or rather they did until the results came in in 2006 and they were the party that won.

Suddenly the cosy political establishment and traditionalism of the Labour and Conservative see-saw had been overturned. It was like a student booze cruise storming ahead to win The Boat Race.

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Ms Shaw knows a similar upset will be caused if she crosses the line before Frank Dobson but is still wearing the same quiet confidence that Cllr Moffitt did in May 2006.

"We have a brilliant team, both for the local election and the general election - a really energetic, keen team of candidates," she says. "But also we have a really big and growing team of people helping out. We had 180 people through our doors at the weekend.

"I think this is the biggest campaign the Liberal Democrats in this area have run. I think we're ideally placed to take full control of the council, to win Hampstead and Kilburn and Holborn and St Pancras - I really do."

Some factors do suggest the 37-year-old has a sporting chance.

The Liberal Democrats made good ground here in 2005 with South Camden doyenne Jill Fraser winning 10,070 votes compared to Mr Dobson's 14,857 - an 11 per cent swing.

Those results make it a clear two horse race (the Conservatives won just 6,482) although much will come down to what side their candidate George Lee chips away at this time around - particularly if he gets the national and personal bounce many are suspecting.

The close nature of the race and Mr Dobson's popularity means Ms Shaw is avoiding going on a personal attack and is instead aiming her efforts at the government.

"In Camden people are sick to the back teeth of feeling they are being taken for granted by the Labour party," she says.

"They like having Liberal Democrat councillors who have frozen council tax and are doing stuff on council housing after decades of nothing happening.

"I don't think it is about Frank Dobson - I think it's about his party. In a lot of ways the Labour Party is very similar to the Conservatives on big issues. The Iraq war - both thought the same, tuition fees - both got it wrong and when it comes to reforming the tax system and making it fairer they haven't done that either."

The party line seems a bizarre approach to take with Mr Dobson given his often well-earned reputation as a rebel - especially on the issues mentioned above.

And Ms Shaw clearly struggles with this fact about her political adversary.

She gets as close to an attack as she is willing to go in reaction to her rival's anti-tuition fee stance - "he's stuck with the fact his party introduced them and has no plans to scrap them - the Liberal Democrats do. What people want is an effective voice for them."

On the other hand how does she feel about Labour's criticisms of the Lib Dems as a party who offer one thing to one group and another to another?

Ms Shaw denies this is true and says there is no ducking out of the Lib Dem vision for the country.

"We're very clear what we're talking about is building a fairer Britain," she says. "Reforming the tax system to take the poorest out of paying income tax altogether - you get that by taxing people who have enormous homes worth more than �2million. "We will have fairer education - smaller class sizes and scrap tuition fees. We will tax banks on their profits to help cut the deficit and reform the voting system and introduce the ability to recall your MP."

Whether or not Mr Dobson is due a recall, Ms Shaw feels she has the adequate potential to step into his shoes.

A barrister specialising in family and housing law brought up in West London, she sees her move into politics a natural step from her current work.

"My job basically means standing up for people," she says.

Non-political she says she found the Lib Dems by chance after being left "disgusted" by Labour's track record on civil liberties.

Her political career came quickly in response - joining the Lib Dems in 2001, moving to Camden in 2006 and getting named as candidate for Holborn and St Pancras in 2007 - no wonder she is critical of the "long wait" we've had for an election announcement.

This could explain why she skipped the councillor route of many political careers although it is a move she is defensive about.

"There are some Liberal Democrat MPs who haven't been councillors," she says. "I suppose for me the national issues are the ones that push my buttons."

Though she is happy to make the macro micro.

On local issues she cites the Economy and the NHS - but by that she means the proposal to close the Whittington A&E

"The most front-line service the one to go? It is completely utterly insane," she says.

Overall for Ms Shaw it is the variety of her constituency, the largest in North London, which appeals.

"I've known the area all my life," she says. "I absolutely love it. Bloomsbury is different to Regent's Park, Highgate Village compared to Kentish Town. It is the diversity I love."

Although diversity may be what she admires in this area, Ms Shaw is hopeful orange will be the uniform colour on display in the rest of Camden's windows over the next nerve-wrecking three weeks.

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