The race to follow Frank Dobson – who will Camden Labour select?

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by “Owen”

A few weeks ago Holborn and St Pancras MP Frank Dobson finally confirmed the worst-kept secret in north London political circles, announcing his retirement at the next election after more than three decades in Parliament.

Shockingly enough, quite a few Labour figures have declared their interest in representing a prime central London seat with a comfortable majority (Dobson won the seat in 2010 by just under 10,000 votes) – most of them male, though it’s still possible that an all-women shortlist might be imposed from on high by the party leadership. But who are they? The North London Star takes a look…

keir starmer

Name: Keir Starmer

Who is he? Barrister specialising in criminal law, and until last year Director of Public Prosecutions. Currently part of the Labour Party’s Victims Taskforce, aiming to improve how victims of crime are treated by the justice system.

Backed by: ASLEF union, Tessa Jowell MP, Mary Honeyball MEP, Joan Bakewell, Trevor Phillips and two Camden councillors, among others.

Website: http://www.keirstarmer.com – A relatively slick site, but bafflingly lacking in any information about his political ambitions. Or his political views. Or his views on anything at all other than the criminal justice system.

Twitter followers: 3,178

Chance of winning: High.

Something of a blank slate politically (he’s never held elected office), but likely to be the frontrunner anyway thanks to his relatively high public profile and his links with the party at a national level. Has at least lived in the constituency for some time, which will go some way to countering claims that he’s being parachuted in.

sarah hayward

Name: Sarah Hayward

Who is she? Current leader of Camden Council, first elected as a councillor in 2010. Notable acts as leader include campaigning against HS2, pushed for the building of new council housing, and pledging that no worker employed by Camden Council will be paid less than £20,000 per year, though apparently not until 2018.

Backed by: Tom Copley, a London Assembly member who was rumoured to be considering standing himself but ruled himself out in a letter to the Camden New Journal backing Hayward.

Website: http://sarahhayward.info/ Launched less than two weeks ago (presumably with her candidacy in mind), the site contains comprehensive accounts of Hayward’s achievements as a Councillor, life story and political beliefs, but for some reason no actual mention of her candidacy anywhere.

Twitter followers: 3,696

Chance of winning: Medium

A councillor for four years, and leader of the Council for two, she at least has experience of elected office, but runs the risk of appearing to treat her time on the Council as a mere stepping stone to bigger and better things. This impression hasn’t been helped by the fact that she’s broken an explicit promise she made not to stand for selection as an MP, a pledge she now says was ‘a mistake’, and not made for any ‘nefarious reasons’. Also rumoured to be unpopular with at least some of her fellow Labour members (none of whom have publicly endorsed her candidacy at the time of writing), and has previously hit the headlines for the wrong reasons after a letter ordering staff to address her as ‘Dear Leader’ was leaked to Private Eye.

raj chada

Name: Raj Chada

Who is he? Ex-leader of the Council (until losing his seat in 2006), and current chair of Holborn & St Pancras CLP. Also a solicitor with right-on Camden Town law firm Hodge Jones and Allen, he’s represented a number of activists in trials linked to political protests, including actions by UKUncut, Critical Mass and Occupy London.

Backed by: Claude Moraes MEP, Lucy Anderson MEP

Website: http://www.rajchada.com/ – The only site of the three frontrunners’ to contain any reference to his candidacy alongside the inevitable long lists of achievements and earnest pronouncements of Labour articles of faith.

Twitter followers: 934

Chance of winning: Medium.

The Camden New Journal suggests he’s trying to position himself as the left candidate, and promises on his website to “fight the slide to an Americanised Thatcherite system of poor services for poor people” and abolish Trident (yes, all by himself apparently), would seem to support that, as would the photo of him posing with a poster of Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s famous Black Power salute. This combined with the fact that he’s chair of the constituency party may help him build support among local members, but may play less well with the party hierarchy.


patrick french

Name: Patrick French

Who is he? Chair of Highgate Labour Party, and a consultant at University College London, specialising in HIV.

Backed by: No one announced so far.

Website: None.

Twitter followers: 620

Chance of winning: Low.

He certainly seems to be a dedicated campaigner against privatisation in the NHS and longstanding member of the Socialist Health Association, but has never held elected office, and doesn’t have much of a public profile or apparently – given his lack of a personal website – much inclination to try and build one.

angela pober

Name: Angela Pober

Who is she? Newly-elected councillor for West Hampstead, with a background in financial services. Also works a researcher in corporate governance at Birkbeck.

Backed by: No one so far. Website: http://www.angelapober.com/ What can only be described as a jaw-droppingly amateurish design, with a somewhat haphazard approach to capitalisation on some pages (“I now live with my Lovely Man in Bloomsbury”). Admittedly web design and grammatical accuracy aren’t hugely relevant skills to being a good MP, but as first impressions go it’s not the best.

Twitter followers: 52

Chance of winning: Low.

Lacking in much of a public profile or base of support, and despite her website making clear her desire to be PPC, it’s noticeably light on details of what she’d actually do if she succeeded (other than a somewhat cryptic pledge to “Fight Unfairness Faster”). Her constituents in West Hampstead might be a bit put out at her declaring her wish to move on a mere three months after she was elected as well.

thomas gardiner

Name: Thomas Gardiner

Who is he? Councillor for Kilburn since 2010 and general all-round lefty activist (or “[s]ocialist, democrat, trade unionist, campaigner, ginger”, as his Twitter bio would have it).

Backed by: We’re awaiting news of his major backers.

Website: None

Twitter followers: 738

Chance of winning: Low.

A member of Labour Left who claims to be standing “to continue the tradition of everyday, practical socialism which Frank Dobson has always represented”, he’s the most overtly left-wing candidate for the seat by quite some way (even if you might want to quibble with his classification of Dobson as a socialist). So the chances of the party leadership letting him anywhere near the nomination are – sadly – probably slim to none.

4 Responses to The race to follow Frank Dobson – who will Camden Labour select?

  1. Thanks for this, very helpful.

    One thing that surprised me was that you didn’t have Sarah Hayward as favourite. I know Starmer is the national leadership’s favourite, but that’s not always been much of a benefit in other places – and Hayward has the profile and local links (both in the party and outside of it) to be a very viable candidate (not that any Labour candidate, whoever they are, is likely to lose the seat itself).

    I do wonder about her previous attitude coming back to bite her though. When Tom C had his hat in the ring a number of people said to me that he was a stalking horse for Hayward and, idiot that I am, I was pretty skeptical. Well, it’s clear that was true now and I wonder if members react against that sort of thing – particularly because she said she wasn’t going to run – which was always a silly and unlikely promise.

    • With these ‘national’ figures (including Miliband of course) how much do they actually have to do with the local party? I’m sure they’ll vote in the selection (is it by post, that’s what I’m assuming) but how much will they be rubbing shoulders with the rest of the electorate in order to be able to influence them?

      I do think the councillors are key for this race because they are the ones with both “respectability” and an organic (?) week to week relationship with the members. I saw the article in the CNJ – it might be interesting to draw up a list of the cllrs who *aren’t* backing Hayward – it can’t do their future prospects much good!

  2. Oops sorry, I fail at html tags.