BACK TO THE EIGHTIES WITH THE TORIES

I am old enough to remember the grim feeling I had on the way to school when Paddington in the new seat of Westminster North fell to the Tories in 1979. Arthur Latham narrowly lost to John Wheeler, who joined a Thatcher government which, through its new-right ideology, would spend the next 18 years privatising industries, starving public services and presiding over record unemployment.

Wheeler’s winning margin was almost the same as the number votes cast for the Workers Revlolutionary Party (WRP) – showing how, in very tight elections, small parties can determine the outcome at constituency level and, in this case, unwittingly contribute to huge political change.

Today in Westminster North the contest is between our incumbent Labour MP – the hardworking and dedicated grassroots community champion, Karen Buck, and Tory Joanne Cash, wife of Cameron’s millionaire Eton chum Octavius Black.

But just as it was 1979, I have a deep sense of foreboding about what the Conservatives have planned for the country should they win on 6th May. 

The “nasty” party’s presentation skills have definitely improved. But while the language is softer, the substance of what has all the echoes of the Thatcherite era.

George Osborne relishing the prospect of massive cuts to public services. Chris Grayling’s anti-gay bigotry showing just how far we could regress on equality issues. David Cameron’s gaffe on China when he expressed sentiments not dissimilar to those that Thatcher had against the Hong Kong Chinese. And the out of touch “born to rule” attitude of old Etonians like Boris and Cameron is there for all to see.

While they try to hide it by fielding figures such as Eric Pickles and William Hague to the media, the Tory front bench is packed full of privately-educated, amazingly privileged individuals.

Far from being the party of change, Cameron’s Conservatives actually represent a return to the worst Thatcherite excesses of the 1980s. Labour’s national campaign needs to emphasise this: we have been here before. 

From the presidential, X-factor-like national campaign to the local, smaller parties could again have a disproportionate effect on the outcome in Westminster North where it’s sure to be close. 

The Greens will take votes from Labour on the left. UKIP similarly from the Tory right. But judging by Labour’s success in a recent local by-election local issues could play in the party’s favour.

We achieved an 11 per cent swing thanks to a campaign emphasising what the party was doing locally. And with council elections on the same day as the general election, local issues could again be decisive.

So while the media and chattering classes talk of coalitions and hung parliaments, locally I’ll be out there reminding Labour supporters of the importance of getting out to vote.

I remember how it felt waking up to Thatcher in 1979 and I’ll be doing everything I can to ensure the cloud that was overhead on my walk to school that day doesn’t show up on my way to City Hall on May 7th.

Published in Tribune on the 30th of April 2010.