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Written on April 26, 2005, and categorized as Secret and Invisible.
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Monday 18th April 2005, 13:50 hours, and I was proceeding in an Easterly direction along St Pauls Road, towards the Balls Pond Road. Even though I live within a mile of the Balls Pond Road, I have never managed to rid myself of the seaside comic associations the name has for me, instilled in early childhood by a Peter Sellers record, The Best of Sellers in which he also intones the majetic “Bal-ham, Gateway to the South”. But I don’t live in South London anymore, and I am covering the election for my local patch which has been for the past 21 years, Islington South and Finsbury. So I found myself heading East, sniggering to myself and trying to retain some seriousness as I was about to interview the Liberal Democrat candidate, Bridget Fox.

Bridget comes top in the list of available candidates for interview. Hers was by far the easiest interview to organise – she did it herself and is obviously an internet user, answers her own email. In fact since she is a Librarian, it would be somewhat shocking if she didn’t.

The LibDem HQ is several units on the 3rd floor of a large low-cost mixed office premises. Islington Conservatives have a single unit on the ground floor, which says something about the power differential. I arrived at Leroy House at 2pm, to be met coming out of the lift by Bridget in a brown suit. We chatted easily as we walked through to the large, busy campaign rooms, and I found her instantly personable and attractive, though she does have a bit of a bookish look about her, she is a good listener. She swings her legs like a girl, I thought, and I could just pick up a whiff of what fishy thing she’d had for lunch emanating from well-kept molars. I remembered reading somewhere that Tony Blair is said to have bad breath – maybe nobody ever tells him.

My sense of the Lib Dem space, full of computers, large-volume printers, and boxes of campaign literature, was that they were organised. The LibDem workforce was serious looking, young, healthy and well-fed. We retired to a quieter room, killed the radio noise, and started the interview. The acoustics in the room were full of audio reflection from painted white brick and large glass windows. Bridget’s excellent diction was just loud enough to create an ambient echo which rather suited her careful english tones. As I adjusted the microphone placement I mentioned that I tend to project, and that I didn’t want to be out of proportion in volume to her. “Oh no!” she laughed “I can really shout loud when I have to.” Despite her neat petite rather formal presence, I could well believe her.

This time, Bridget agreed, her campaign was definitely boosted by Chris Smith’s leaving parliament, and she was very upbeat about her chances of being elected. She spoke articulately and at length, conscientiously covering all the LibDem election issues, with no audible errors. She has the best local profile in the constituency, having for many years been involved in local politics in Islington, where the LibDems are in power having won by 12 votes. They quote this in their leaflets, – “Its So Close Here” – conflating the national and local election results misleadingly. In fact, the electoral mountain that Bridget has to climb to become an MP is over 7,000 votes, and this would mean a swing of over 13%, which is practically unheard of in a national election.

Nonetheless, with Iraq playing so badly for Labour, and the LibDems the only party to remain solidly anti-war, she knows she is playing a strong hand, and the quiet confidence she exudes is not based on fantasy. Bridget spoke a lot about Council Tax as an issue, and so convincingly that since then I have put it to other candidates that this is a doorstep issue, and they have all so far denied that it is. So although at the time I found this entirely plausible, I wondered on which doorsteps Bridget had heard this concern raised – possibly the LibDem HQ doorstep. Either way, her arguments for replacing Council Tax with a local income tax, ending tuition fees in further education, plus the LibDem’s environmental concerns, are all policies which I support, and I began to feel I had been somewhat won over by her profound reasonableness.

On the question of tactical voting – whether or not splitting the radical, progressive vote would just lead to the political centre in the UK lurching the other way – Bridget’s answer was that we would in this election see the final demise of the Right, based on Howard’s appalling and misplaced attacks on asylum seekers and immigrants. This proclamation felt great, but as I left, pleased with the interview and charmed by having spent 40 minutes with such a bright intelligent woman, I am not convinced by it, and while I can see the LibDems doing well in this election, Bridget’s task is a mighty one. Aside from the size of the swing required, Labour are turning their lefty big guns towards this part of North London in an effort to ensure Emily Thornberry’s election for Labour.

Then there is the issue of Bridget representing me in Parliament. I’m a disenchanted Labour voter, frustrated by the way Labour MPs fall too easily into line. Chris Smith in his time managed to be both establishment, as Culture Secretary, and anti-establishment, when he added his considerable weight to the anti-war rebellion in Parliament.

If Bridget were in Chris’s shoes, I cannot imagine that she would go against her party, even with cuddly baby-producing Charles Kennedy at the helm. I can see Bridget doing exactly as required by LibDem HQ, and her measured Council Tax diatribe in retrospect made me trust her less, because I felt she was just after all, parroting the party line. Don’t politicians all do that? No, they don’t, some of them rebel, but the culture of rebellion is more rooted in Labour, where you still attract real kudos for noble dissent.

With the current Labour leadership likely to remain in power, it will not be opposition MPs of any shade, but rebellious MPs within Labour who are more likely to prevent their worst authoritarian excesses.

Listen to the interview here Subscribe to the Five Audio Channel:

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