I wasn’t the only one last night – at the Camden leadership and mayoral hustings – who expressed distaste at Oona King’s decision to give the event a no-show.
Even the event’s impartial chair took it upon himself to comment – saying he was ‘very disappointed’ when he introduced Oona’s understudy Wes Streeting. Him formerly of the National Union of Students, now an employee of Oona’s campaign team.
The bright side first. Wes is a excellent public speaker – as this is hardly Oona’s forte, you’d think her absence might have some positives after all. Rather than patronisingly crowing about the so-called “YouTube generation” (of which she presumably counts me a member) who seem to be not sophisticated enough to consider policies rather than age, we could actually hear what policies Oona would be putting forward conveyed in a convincing fashion.
But, as we discovered in the proceeding leadership debate – where Diane Abbott was the only candidate to show up in person, and not simply send a representative – as soon as you’re not there yourself, you’re really shooting yourself in the foot. Diane was able to wipe the floor with the reps simply because she could always answer the questions and know that she was giving the honest answer. But the reps…
The most blatant example of this was in the case of Ed Miliband, in fact my candidate of choice. He sent Mark Seddon, who isn’t actually voting for him – he’s putting him as second preference, with Diane number 1! A former editor of Tribune, he’s someone I greatly admire, and if he were standing for leader himself, he’d probably get my vote. But if I wasn’t already backing Ed, I don’t think I would start to do so on the basis of hearing Seddon speak. He’s a different person, for God’s sake – and was talking as much about his own politics as much as Ed’s.
I do see the purpose of representatives, and if it had just been a one-woman show last night, with Abbott dominating the stage, it would have been a pointless exercise. But there’s no doubt that candidates disadvantage themselves in the debate when they don’t show up.
Additionally, while the leadership candidates have the excuse that they’re jetting up and down the country the whole time and have bigger audiences to show up to – Ed M was on Any Questions while the Camden debate was in action – I think the mayoral debate needs a little more humility. It is slightly audacious to presume that people want to hear from you so much that they’ll be honoured if you send a dep, when you’re not even going for the top job.
But why couldn’t she make it? She was much too busy with another event. An Evening with Oona and Polly, it was entitled – with journalist Polly Toynbee leading a fireside chat with Oona and women Labour members. All sounds very cosy.
But the Camden event was scheduled months in advance. Oona confirmed she would be attending. But then she sent out unsolicited letters and emails to women members only, advertising the Polly event. Somehow she got hold of the addresses and sexes of London members – when all party HQ had given both candidates was names and numbers.
Wes tried a cheap swipe at Ken last night, claiming that Team Oona had tried to set up more hustings events “and nine times out of ten, you didn’t turn up”. Thankfully, Ken set the record straight immediately, rightly saying that they knew these were scheduled during Ken’s summer holiday. Ken received unanimous applause from the audience after this response.
If Oona had been playing by the rules – and not trying to gain an advantage with an illicit list of members’ details not available to the Ken camp – perhaps she wouldn’t have had to face such embarrassment last night, which could in fact be costly to her already-limited support in the Camden.
Luckily, this is not all Camden members have to judge the contest on. Ken gave one of the best performances I have ever seen at a political meeting – and gave clear answers on why both his policies and experience is what London needs. You could really hear the passion in his voice when he was talking about the failures of governments, Labour and Tory alike, as well as what we should be most proud of out of our record.