Labour Losing Heart(lands)

A reporter from the Today program came to The Three Compasses pub in Hornsey High Street (my HQ is upstairs) to interview me last Friday on why Haringey – a key Labour heartland – was now one of the councils reckoned likely to fall to the Liberal Democrats in May. The program aired on Saturday.

Following on from the mega-outstanding win for the LibDems in the Dunfermline by-election (a Labour ‘safe’ seat) and my own massive swing victory here in Hornsey and Wood Green in last May’s General Election, he wanted to understand what was at the root of Labour’s decline in its heartlands?

Where to begin! The most fundamental reason for both what is happening here and for the stunning result in Scotland last week is that Labour have been taking people in their ‘heartlands’ for granted. And there always comes the day when the worm turns – when the people have just had enough.

At the local level, I know when I started asking people in Muswell Hill ward back in ’97 if they had any problems I could help with – they certainly had lots. The streets were dirty, street lights weren’t repaired, no one responded from the council if you reported anything, paving stones were uneven and potholes abounded. Local residents felt that the Labour-run council didn’t care, didn’t listen and that they were simply expected to pay higher and higher Council Tax for less and less service.

I also remember the first – and very dismissive – reply I got from the council to the first batch of casework I sent in after doing a residents’ survey. It basically and briefly said everything I had raised had been sorted, and all was fine. Not having been born yesterday – a rather sceptical colleague and I went to check out the broken pavements, dumped rubbish etc that I had reported. And what did we find – that lots of things that hadn’t been sorted after all! As ever – fine words from the council, just a shame the answer was a brush-off and the truth was rather different. Local residents were sick of it.

Haringey Council was a Labour fiefdom where the administration clearly believed that they ruled by divine right and therefore had no need to heed the residents. So it was easy in a way. When I came along saying I do care about you and your problems and I will fight for your streets to be clean, for your rubbish to be collected properly and for door to door recycling and so on – residents were very responsive. I got things done. And despite many, many attacks on me for being ‘trivial’ and caring about mundane issues – my view has always been and remains that if you can’t keep a street clean – how can you run the country?

Combine that sort of profligate local Labour attitude with the bigger picture – where the war on Iraq began huge disenchantment with Labour nationally – and the goodwill that had heralded New Labour’s new dawn in ’97 began to seep away. All the more so as the assault on our national civil liberties intensified and the authoritarian and controlling nature of New Labour tightened its strictures. The result – people who have trusted Labour for life – who say to me ‘if you cut me I bleed Labour’ – have been forced to sever their lifetime allegiance to the Labour party in favour of Liberal Democrats.

And the arrogance continues – as with the education bill where the Government keeps on saying that it just has to explain its plans better. Heaven forefend that maybe the rest of us do understand the plans – but just don’t agree with them! Much of Labour’s concept of “choice” is a fraud – as with here in Muswell Hill or Crouch End where many children don’t have a local school place, let alone a choice.

So add all that together – and you can see exactly why Labour is losing heart and losing its heartlands.