Conservative Lee Scott, who represented ultra-marginal Ilford North from 2005 until 2015, would like to do so again. He seems pretty sure of who one of his biggest helpers will be in attempting to overturn the majority of 589 unexpectedly secured by Labour’s Wes Streeting two years ago – the leader of Streeting’s party.
“There are simple choices for people,” he said on the Sophy Ridge programme on Sunday. “They either want the stability of electing Theresa May back as prime minister or the chaos of a coalition under Jeremy Corbyn.” And never mind if they think young Wes dashing, dynamic and debonair. “I’m afraid to say that whoever the candidate is, it will be Jeremy Corbyn they are voting for to go into Downing Street,” Scott warned.
Core Corbynites would die denying it but, even if the Labour leader plays OK with liberal intelligentsia electors in Hackney and Islington, he looks to be a liability for Labour in green, suburban, Essex hinterland areas like Streeting’s seat. That isn’t only Scott’s view. It’s Streeting’s too.
Last August, for example, he bluntly stated that Labour cannot win a general election with Corbyn at the helm and accused his leader’s supporters of having “an ostrich strategy of sticking their heads in the sand”. Though he told Ridge he will support Corbyn “however I can in the next seven weeks”, he declined to “pretend to have had a Damascene conversion“, anticipated “in all likelihood” a new Conservative government led by Theresa May and stressed his track record as Ilford North voters’ representative in the House.
“I am absolutely confident that because of the way I’ve been out knocking on doors, not just at election time, the issues that I’ve chosen to fight on in the community and in parliament have repaid the trust that people have placed in me,” he said.
And no one can say he’s been leading a quiet life. “Antisocial” car parking, the fallen and veterans of the Falklands War, and the future of London’s black cab drivers – Ilford North was once known as “Green Badge valley” – are among the causes he’s taken up, along with health and education.
Another has been lacerating Ken Livingstone over the comments about Hitler and Zionism that have seen the former Labour London Mayor suspended by his party. Streeting, who co-chairs the all-party parliamentary group on British Jews, told Livingstone earlier this month, before the election was called, that he would “not be welcome in my constituency”.
He’d previously accused Corbyn of failing to acknowledge “the extent and the nature” of antisemitism in Labour’s ranks and, before that, criticised the vote by Labour’s national executive committee to boycott the security firm G4S because it had contracts with the government of Israel. Both Streeting and Scott will be seeking the support of Jewish voters in Ilford North. Scott, a member of Conservative Friends of Israel, told Ridge: “The problems the Labour Party have had with antisemitism is a major issue.”
Streeting’s unexpected win in 2015 was probably part-enabled by demographic changes in this part of Outer London. Ilford North lies within the borough of Redbridge, which Labour won control for the first time ever in 2014 and has become far more ethnically and culturally diverse over the course of this century. Both the Hindu and the Muslim populations of Ilford North wards such as Barkingside, Clayhall and Aldenborough now amount to around 20% of the total. At the same time, majorities of those in the Bridge and Roding wards identified themselves as British and Christian in the last census.
Can Labour hang on to Ilford North on 8 June? The party’s ground forces across London are impressive and Streeting is energetic and astute. Scott, though, is very experienced, knows the territory and knows the national tide is flowing strongly his way. He claimed on the Ridge show that Labour supporters are telling him they can’t vote for Corbyn. “People do not see him as prime minister,” he said. He also remarked: “It will be interesting to see how many Labour candidates put Jeremy Corbyn on their literature.” Streeting seems unlikely to be one of them.