I have been obsessed for the past few weeks with the selection of Labour’s next parliamentary candidate in Hampstead and Kilburn. Glenda Jackson will be standing down in 2015, the all-women shortlist has been whittled down to the last three of whom I am one, and the hustings and decisive vote are on Sunday, which also happens to be Bastille Day. In case you are wondering, this is a selection Unite has decided to sit out. Hampstead and Kilburn has a large and independent-minded membership, about 900 strong, which makes the outcome horribly unpredictable. As a candidate, the election is about mobilising your friends, holding a fund-raiser and spending every day knocking on members’ doors, ringing them up, sending them emails and leaflets until they are sick to death of the lot of us. And then giving a knock-out speech at the hustings. It is costly in both time and money, which is why candidates always try for union backing because that is one of the few sources of help if you are not independently wealthy. I am proud to be endorsed by Aslef. One forgets though that politics was always for some people a hand-to-mouth business, and can be the worse for not being so. Clement Attlee had lots of jobs before he became an MP, working for charities, as secretary to Beatrice Webb and to Toynbee Hall, and serving at Gallipoli, where he was the last but one man out of Suvla Bay. Disraeli was scandalously in debt.
What I detest most about the current bunch of Tories is that they have encouraged and indeed see nothing wrong in a global oligarchy which is floating away from the rest of us. These people do not pay taxes and have their businesses registered off shore. This is the case for many of the businesses now taking over public services. Neither these firms nor their bosses have any real stake in Britain. They don’t care about public services and are interested in pushing down wages across the board. Moreover they use expensive lawyers to close down any legal challenge to their position, while the Tories and LibDems have abolished much legal aid which would help the less well-off challenge them. It is inherently unfair and a Labour Government will have to pass bold legislation to stop it.
Out canvassing, I find myself meeting everyone from young management consultants, pragmatic Labour as one might call them, who have spent their adult life in Blair’s Britain and are passionately interested in how you obtain social justice within a global capitalist system, to the romantic old literary left in Hampstead, poets and artists who have seen the world change beneath their feet. Their reference points are Attlee and post-war Labour governments and they make the necessary connection to Labour’s intellectual socialist foundations.
Meanwhile a significant part of the electorate live on the council estates in Kilburn. These people most need a Labour MP and a Labour government to stand up for them, but very few of them are Labour members. Nor indeed are most of them unionised. They are stuck on very low pay, going in and out of unstable work, sometimes disabled and heavily reliant on benefits. With the Government’s cuts and changes to benefits they are all too easily forced into the hands of loan sharks and many may end up being forced out of London. As lawyer on the Kilburn High Road reminded me Labour in the 1970s was instrumental in setting up law centres, and legal firms up and down the High Road offered free advice. That has all but gone now. The Citizens Advice Bureau also moves out this summer.
My husband, Andrew, has been the subject of a certain amount of speculation. Does the fact he’s a bit of a Tory make any difference? With a majority of only 42 in a three-way marginal I hope it might be an advantage to be able to pick off supporters of the other side. This is the letter he wrote to the Camden New Journal:
In your admirably even-handed account of the candidates to succeed Glenda Jackson, you suggest people might think it a drawback for Sally Gimson to be married to me. So I would like to reassure any of your readers who may be worried about this that although I have Tory tendencies, I have been unable, in the last 21 years, to change a single one of Sally’s political opinions.
I haven’t yet managed to meet Emma Thompson, another famous member, who is a prominent campaigner against the third runway at Heathrow. Alan Davies, the comedian, has come to several events, behaved charmingly and seems genuinely enthusiastic about choosing the next parliamentary candidate. I do wonder whether the whole process might not make for a one-minute comedy sketch and he is just gathering material.
My preoccupation with politics means the house has become a bit of a mess. When a professor friend arrived to stay from America she had to get our younger daughter to take her shopping for supper. I get occasional texts from our son’s school saying he has not done his geography homework. The 11-year-old is acting more like a flatmate than a daughter, the kind of flatmate who labels the milk, keeps their room immaculate and gives you disapproving stares when your friends come round. And the 17-year-old . . . I can’t tell you about the 17-year-old because that would embarrass her. Suffice to say that seeing her parents’ rackety lifestyle of journalism and politics is making her more determined to have a proper job as a doctor.
My biggest, if somewhat disillusioning, discovery is that it is really all about the hair. Forget values or policies, one of the essentials for being a woman MP or parliamentary candidate is the hair. Get up close to Harriet Harman’s hair and you’ll see what I mean. It’s a work of art: the different subtle colours, the smoothness. And Rachel Reeves’s hair, dark, shiny and immaculate. Barbara Castle and Margaret Thatcher used to have their hair done every day. Even when Mo Mowlam didn’t have any hair, she still used her wig to her advantage. For the first time in my life, I have invested in a proper hair dryer, but I am not sure this is enough.
Sally Gimson is a Labour councillor for Highgate, Camden and is seeking selection as the Labour parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn