The 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.