GUNSLINGER BLAIR RIDES INTO TOWN
Crossing borders: (l-r) Natalie, Noella and Manuk Ocekci
travel from Islington to meet PM Tony Blair in Camden
New Journal reporter Richard Osley interviews PM Tony
Blair while Town Hall Labour leader Raj Chada looks on
Respect party activists deliver their message to PM Tony
Under-pressure Labour calls in the PM for polls fight
PRIME Minister Tony Blair made an unprecedented bid to boost
Labours council election chances in Camden last night
(Wednesday) with a surprise visit to Kings Cross.
In an interview with the New Journal, he pledged:
n To get tougher on crime.
n To invest in the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead.
n To improve standards in schools.
He did not, however, make any pledges of investment in council
housing a major election issue in Camden and a sore point
among voters who are angry that the millions of pounds needed
to repair crumbling estates have been withheld by ministers.
The money has been frozen since tenants rejected plans to take
control of their homes out of the councils management
more than two years ago.
Mr Blairs unexpected intervention has already been scoffed
at by rivals who yesterday claimed it smacked of desperation
ahead of the polls, now just two weeks away.
He met senior Labour councillors and other party members on
the Cromer Street Estate as candidates began knuckling down
for their toughest local election campaign in more than three
The thrust of his message to members was to work hard to show
up differences in the battle against crime in Camden and neighbouring
Islington, where the Lib Dems are in control. He said crime
was on the way down in Camden but not in Islington because Labour
was quicker to use tools such as Anti-Social Behaviour Orders
(Asbos) to crack down on troublemakers. A Labour policy document
headed Islington - Camdens neighbour from hell
was handed to activists and New Journal reporters.
To hear the argument first hand, Mr Blair had earlier dropped
in for a cup of tea with a family on the Islington side of the
Manuk Ocekci, a Labour supporter living in Rodney Street, Pentonville,
told him: Anti-social behaviour is growing. In comparison
to other boroughs, Im surprised Islington are so far behind.
Lib Dems last night (Wednesday) countered with claims Islington
was the capitals most improving borough confirmed
by Audit Commission ratings and that the party was prepared
to use Asbos where necessary.
Election fever has been cranked-up in Camden because the borough
represents a genuine target seat for opposition parties for
the first time in more than three decades. Rivals need to scalp
just nine seats to cause a meltdown at the Town Hall. Labour
activists have responded by canvassing harder and earlier in
Asked whether he thought Labour would keep control of Camden,
Mr Blair stopped short of a convincing prediction.
He simply said: I think they (Labour) have done an excellent
job here and I certainly think they should be re-elected. Thats
a matter for voters and that is why we want everyone to come
out and vote them back in.
At one stage during his visit, Mr Blair blew a kiss to elderly
tenants watching his arrival from a third floor balcony.
But he was also greeted with heckling from a small cluster of
anti-war protesters and Respect Party members.
Mr Blair ignored the protest and persevered with his law and
He said: The fact is that Camden has shown in the work
that they have done that you can make a real difference to anti-social
behaviour and crime. Its down in Camden and not in Islington.
The way of doing it is to use the powers that have been given.
The powers are there. The Lib Dems have voted against the powers
in Parliament and there are local authorities that are not using
them for reasons to do with civil liberties reasons that are
Mr Blair also moved to dampen fears over the cash crisis at
the Royal Free where 480 jobs and scores of beds have been axed
to plug holes in the hospitals budget.
The Prime Minister giving a rare briefing to a local
newspaper said that patients would not miss out and pledged
£50 million in new investment, presumably on a national
He said: I think it is very important we try and set this
in context because first of all a lot of these (job cuts) are
actually happening through temporary posts not being filled
or vacancies not being taken up. Overall there is a massive
amount of investment going to the Royal Free and elsewhere.
For all the hospitals right round the country, everyone has
got to come into financial balance but I dont think we
should mistake what is happening. The Royal Free is going to
continue to go from strength to strength with major investment.
There was also an assurance that Camdens education department
would not be forced to set-up trust schools a policy
opposed by Labour members at the Town Hall. Mr Blair insisted
too that the closure of Hampstead Police Station would not be
a problem because new neighbourhood squads would provide an
But when asked whether the government would provide direct investment
in council homes, he side-stepped the issue and would not be
drawn further than the comment: David Miliband (Communities
minister) is trying to resolve it. Until he gets to work out
what the right solution is, there is not much point me commenting.
Rival parties last night (Wednesday) described Mr Blairs
visit as a sign that Labour was reaching for the big guns in
a drastic bid to hold onto a council regarded as a government
Conservative chief Councillor Piers Wauchope said: His
visit wont help Labour because the message on the doorstep
is that residents are as fed up with Labour locally as they
are with Labour nationally. Camden has been the guinea pig for
all of Labours policies over the last four years and they
have not worked.
Liberal Democrat leader Councillor Keith Moffitt said that Labour
was telling lies about his partys policy because Asbos
were used in Islington. He said that Labour party members would
be having second thoughts about being linked with Mr Blair because
of disaffection with national policy.
Cllr Moffitt said: Bringing in the Prime Minister into
what is a local campaign is a sign that they are getting desperate.