The Battle for Barking: won or lost?

A new film shows the kind of community likely to be hurt most by the coalition's cuts.

I've just been to see Laura Fairrie's excellent documentary The Battle for Barking, which is broadcast on More4 next month. It's a thoughtful and sensitive portrait of the election battle that took place earlier this year on the fringes of east London between Labour's Margaret Hodge and the BNP's Nick Griffin, following the campaign on both sides.

It works particularly well as a portrait of Barking's ordinary working-class residents and the frustrations that have pushed some of them towards supporting the BNP. A lack of decent housing -- as I reported earlier this year -- is at the heart of these frustrations. In one scene, a mother invites the camera into her poky towerblock flat. Tearfully, she explains: "All I want is a garden for my kids to play in."

The sense of isolation from and anger at mainstream politics -- not just from white, BNP-supporting residents, in fact, but others, too -- is palpable. And it is vital to remember that while voters may have kicked the BNP out of Barking, this anger has not gone away. Barking is exactly the kind of community most likely to be hurt by today's spending review. Homes and jobs are already scarce resources there; the planned cap on housing benefit and increase in rent for social housing will push more people out of inner London and towards the edges of the capital. Towards places like Barking.

These are people who were not listened to, even in the boom years; even by a Labour party that was supposed to represent them. I wonder: will anyone in power give a second thought to them in the years to come?

Daniel Trilling is the Editor of New Humanist magazine. He was formerly an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

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Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.