FRANK DOBSON, LABOUR, HOLBORN & ST PANCRAS
Frank Dobson is the Labour candidate for Holborn & St Pancras – a seat right in the heart of London, comprised of nine wards from the area covered by Camden Council. He has been the local MP since 1979.
‘Fraid I’ve not been much good at this blogging malarkey over the last few days. Definitely think the campaigning is starting to take it toll. All that’s keeping me going is the knowledge that if I stop now I’ll never get started again.
It’s been all systems go in Camden over the bank holiday weekend and today was particularly long and arduous. Many of the team are nursing aches and pains this evening. But we’ve been kept going by the discovery that Royal Mail have not got my freepost out to the entire constituency. In situations like this you just have to rely on good old fashioned Labour foot-soldier power but by late in the evening you do start to wish for a bit of Ashcroft’s money to fund my mail shots too!
Few more visits to various friends in the North - Judith Blake in Otley, Joan Humble in Blackpool, Geraldine Smith in Morecambe, Ann Sacks in Lancaster and David Borrow in Leyland. They’ve all got fights on their hands but seem up for the task. And while many are saying Labour is overstating the Tory ‘back door’ campaign there is certainly evidence of it as far as I can see. Send out lots of targeted mail to Tory and potential Tory voters but meanwhile do no visible campaigning and make sure would-be Labour voters think it’s safe to protest vote or stay at home because the Tories don’t seem to be doing much round here anyway. Difficult to call exactly how successful this strategy will be.
On the plus side lots of evidence that our core vote is piling up but sadly this may not be enough - we need those people who switched to us in ’97 and ’01 to stay with us. Three days to convince them….
Wednesday April 27
So the campaigning seems to have got quite hectic!
Lots going on locally over the past few days. You may have had Sedgemore but here it’s all been about Simpson. That’s Cllr Jonathan Simpson who until yesterday was a leading Lib Dem councillor in Camden. He’s now joined the Labour Party. The Lib Dems may call themselves the ‘real alternative’ but anyone who has come across them locally doesn’t think they are any alternative at all and Jonathan agrees – in Camden they have been weak on crime and anti-social behaviour and have failed local people.
We’ve also had a visit from Michael Howard. He came to the National Hospital for Neurology & Neurosurgery to talk about MRSA. I’m not sure this cuts much ice in a constituency where, over 18 years, the Tories let the NHS – despite the hard work of all the staff – decay and decline.
The National is part of the University College Hospitals group – a real showcase for Labour’s sustained investment in the NHS. Next month the new University College Hospital will open – a £300 million investment in our health service. The Tories talked a lot about rebuilding UCH but did nothing.
And I wonder whether Michael Howard noticed the renovation of the Royal London Homeopathic next to the National. It was reduced to a run-down shell under the Tories. Or the Institute of Neurology also next door. Its flagship project is research into variant CJD – a condition we have been exposed to because of the incompetence of the last Tory government over BSE in cattle.
Have also visited the Great Croft Resource Centre to do a question and answer session with local pensioners and dropped in to Central YMCA to find out about their hopes to rejuvenate the Tonbridge Youth Club in Kings Cross to serve both young and old. Then more questions and answers, but this time on Iraq, at Camden’s Stop the War Coalition hustings. Oh and have fitted in a flying visit to Bishop Auckland’s new hospital, originally promised by the Tories 20 years ago.
Monday, April 25
Excellent few days of campaigning. Friday night’s hustings went well and although there was some hostility in the audience many people were willing to listen and be persuaded that protest votes will only serve to make themselves feel a bit better rather than having any positive effect for those that have benefited from eight years of Labour Government.
We were out in force on Saturday with street stalls in various locations and we seemed to get a relatively positive response from the passers-by we spoke to. Later in the day I met with leaders from the Muslim community and although they still have many concerns over Iraq and other issues the Government could have handled better, they were very warm in their welcome and our discussions were really positive.
Our Campaigning Sunday was the best one so far. Mainly in St Pancras and Somers Town those people who weren’t out were generally very firm Labour supporters. Many people on the estates here are less affluent and there are also many Bangladeshis. This part of the constituency always turns out a Labour vote but it needs working at and the good feeling we sensed on Sunday reflects the success of both local and national campaigning on Labour’s economic record.
Friday, April 22
Canvassing in Kentish Town last night was pretty reassuring – a lot of people reminded me that I’d helped them with personal problems over the years. A large motorbike screeched to a holt in Leighton Road so its rider could thank me for helping him get rehoused – 18 years ago. Another was a Bangladeshi young man, with children of his own, who explained I had helped him and his mother join their dad in the country. Maybe there is gratitude in politics after all.
Then today has been a relatively busy day. Did slot on the Alastair Stewart Show with Iain Duncan Smith and Jenny Tonge first thing – we have been the regular panel on Mondays and Fridays since the election was called. This was followed by the West Euston Community Association’s Annual Meeting. WECA is dedicated to supporting and uniting West Euston’s neighbourhoods and has the sort of people involved that means this is actually happening and the area is being renewed and improved.
Later afternoon spent dealing with correspondence and press enquiries and now a bit of preparation for this evening’s hustings.
Other than that, doesn’t seem to be anymore breakthroughs locally than there are nationally, for any party, and I imagine there are plenty of candidates, as well as members of the public, who are a little fed up of the General Election slog…
Thursday, April 21
Just heading out to Kentish Town for a spot of canvassing. At last some good General Election weather has arrived so quite looking forward to it.
Just got back from Chiswick where I was out with Ann Keen the Labour candidate. We had lunch at the local hospital and then were out and about in Chiswick.
We got a very good and friendly response, partly because Ann has been working so hard week in, week out for the people of Brentford and Chiswick. Local people have also noticed the contrast between the spanking new West Middlesex Hospital, built under the Labour Government, and the ghastly run down dump that the Tories neglected for 18 years. It was a pleasure to visit the hospital to see the product of my decision that it should be rebuilt when I was Health Secretary.
Michael Howard has today declared that homes are the “bedrock” of a family’s security. It’s possible that raising the stamp duty threshold will help ensure that’s the case. However more helpful are the lowest interest and mortgage rates for more than 40 years. And given that under the last Tory Government a million homes fell into negative equity, many homes were repossessed and thousands of council houses were sold off, contributing to the huge shortage of decent affordable homes for many of my constituents here in Camden, I’m not sure I’d trust them to make sure I felt secure in my own home.
Wednesday, April 20
Supposed to be in Cornwall today visiting the community hospitals I refused to close when I was Health Secretary but the arrangements went awry. So I’ve been meeting some constituents and drafting letters to my student voters.
I don’t believe there are such things as ‘young people’s issues’. Every generation has an interest in perennial concerns such as peace and war, jobs, human rights, protecting the environment and fairness at home and abroad. But that’s not a very fashionable view so I hope I don’t upset more students than I impress. At least I’m not tempted to be photographed in a baseball cap.
This weekend I have a lot of appointments – some street stalls, some canvassing, some meetings with particular groups of constituents. And a hustings organised by the Working Men’s College in collaboration with the Camden New Journal.
There’s a touch of the Punch and Judy Show about hustings which generally produce more entertainment that enlightenment. The only thing that sets my teeth on edge is the holier-than-thou element whether on the platform or in the audience.Tuesday, April 19
Very tired today, feel a bit like I’ve run the marathon. Interestingly, some candidates did run the marathon on Sunday!
This includes Chris Pond, Labour Candidate in Gravesham who I saw yesterday during a flying visit. Also made quick trip to Derek Wyatt in Sittingbourne and Sheppey. Derek wanted me to visit because when I was Health Secretary I promised him Sheppey would get a new community hospital and yesterday’s trip allowed me to look round the new hospital that proves I kept my promise. He reminded me that when he’d lobbied me to give priority to Sheppey I’d told him to ask me about it at Health Questions. He did and I made a public commitment so that no official could go back on my decision.
Other than that it’s been a Camden focus with the Labour Centre currently full of letters and letter-stuffers as I write to local Bangladeshis, students, pensioners and health workers who have raised various issues with me over the last year or so.
Bit of canvassing this evening and have agreed to write the Camden New Journal’s ‘Forum’ piece, where I have to answer a topical question they pose, so this will be the late evening homework.
Nominations closed today so have also just found out who I’m standing against. Tories, Lib Dems and Greens as expected. Had been expecting an independent in the form of Your Party’s David Woods but he doesn’t seem to be on the list. I hear he may not have got his nomination papers together – from reading his website it seems his declaration that “voting for any other party, including Labour, would not make any difference to the outcome” must have led not to the voter-apathy he was concerned about but instead to candidate-apathy on his part!
However, I will be up against ‘Rainbow’ George Weiss of the Vote for Yourself Dream Ticket. I hear that he stood in the Brent East by-election and having received only 11 votes declared that all those who hadn’t voted at all had in fact cast their vote for him. As only 49 per cent of the Holborn & St Pancras electorate turned out in 2001 and as he has previously pledged to cut all taxes, there could be interesting times ahead. His website at www.xat.org is definitely worth a look – if only to crash the server that had been experiencing problems with high levels of traffic...
Monday, April 18
Fish and chips and my visits to Scarborough and Whitby were good success. Really warm welcome from local people and as I visited the seat in 1997 and 2001 when Labour won, Lawrie Quinn thinks I may be on a hatrick of successful visits.
Dashed round a few other places on Saturday to help launch Labour’s Health Petition, asking people to sign up if they are against the Tory policy of charging for basic operations.
Ian Cawsey seems to be a very popular figure in Goole where plenty of people told me it wasn’t about voting Labour or Tory, it was about voting ‘Ian’. There was a token presence from the Lib Dems and no presence at all from the Tories mainly due to David Davis’ Haltemprice and Howden seat being the neighbouring constituency. With his majority squeezed to just 1903 in 2001, it would seem both him and most Tory and Lib Dem East Yorkshire activists have been banished there for the duration of the campaign. Tactical voting from Labour voters plus the presence of a UKIP candidate could finish off the hopes of the Shadow Home Secretary.
In Headingley, part of Leeds North West, there was a really buzzing atmosphere with plenty of young people helping out on Judith Blake’s campaign. We really need activists who will do the confrontational stuff on the doorsteps and streets and challenge voters who moan about Labour’s record. Having people who’ll stuff envelopes and leaflet isn’t enough this time - we’ve got to be more actively persuading people to go out and vote. This is why positive messages are so vital and why I think Tory scaremongering on MRSA deaths and so on is beginning to fall on deaf ears. And that’s even before they got their figures so badly wrong.
Labour was out in force in Keighley as well, where sadly I imagine BNP leader Nick Griffin will pick up votes. However I think the local disgust at this is galvanising Labour support and people will come out and vote to make sure they beat the BNP and prove that Keighley isn’t a BNP town.
Getting out the Labour vote with Ann Cryer in Keighley
Finally on to Selby to support John Grogan. John was the first Labour MP to represent the village where I grew up and, due to boundary changes that will come in to force at the general election after this one, will probably be the last for some time. It will certainly be tight on election day and it’s really a battle of turn outs and a seat where disaffected Labour voters, who don’t vote or vote Lib Dem, could hand this seat to the Tories. The decision of the Greens not to stand should hopefully help John’s cause - they polled 900 votes last time and the seat could well be decided by less.
Friday, April 15
Very quick blog today as not sure when I’ll be back at the computer. Hustings and school assembly both went well. Bit of a children and education theme in the constituency today as Gordon Brown is speaking at Coram’s Fields playground and children’s centre to highlight Labour’s investment in services to children and parents.
Reason for short blog is noon train to Scarborough and then later on to Whitby where I’m keeping a long standing engagement with Scarborough and Whitby CLP and the Labour Candidate Lawrie Quinn. Particularly looking forward to fish and chips at the Magpie Restaurant, which must rate as the best fish and chip restaurant in Britain, excluding Holborn’s Fryer’s Delight of course!
Thursday, April 14
Good lunch yesterday at the Bengali Workers’ Association community centre on the Regents Park Estate. It’s quite interesting to hear the views of the different generations. The older members of the community still worry about events and goings-on in Bangladesh and are eager to watch the Bangladeshi news service the centre provides.
The younger generation are much more dedicated to the lives they have made here and are keen to integrate both themselves and their families as much as possible. It seems the younger you are, the more recently you arrived, the more keen you are to be seen at British. The Tories are pledging that the children of immigrants will be taught English in schools. From the conversations yesterday it strikes me that most children of immigrants do this of their own accord.
Other than that, busy organising leaflets and letters to constituents and some phone canvassing. Plus preparing for a hustings this evening in Covent Garden - Covent Garden is one third in my patch and the rest is Cities of Westminster and London so they’ll be a few of us there representing Labour, the Tories, the Lib Dems, the Greens and UKIP. And also preparing for an assembly I’m doing tomorrow morning with the Chief Rabbi at the Camden School for Girls.
Curious to know how the Lib Dems are ‘The Real Alternative’ in Camden given that the Camden New Journal today reported them going to neighbouring constituencies to campaign there instead. It’s always been clear that Islington South and Brent East would be higher on the Lib Dem hit list but it doesn’t seem very fair to local people that they should be making all sorts of promises about what they can deliver in Camden when they are really just interested in getting into power elsewhere. That doesn’t strike me as much of an alternative.
Wednesday, April 13
People always ask me what’s the most important thing about what I do and I always say being the elected representative for Holborn and St Pancras.
This has always formed the basis of what I do and why I do it so, even though it was for the seventh time, I was honoured to receive the official nomination of Holborn and St Pancras Labour Party last night at our campaign launch.
Held jointly with Hampstead and Highgate CLP, at the old Hampstead Town Hall, it was quite a rousing occasion with nearly a hundred activists attending. Helena Kennedy was very warm in her words of introduction to both myself and Glenda Jackson and I think both Glenda and I were well received.
With Glenda Jackson and Helena Kennedy at the Camden
On the day that Labour launched two posters highlighting the economic failure of the Tory years I was proud to put Labour economic record in Camden at the centre of my campaign – 5000 fewer people unemployed, over 2500 local jobs through New Deal, over 5,5OO local families benefiting from Labour tax credits and 90,000 Londoners benefiting from the National Minimum Wage. And add to that the lowest unemployment and lowest inflation for 3O years.
Put like that the Tory election campaign seems to be an insult to people’s intelligence. Under Mrs Thatcher’s Government, the tax burden was higher than it is now, John Major’s Government borrowed more in 1 year than Gordon Brown has borrowed in eight years and both their Governments slashed public services. They also gave us the highest unemployment since World War II, the highest interest rates since World War II and a third of a million homes repossessed and a million householders in negative equity. I certainly think Camden’s Labour members left the launch knowing they had a lot of good things to tell the electorate.Tuesday, April 12
Obviously curious about whether Ed Matts will survive as the Conservative candidate in Dorset South after been caught saying two entirely contradictory things in public.
When Michael Howard sacked Howard Flight he stated that if you believe in honesty you have to act on it.
And Mr Flight had been telling the truth! Here we have a candidate who has tried to practise deliberate deception. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
Before the doctored picture appeared today, I’d already read Polly Toynbee’s recent Guardian piece on Ed Matts and the Kachepa family. She wondered whether he was a kind hearted maverick who disagreed with his own party’s position on immigration but concluded it was much simpler - votes. He openly admitted that he supported his party’s position on immigration but just today, a chap said he’d vote for me because I took up this [the Kachepa] case.
Still under the risk of deportation it’s hardly surprising that Mrs Kachepa’s feels that she and her children are being used and have just become a tool for Ed Matts’ campaigning. And her case would seem to reflect the Tories’ willingness to jump on any bandwagon in their lust for votes without having any real concern for the human suffering involved.
The only conclusion I can draw? You can’t believe a word the Tories say. And if Michael Howard doesn’t sack Ed Matts? Well, if you believe in honesty, then you can’t believe a word he says either. And that’s never more true than when Michael Howard says he’ll increase spending on public services, reduce borrowing and cut taxes all at the same time. Anybody who believes that presumably believes in the tooth fairy.Monday, April 11
Made the train to Benfleet where I was met by the local Labour candidate Luke Akehurst. I’ve known Luke since he was my agent nearly 10 years ago so was keen to see how his Castle Point campaign was going.
Castle Point, in South Essex, was one of seats recaptured by the Tories in 2001 following a big swing to Labour in 1997. Interestingly, despite the media focus being on Labour-held marginals and the number of seats Labour could lose, there are some very strong local campaigns going on in narrowly held Tory seats like this one. The Conservative majority here is only 985 and there are always a few unexpected results at the general election with wins and losses going against the national trend. In 2001, for example, Jim Knight captured Dorset South for Labour from the Tories, a feat he was narrowly unable to manage in 1997 which could largely be viewed as Labour’s high water mark.
The Castle Point campaign also highlights the increasing importance that local issues have for many voters and a win here would be largely down to the local campaign. The big issues in Castle Point are protecting the Green Belt and getting a third access road for Canvey Island. Increasingly its issues like these that people want results on.
The widely-held view on the Brent East by-election result was that it was lost by Labour because of the war on Iraq and this may well be accurate. But I knocked on plenty of doors where people had decided to stay at home on election day because the park down the road was subject to vandalism and no longer a safe place for their children to play. Ultimately closely contested seats will be won and lost by the parties for a variety of reasons and issues, many of which will be not make the national campaign agendas. And although the ‘swing’ from one party to another is never uniform I think this could be even more the case at this election with strong local campaigns making a big difference to results.
Additionally Tory-held local councils, like the one in Castle Point, give voters an idea what to expect from the Tories nationally. Cuts and privatisation. In Castle Point they've tried to shut every public toilet and community hall, tried to sell the leisure centre to a private company for £1, allowed unpopular planning permission building on the Green Belt and have been graded "poor" by the Comprehensive Performance Assessment.
Voters should also take note of what Lib Dem-held councils do if my visit to Islington is anything to go by. Their record on cuts is comparable to the Tories. In Islington the social services budget has been slashed, nurseries, community centres and day centres for the elderly have been closed and children’s play places during the school holidays cut back. Meanwhile they have voted to give themselves the highest pay for council cabinet members in the UK - £40,000 each when a local nursery could be saved for just £6000.
But back to Castle Point - from what I saw last night, if local people want somebody to deliver for them, on the issues that they really care about, they’d do well to vote for Luke on election day.Sunday, April 10
Campaign feels well under way with streetstalls, canvassing and piles of leaflets now the norm…
This morning helped launch Labour's campaign in Islington South and Finsbury. This is the seat long held by my good friend Chris Smith who has decided to stand down at this election. Our constituencies are very similar, and share some of the same problems, so we've worked well together over the years. I look forward to working with the new Labour candidate Emily Thornberry in the future. However, despite Chris’s majority of 7000 at the last election, Islington Council is now Lib Dem and this seat is one of the Lib Dems’ targets.
As usual, for all Charles Kennedy's ‘we'll be positive’ declarations I haven't seen a Lib Dem leaflet in Islington with any positive words on them. They just attack the Labour Party, the Labour candidate or Tony Blair.
That aside, for Labour to hold on to Islington we must appeal to both the traditional Labour vote in the estates, that dominate many parts of the constituency, and also to the so called middle England vote who've been vital to Labour's big majorities in 1997 and 2001 - abstentions and Lib Dem protest votes would be costly here. Some of that middle England vote may fancy voting against Labour because they objected to the Prime Minister leading us into war with Iraq but in poking him in the eye they would jeopardise the jobs and living standards of some of the worse off, both in Islington and every where else – the Lib Dems, alongside the Tories, opposed the national minimum wage, the New Deal and with working families tax credit.
A protest vote would also seem to be least appropriate in Islington South where Chris Smith tabled the amendments against the war that attracted most votes against the Government's policy - after all three times as many Labour MPs voted against the war as Liberal Democrats.
Dashing to catch a train to Benfleet where I'm helping launch the campaign to win back Castle Point - more on this tomorrow.
Friday, April 8
Very much a local focus over the last twenty four hours as we put together our plans for the next few weeks.
Last night I met with a group of local homeowners and tenants to talk about a development about to take place on their doorstep - I've got a great deal of sympathy for their concerns. The redevelopment of large swathes of the constituency offers potential benefit to local communities in jobs, housing and many new facilities. However it's important that the benefits these can bring to an area are not at the expense of a reduction in the quality of life of those living nearby.
Have also been campaigning for a bit more development in another part of my constituency where the local supermarket has temporarily closed. This leaves the area without access to a local supermarket and will make shopping much more difficult for local people, particularly those who are elderly or disabled.
But I've just heard that I've managed to get Camden Council to provide door to door transport to and from another store for local people who find it difficult to use public transport.
My agent also works for Glenda Jackson, who has represented the other half of Camden since 1992, and we share a Labour Party office in Camden Town. It means the two parties tend to work quite closely together so we've been busy planning our joint campaign launch for next week as well as various other plans for campaigning across Camden.
Talking to our activists, who've been out and about this week, they seem quietly confident about the campaign ahead. But we do recognise the threat of protest votes and abstentions so our battle plan includes 'Campaign Sundays' where members from across the borough will blitz one specific area. We plan to be out in force this Sunday. It's not so much a conversion campaign - both Glenda and I are proud of our records in Camden - it's just making sure our supporters vote on 5 May.
Just a thought on MG Rover. The Tories have a cheek to criticise the Government. They don't believe in government intervention because everything should be left to the hidden hand of the market. And the Lib Dems have a cheek. They can't believe in government intervention because they would abolish the Department of Trade and Industry.
Thursday, April 7
I’ve always been dubious about even the most reputable opinion polls. And the ones that reflect the views of the people who take the time to phone up or log on to a website seem really dodgy. But, earlier today, the Channel 4 Election website Quick Poll asking “Do you blame Tony Blair for the MRSA crisis?” seemed to beat them all because the only voting option was ‘Yes’! (Due to a technical error we should point out, i.e. it’s a fair cop guv. – Ed.)
As a former Health Secretary and as someone who has been critical of some of this Government’s health initiatives, I’ve followed today’s health debate with interest. Labour actually introduced matrons back to hospital wards and MRSA levels are now starting to fall. We don’t know what they were under the Tories because they didn’t collect the figures – presumably working under the Orwellian slogan “ignorance is strength”.
I only hope that those people thinking of opting for a Tory Government realise that they would take £1.2 billion from the NHS to subsidise queue jumping by those who can afford to pay to go private. Those who can’t afford to pay towards their operation would be left waiting while the doctors trained at their expense operated on the subsidised better off.
Personally I’m glad the phoney war is over and parliamentary work is winding up - I can now get on the campaign trail in my own constituency and all over the country.
Wednesday, April 6
PMQs was a rowdy affair but it certainly highlighted the 'choice' the electorate face in four weeks time. For once it’s the sort of 'choice' that I approve of! Bedding down economic stability and vital year on year investment in public services or a Tory agenda of cuts. And are the Tories pledging 'lower taxes' or not? And what exactly is this "Reward for hardworking Britons" they are now mentioning?
Either way, glad that we’re talking about the economy. Two million more people in work and half a million young people getting jobs through New Deal since 1997. Plus when people work for a living they earn a living wage through the national minimum wage and Labour’s tax credits that both the Tories and Lib Dems opposed. And both the Tories and Lib Dems voted against the New Deal and the Windfall Tax that paid for it.
Certainly on the doorsteps people seem to be aware of the rewards eight years of Labour has brought and my campaign had a fairly positive response last night in Kentish Town. For those hardworking Britons Michael Howard refers to, wiping the smile off Tony Blair’s face, teaching Labour a lesson or talking about Iraq really aren’t included in their list of concerns or priorities. A decent job, feeling safe in their own home and knowing they can rely on their local hospital should they fall ill are much more important.
Sadly, there was a much less positive response from young voters who simply don’t plan to vote at all come 5 May. With this morning’s polls showing Labour and the Tories neck and neck, it could be those who vote for neither who make the difference at this election.
On an entirely separate note – why do commentators accept the holier-than-thou sound bites of the Lib Dems? Every time the Lib Dems are mentioned the commentators seem to parrot the Lib Dem spin doctors’ mantra about positive campaigning and not getting involved in slanging matches. Claptrap. I appeared on TV yesterday morning with Lib Dem MP Jenny Tonge, her first contribution was to denounce confrontational politics and personal attacks but the whole of her second contribution consisted of a personal attack on Tony Blair!
Tuesday, April 5
As expected, the General Election has been called for 5 May. So time for my first few election blog thoughts.
It many ways it’s a relief for most candidates to have a clear timetable of what’s happening and when. For those of us who are sitting MPs we now know we only have three days to clear out of our Westminster offices and deal with lots of administrative things like changing phone numbers and emails and getting mail forwarded to our constituencies. And I still have to deal with the work created by the many constituents who came to my surgeries over the weekend asking me to help with their problems.
Earlier today I visited Camden Town’s Jewish Museum to have a better look at the new exhibition to mark 100 years of immigration laws. It’s called ‘Closing the Door? Immigrants to Britain 1905 to 2005’ and specifically focuses on the centenary of the 1905 Aliens Act, which largely came about to control the influx of Jewish people escaping persecution in Europe.
The exhibition seems timely given that the debate on immigration and asylum has been quite frenzied in the run-up to the election announcement. The Government has pledged to keep our borders safer whilst Tory plans include placing an arbitrary quota on asylum seekers.
However this debate develops in the next few weeks I hope it’s more sophisticated than in 1905 when the Tory MP for Tower Hamlets Harry Lawson argued "The unrestricted flow will be likely to weaken and violate the whole stream of our national life ...and is not likely to be improved by the introduction of new diseases.”
Many Bangladeshi families have made their homes in Camden and a third of local people are non-white. I think this diversity is one of the reasons why Camden is a great place to live. But I imagine there are few communities in Britain where people didn’t feel proud when they saw Kelly Holmes win double gold at the Olympics or the 17-year-old Amir Khan win silver. And probably very few places where vital local services from healthcare to transport to schooling aren’t dependent on immigrants or their decendents. I hope that, over the next few weeks, the campaigns don’t just focus on who can be toughest at keeping immigrants out of Britain and stirring up racial and religious hatred as they do it.