IN DEPTH: Lynne Featherstone - Relishing the political fight

LYNNE Featherstone is, as ever, up for the fight when it comes to this year's elections. Ms Featherstone's first political fight came as a university student, when the administration decided to cut her degree course, and she formed her first residents as

Rhiannon Evans

LYNNE Featherstone is, as ever, up for the fight when it comes to this year's elections.

Ms Featherstone's first political fight came as a university student, when the administration decided to cut her degree course, and she formed her first residents' association following an argument over parking restrictions in the 1990s.

"One day, I could just hear people shouting in the road, and people were trying to paint double yellow lines down both sides of our road - so I formed my first residents' association," she said.


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When she became a Muswell Hill councillor in 1998 that was also quite a fight - a battle that saw her become one of the three first Liberal Democrat representatives to sit on Haringey Council.

As leader of the opposition from 1998 to 2002 she admits that the battle was often hard.

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"I always say Haringey council chamber made the House of Commons look like nursery school when I got there," she says.

But the struggle which saw her become the Hornsey and Wood Green MP was surely her biggest KO.

Ms Featherstone first stood as an MP in 1997, coming third behind Labour's Barbara Roche by 25,998 votes - a seemingly insurmountable mountain.

Never disheartened, in 2001 she tried again and clawed her way into second place, slashing Roche's majority down to 10,614.

In 2005, she forced one of the biggest swings of the election, winning the seat by a majority of 2,395.

"In '97 I was 20,000 votes behind Labour - who would've thought hard work and commitment and fighting for local people could overturn a mighty majority?" she said.

"The proof is in me - I'm a living pudding."

Ms Featherstone is a threat on many levels - as well as being a fighter, she's also quote-ready and media savvy. A constant blogger, twitterer and updater of her political website, it's hardly surprising to hear the pudding slogan trip off her tongue with ease.

But despite all this fighting, which seems to come naturally to the 58-year-old, she says she never actively wanted to be a politician.

"Although, I suppose looking back I was always trying to help people.

"I wanted to change things and make a difference - I just care about things, even though it sounds old-fashioned."

Her battle to make a difference is one with a very localised view and she bases her reputation on backing local residents when it is their turn to fight.

Listing her successes over the five years in Parliament, Ms Featherstone cites the Lap Off! campaign to prevent a lap-dancing club coming to Crouch End and the "Make Mine A Double" scheme, which called for twice the number of recycling boxes for residents.

She fought the closure of local post offices, called for the expansion of schools in the borough and continues to call for fairer funding for pupils.

Her latest battle is to save the Whittington A&E she says.

"We have the fight of our lives to save the Whittington A&E and for me that is at the heart of everything that is wrong with the governance of the NHS.

"My mission is to campaign to make sure it is too difficult for them to close it."

She also lists a number of campaigns which have been specific just to single roads, or small communities - something unusual for a politician with a national presence.

It is this dedication to the fights of local people, microscopic or as far-reaching as they may be, this almost councillor-style approach to detail that she hopes will make people vote for her again when they return to the ballot box.

Asked whether she worries that, with such a small majority last time, people could be ready for a change once again, she says: "I think people changed last time and I think if people think I have done a good job then I'm hoping they will want more of the same.

"It's a pitch battle between Labour and me, but I think Labour have failed so miserably in so many areas.

"We went through all the issues with child protection and the sort of failures, in terms of poor standards and the way they treat people and that we have to ask for everything 84 times - I just can't imagine anyone would want to keep a Labour council.

"So, I'm hoping the proposition of what we put forward nationally and my track record as a local campaigner will make people think, 'We want to keep Lynne'."

Touching on child protection, it's clear that the fight for transparency around the case of Baby Peter has been one of her biggest battles - something which she says continues.

"I was leader of the Lib Dems when Victoria Climbie died and I heard Labour saying it must never happen again and nothing changed until Baby Peter died and I was damned if I was going to let Labour get away with it again - Labour did not change the culture," she said.

"I still don't think there has been enough cultural change in Haringey - you can never be sure no child will die, but you can be sure any child visited six times by a social worker is safe."

As well as looking at her own, local picture Ms Featherstone is ready for the national fight too.

"Where Lib Dems are in po-wer, we are making a change for people in everyday life," she says.

"I think people should vote Lib Dem because they don't want the same old, red, blue, blue, red road, because it ends up in the same mess - what about thinking differently?

"I think nationally we are going to do quite well - this is the most open contest I have seen.

"I think people really want to get rid of Labour, but there is no great love for the Tories and I think for the first time in a long time, people are looking at the Lib Dems."

With the polls seemingly changing on a daily basis, dependent on everything from high-profile interviews to bullying accusations, the words on everyone's lips when they think Lib Dem, has to be - hung parliament.

The Labour campaigners door-knocking your roads will tell you that a vote for the Lib Dems is a vote for a joint administration with the Conservatives, so how does she react to that accusation?

"There will be no backroom deals, we are not even thinking about that, because it's not down to us, it's down to the people of this country," she said.

"The maths will tell us what the country has said and then we will look at it. But people are voting for me and for us."

So should they vote for her, where do the future battles lie?

Seemingly in a fight for funding - for schools, for the Whittington, for local businesses battling the economy, these are just some of the things she touches on, and says that at the end of the day it comes down to fairness.

"The economy is going to be high on the agenda.

"If you look at the High Streets, everyone is under pressure - it's about fairness in taxation for the Lib Dems."

Again, speaking about the funding gap for Haringey's children, which sees them receive thousands less per pupil than neighbouring boroughs because they are classed as "outer London", she says: "The challenges we are facing here are exactly the same as the other London boroughs and, again, it's about fairness."

So how does she assess her first round as an MP?

"It has been an honour and a privilege to serve the people in Hornsey and Wood Green," she said.

"I remember on my election I said I would be the hardest working MP ever and I think I have done my best to fulfil that pledge."

Whether there is a Round Two is for the voters to decide.

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