I gave a talk to the Hornsey and Wood Green Labour Party last night. If you don’t know the area, the constituency covers Highgate, Muswell Hill and Crouch End: leafy north London villages, where the metropolitan middle class go, if not to die, then at least to produce babies. There are pockets of high unemployment and council housing, but the seat is generally prosperous and in places very prosperous. Its fortunes illustrate how the political parties have attended to the needs of the urban bourgeoisie.
The Conservatives are nowhere now. As late as 1992, Hornsey and Wood Green was a Tory seat. This year they closed their local office and gave up, as they have given up in so many British cities. I don’t want to go on about Conservative failings in the Spectator of all places, but if you people got out more you would realise that few care about EU, gay marriage and those other bugbears, which make you seem as strange as Scientologists or 9/11 truthers. If you mentioned the extortionate cost of finding a home, or jobs, or pensions, you might begin to seem like creatures from the same species as the rest of us.
Which is not to say that Labour have it easy. Barbara Roche took Hornsey and Wood Green in 1992. Just before the Second Iraq War of 2003, her Constituency Labour Party ordered her to vote to against sending British troops to overthrow Saddam. In good Burkean fashion, Roche insisted that she was a representative, not a delegate, and voted for war. It was a magnificent declaration of independence. Unfortunately for her, local Labour members declared their independence too, and resigned en masse. She had no one to campaign for her, and her defeat was inevitable.
The Liberal Democrat Lynne Featherstone took the seat in 2005 on an anti-war ticket, and won again in 2010 with a majority of 6875.
I cannot tell you how much I dislike this stupid, two-faced and dangerous politician. People say there are no good causes left worth fighting for. Not true in my humble opinion. Removing Lynne Featherstone from office is as noble a cause as you could hope to find.
I must declare an interest. Featherstone intervened during the recent hullabaloo about the “transphobic” polemic by Julie Burchill my newspaper the Observer ran a few weeks ago. Featherstone demanded that we should fire Burchill and fire the editor as well. I have worked through the worst days of Bernard Ingham and Alastair Campbell’s manipulation of the media, but I have never before heard a minister in a democracy call for writers and editors to be fired for publishing an opinion, however offensive and controversial it may be. That the minister in question calls herself a “liberal” means that Featherstone is not just a menace but a hypocrite too.
And a fool. Featherstone will have lodged herself in the minds of many readers with her statement when she was equalities minister in 2010 that Christina Hendricks was ‘a fabulous role model’ for young women – an announcement which produced the unimprovable headline in the Daily Mash, ‘Women Should Be Hot, Slutty Secretaries With Massive Boobs, Says Equalities Minister’. Beyond her wittering, lies the grim condition of women living under the coalition she serves, which stands as a rebuke to all her pretensions.
Labour should retake the seat in 2015. Indeed, Labour has to retake the seat if it is to have any hope of forming a government. Pundits who talk about Miliband presiding over a ‘united left’ overestimate Labour’s strength. In most Liberal Democrat seats in the shires, if left wingers vote Labour because they can no longer support the party of Clegg to keep the Tory out, the Conservatives will come through the middle and win. If you look at Labour’s list of battleground seats, Hornsey and Wood Green is one of the few Lib Dem seats the party hopes to capture.
Yet when I went to the pub with the Labour activists, they were in despair. They did not have a candidate in place, and probably would not get one until the summer. They had no one to introduce to the voters: no one even to call the local papers and argue the Labour case.
‘What?’ I said ‘Why ever not?’
My hosts explained that bureaucratic manoeuvrings and political correctness at Labour’s regional office had paralysed the local party. It was telling them to have an all-woman shortlist, which was taking forever to arrange. I suggested they called Tom Watson or another national organiser. My companions shrugged. No one cared about them, they implied.
Parties that are steaming to power do not behave like this. They cover every angle, think of every eventuality, and deal with every objection a nervous voter may raise. In short, they have a restlessness and an urgency about them that Labour at the moment lacks, and not only in North London’s leafy suburbs.