Nick Cohen: Labour members are “in despair” of trying to unseat Lynne Featherstone

Lynne FeatherstoneThe Observer’s Nick Cohen isn’t Lynne Featherstone’s biggest fan: “I cannot tell you how much I dislike this stupid, two-faced and dangerous politician,” he writes affectionately in The Spectator.

He later labels her a “menace”, a “hypocrite”, and curses her “wittering” (I wonder if that’s a verb he’s ever applied to a male politician, by the way?).

All of which means poor Nick is in despair. Why? Because, he laments, Labour is completely failing to get its act together in Hornsey and Wood Green, allegedly one of their top Lib Dem targets at the next election:

Labour should retake the seat in 2015. Indeed, Labour has to retake the seat if it is to have any hope of forming a government. Pundits who talk about Miliband presiding over a ‘united left’ overestimate Labour’s strength. In most Liberal Democrat seats in the shires, if left wingers vote Labour because they can no longer support the party of Clegg to keep the Tory out, the Conservatives will come through the middle and win. If you look at Labour’s list of battleground seats, Hornsey and Wood Green is one of the few Lib Dem seats the party hopes to capture.

Yet when I went to the pub with the Labour activists, they were in despair. They did not have a candidate in place, and probably would not get one until the summer. They had no one to introduce to the voters: no one even to call the local papers and argue the Labour case.

‘What?’ I said ‘Why ever not?’

My hosts explained that bureaucratic manoeuvrings and political correctness at Labour’s regional office had paralysed the local party. It was telling them to have an all-woman shortlist, which was taking forever to arrange. I suggested they called Tom Watson or another national organiser. My companions shrugged. No one cared about them, they implied.

Parties that are steaming to power do not behave like this. They cover every angle. Think of every eventuality, and deal with every objection a nervous voter may raise. In short, they have a restlessness and an urgency about them that Labour at the moment lacks, and not only in North London’s leafy suburbs.

All of which might mean there’s a few more years’ “wittering” left in Lynne Featherstone yet. Good.

Incidentally, one of the reasons Nick Cohen takes against Lynne with such crude vigour is her denunciation of Julie Burchill and the Observer’s editor for publishing that article on trans-sexuals.

I’m a First Amendmenter when it comes to free speech. Journalists should be free to write what they want. Newspapers should be free to publish (or indeed unpublish) what they want. And it seems I’d go a stage further than Nick Cohen and extend free speech to politicians to say what they want. All should, of course, have to live with the consequences of their own actions.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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13 Comments

  • Nick Cohen supported Julie Burchill and her article. He is a friend and promoter of bigotry against those not in his favoured minorities.

  • It never ceases to amaze me how any editor can justify spending g ood money on Nick Cohen’s ego-inflationary snide rancidity .

    I would, however, warn against any complacency based upon Labour’s late selection of a parliamentary candidate. In Sefton Central they romped to victory in 2010 with a last minute outsider and hardly any ground troops.

  • Nick Cohen has always irritated the crap out of me. Pro-Iraq War and seemingly a Blairite. Such a self-righteous horror.

    There’s a lot stacked against the Lib Dems going into 2015, but maybe the residents of Hornsey and Wood Green recall the godawful Barbara Roche (the previous Labour MP and former minister). Lynne took that seat with one of the biggest swings of the 05 election, which is quite telling of how unpopular Roche was.

  • He only sees her as dangerous because she dared to criticise the commentariat and stick up for a minority while his luvvies were busy abusing the concept of free speech to attack said minority.

  • Liberal Neil 22nd Jan '13 - 11:44pm

    To be fair, this is a useful quote:

    “In most Liberal Democrat seats in the shires, if left wingers vote Labour because they can no longer support the party of Clegg to keep the Tory out, the Conservatives will come through the middle and win.”

  • Tony – and Liverpool Wavertree

  • Whatever the merits or otherwise of Cohen’s piece, Featherstone, a government minister, called for a journalist to be sacked.

    That’s a disgrace, and rather worrying.

    It is not the role of government to try and control the press.

  • I am sure I will irritate the likes of Liberal Neil when I say it is quite often a good policy to select late. I get an argument in my own constituency when I say this, so how much more with the Parties’ professional campaign staff! Why do I say this? Particularly in the long Parliamentary terms (as we have set ourselves 2010 – 2015), candidates and their constituencies a) have much more time to fall out with one another, and b) individual circumstances can change greatly, resulting in withdrawals, at possibly the worst possible moment. Study the history of candidates in the 2008 – 10 period, and see the numbers of embarrassing and disruptive cases like this.

    Far better select late and have a good choice of candidates, who also may not for various reasons be up for the long haul.

  • Bill le Breton 23rd Jan '13 - 9:01am

    This is misogyny; pure, plain and as obvious as the writer’s sexual anxieties.

  • Liberal Neil 23rd Jan '13 - 10:34am

    @Tim13 I think it depends on the seat and its circumstances. In seats that we are serious about winning, and where name recognition and community profile is an important factor, I generally favour early selection.

    In seats where we are the challengers, or trying to maintain that position, I think it is generally helpful to get a candidate in place sooner rather than later as they tend to lead a lot of the activity that helps us achieve that objective.

    In other seats I think it depends very much on the circumstances, what the local party is like and what the objectives are. There are certainly many where early selection is not the best approach.

  • Liberal Neil 23rd Jan '13 - 10:35am

    @Tim13 In this case I think the point is well made. I think Labour will put themselves at a disadvantage if they don’t have a candidate to promote. Until they do they just concede the ground to Lynne.

  • Nick Cohen is excellent at journalism because he is rubbish at politics.

    I’m very happy he is the former rather than the latter, and may it remain so as long as it does.

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