Can’t we even throw out Lynne Featherstone?

22 January 2013

I gave a talk to the Hornsey and Wood Green Labour Party last night. If you don’t know the area, the constituency covers Highgate, Muswell Hill and Crouch End: leafy north London villages, where the metropolitan middle class go, if not to die, then at least to produce babies. There are pockets of high unemployment and council housing, but the seat is generally prosperous and in places very prosperous. Its fortunes illustrate how the political parties have attended to the needs of the urban bourgeoisie.

The Conservatives are nowhere now. As late as 1992, Hornsey and Wood Green was a Tory seat. This year they closed their local office and gave up, as they have given up in so many British cities. I don’t want to go on about Conservative failings in the Spectator of all places, but if you people got out more you would realise that few care about EU, gay marriage and those other bugbears, which make you seem as strange as Scientologists or 9/11 truthers. If you mentioned the extortionate cost of finding a home, or jobs, or pensions, you might begin to seem like creatures from the same species as the rest of us.

Which is not to say that Labour have it easy. Barbara Roche took Hornsey and Wood Green in 1992. Just before the Second Iraq War of 2003, her Constituency Labour Party ordered her to vote to against sending British troops to overthrow Saddam. In good Burkean fashion, Roche insisted that she was a representative, not a delegate, and voted for war. It was a magnificent declaration of independence. Unfortunately for her, local Labour members declared their independence too, and resigned en masse. She had no one to campaign for her, and her defeat was inevitable.

The Liberal Democrat Lynne Featherstone took the seat in 2005 on an anti-war ticket, and won again in 2010 with a majority of 6875.

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I cannot tell you how much I dislike this stupid, two-faced and dangerous politician. People say there are no good causes left worth fighting for. Not true in my humble opinion. Removing Lynne Featherstone from office is as noble a cause as you could hope to find.

I must declare an interest. Featherstone intervened during the recent hullabaloo about the “transphobic” polemic by Julie Burchill my newspaper the Observer ran a few weeks ago. Featherstone demanded that we should fire Burchill and fire the editor as well. I have worked through the worst days of Bernard Ingham and Alastair Campbell’s manipulation of the media, but I have never before heard a minister in a democracy call for writers and editors to be fired for publishing an opinion, however offensive and controversial it may be. That the minister in question calls herself a “liberal” means that Featherstone is not just a menace but a hypocrite too.

And a fool. Featherstone will have lodged herself in the minds of many readers with her statement when she was equalities minister in 2010 that Christina Hendricks was ‘a fabulous role model’ for young women – an announcement which produced the unimprovable headline in the Daily Mash, ‘Women Should Be Hot, Slutty Secretaries With Massive Boobs, Says Equalities Minister’. Beyond her wittering, lies the grim condition of women living under the coalition she serves, which stands as a rebuke to all her pretensions.

Labour should retake the seat in 2015. Indeed, Labour has to retake the seat if it is to have any hope of forming a government. Pundits who talk about Miliband presiding over a ‘united left’ overestimate Labour’s strength. In most Liberal Democrat seats in the shires, if left wingers vote Labour because they can no longer support the party of Clegg to keep the Tory out, the Conservatives will come through the middle and win. If you look at Labour’s list of battleground seats, Hornsey and Wood Green is one of the few Lib Dem seats the party hopes to capture.

Yet when I went to the pub with the Labour activists, they were in despair. They did not have a candidate in place, and probably would not get one until the summer. They had no one to introduce to the voters: no one even to call the local papers and argue the Labour case.

‘What?’ I said ‘Why ever not?’

My hosts explained that bureaucratic manoeuvrings and political correctness at Labour’s regional office had paralysed the local party. It was telling them to have an all-woman shortlist, which was taking forever to arrange. I suggested they called Tom Watson or another national organiser. My companions shrugged. No one cared about them, they implied.

Parties that are steaming to power do not behave like this. They cover every angle, think of every eventuality, and deal with every objection a nervous voter may raise. In short, they have a restlessness and an urgency about them that Labour at the moment lacks, and not only in North London’s leafy suburbs.

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  • Chatterclass

    We will get rid of her, if we can find the local party!!

  • Brian Goldfarb

    How do you think we feel? She’s our MP, and we constantly get ridiculous emails from her telling us how wonderfully the Coalition is doing.

    We wrote when the student fee level rocketed (based on our daughter’s experience with student debt and attempts to get a mortgage), and then took apart the reply she forwarded from “two-brains” Willetts. You’d think we’d agreed every word she and/or Willetts wrote from the later response.

    We got a similar non-response when we complained about the removal of the IRIS eye recognition system from UK international airports (we travel 4 times a year to the US to visit our daughter and her family): a bland repetition of the civil servants Applebyisms.

    The local Lib-Dem councillors (apart from the one who bolted the party when it went into coalition – might even vote for him next time!) wrote to us complaining about the proposal (now deferred until 2018) to rewrite constituency boundaries, and put this ward (Lib -Dem by a landslide) into Finchley. When I replied suggesting that it was their own fault for voting for the legislation in the first place, the reply was…a profound silence. They even had the chutzpah to repeat the email exercise. I repeated the earlier response.

    The result, both times, was silence.

    Successful politics doesn’t result from failing to confront your critics comments: it comes from attempting to refute them. Which this bunch consistently fail to do.

    • Anthony Dunn

      Interesting. Have a look at Martin Lewis’ website and it is absolutely clear that student loan company debts do not, in any way, count against obtaining a mortgage. Yet another example of either ignorance of the facts or or wilful disregard.

  • britabroad

    Yes Well remember Barbara Roche visiting the Hornsey & Wood Green Labour HQ in Middle Lane. Living about 50 yards away, I would have done. Also remember her habit of illegally parking in the disabled parking bay opposite. Once drew it to the attention of a parking attendant & watched her dash out, full of of “Don’t you know who I am?”
    Charming lady.

  • Rebekah Y.

    I have enjoyed your work thoroughly over the years, with several of your books beside me right now. I feel your polemics have kept me on the straight as a liberal-left thinker, avoiding many of the compromises your rightly ridicule. But now it is time for me to advise you to take your own moral and political pulse.

    I know you and Julie Burchill tend to admire one another’s work, but there was nothing (scare-quotes) “transphobic” about her article, it was unacceptable bigotry, full stop. For such a vulnerable and, I might add, harmless minority to be trashed thus should not be acceptable to anyone of conscience.

    That does not mean I am comfortable with politicians making demands of the press, nor do I support any punishment or prohibition on such words. But as a recognised medical condition, transsexualism is not just some ideology or belief system. It is an inseparable part of a person being attacked, and thus akin to racism, homophobia and sexism, not say, having a go at religion.

  • Matthew Blott

    Forgive the asterisks – I hate it when newspapers do it, especially when they have topless teenagers on the same page – but it appears my post wouldn’t be submitted otherwise.

  • Matthew Blott

    Let’s take a step back here. If a government minister was asked their views on Ron Atkinson calling a black footballer a “f***ing lazy thick n***er” and their reply was that Atkinson should be sacked would anyone have had a problem? I read Burchill’s article and it’s the most shocking piece I think I’ve ever read on the Guardian website – and when one considers the number of articles by Islamists, anti-semites and other fruitcakes the Guardian sees fit to publish these days that is really saying something. For the record I agree that Featherstone was wrong to stick her oar in and I don’t want Burchill or anyone sacked but please don’t try and pretend there’s some something sinister going on because Burchill’s bigoted bile was pulled.

  • sarah_13

    I agree with you about featherstone she is a dangerous menace but unfortunately she does not strike me as very bright and ” you can’t argue with stupid”.

  • paulus

    well i suppose we could if we were all residents of Hornsley and Wood green but i wouldnt imagine you would come across too many blogging for the spectator, even the one resident labourite would probably take exception to some big Deidre sitting next to him in the whippet shaggers arms.So he doesnt sound too metropolitan.

    It seems you have built up your own following of trolls from the Guardian as jenni87 feels the need to inform us that the constituency of hornsey and wood green includes hornsey and wood green.

    I didnt read the article so I cannot comment on it, but when people feel that a minister of the crown can call for the sacking of a journalist and an Editor over comments they dont like it is a dangerous path to take. If a conservative minister had said anything so outrageous they would have been sacked.

    But the main point is that the libtards have shown themselves entirely unfit for government time after time, have no regard for propriety, or understanding of liberty.

    Newspapers are commercial ventures, to read them you must purchase one and then read it. No one forces you to read it. If you want to register a protest against a publication…..dont buy it. If enough people think the same way it will fail.

    This episode demonstrates the idiocy of regulating the press.Politics is by definition partisan, and newspapers cater for the partisan views of their readers, if we place partisan politicians and policies over newspapers who take an ideologically different view to the incumbent administration, it will be dictatorship and a one party state.

  • GlennOlive

    Another noxious piece from Nick Cohen.

    The pity is he can write when he doesn’t allow his baser instincts to take over and displace all principle.

  • In2minds

    Nick Cohen says – “……if you people got out more you would realise
    that few care about EU……”

    On the other hand perhaps some people get out too much. They may not
    have noticed the the EU wants to regulate the press in a way that
    Leveson would love. I’m bound to say that all serious journalists
    should be worried, including the ones who write for the Spectator.

    If you can find the time an ideal summary is here –

  • David Lindsay

    Get over Iraq. Seriously.

    There is no reason for any Lib Dem to be elected anywhere in 2015. Or, after the defeat of independence the previous year, for any Scottish Nationalist to be elected. Or for more than about 80 Conservatives.

    Where Labour is in third place or below, and perhaps also where it is in a sufficiently distant second place, then it should dispense with any requirement that its prospective nominees be party members (although they would of course have to join if they were selected), provided that they had been registered voters within the constituency’s then boundaries for at least 15 years, and provided that they were recommended to the Constituency Labour Party by the public signatures of at least five per cent of the voters. If affordable, the Constituency Labour Party General Committee’s shortlist of two such applicants should be submitted to an independent, binding ballot of the entire constituency electorate.

    Labour should also undertake to meet maximum election expenditure in every constituency. The unions are loaded, but not all of them are, or need necessarily become, affiliated to the Labour Party. The RMT and the FBU both no longer are (the RMT’s cheque is returned uncashed every year), but they both retain membership of the Labour Representation Committee chaired by John McDonnell, and that Committee is constitutionally committed to the election of a Labour Government. 50 per cent of Labour Party members are also members of the technically unaffiliated teachers’ unions, the non-fan clubs of Michael Gove. There is the Unison General Political Fund. And so on. Immense possibilities, if one knows where and how to look.

    • Matthew Blott

      I don’t always agree with you but I’m with you here – Cohen droning on about Iraq is tiresome. He doesn’t even have the advantage of being right.

  • steve

    the Christina Hendricks was “a fabulous role model” for young women – an announcement which produced the unimprovable headline in the Daily Mash, ‘Women Should Be Hot, Slutty Secretaries With Massive Boobs, Says Equalities Minister’.

    I’d like to see exactly what problem Nick has with this? Hendricks is not the character she plays for god’s sake. Featherstone was opposing the idea that women have to be stick thin to be beautiful. What’s objectionable about that? Why do you hate her so much? You really don’t make a good job of demonstrating it here. She seems a good constituency MP, with a VERY big majority, which is probably why Labour haven’t prioritised the seat (and it’s clear you know nothing about the constituency anyway). What’s not to get?

  • steve

    this is yet another utterly deceitful article on the Moore/Burchill bigotry. He misreprests the constituency, he misrepresents Featherstone (easier, after all, to quote a joke headline she inspired rather than reading up on what she actually said), and he misrepresents her ‘call’ for Burchill to be sacked – it was clearly a personal opinion, and she’s in a way right – Burchill demonstrated in that article that she has no place in a liberal newspaper (of course Nick actually liked her bigoted article til he realised nobody else did) and the Observer’s editor is a total idiot, unfit for his position, for letting it be published.

    Cohen is all for free speech – presumably because it covers his tracks when he’s outright trying to deceive his readers.

    • Matthew Blott

      Very good points. I’m all for free speech – I don’t want what Burchill said made illegal I just don’t expect to see it published in a supposed liberal newspaper.

  • Roddy Campbell

    She was born in Stoke Newington, local girl, and from Wikipedia, abridged:

    ‘first contested Hornsey and Wood Green [in] 1997 where she finished 25,998 votes behind Barbara Roche.’
    ‘She again fought Hornsey and Wood Green [in] 2001 reducing Roche’s majority to 10,614.’
    ‘In one of the largest swings [in] 2005, Featherstone defeated Roche with a majority of 2,395 votes.’

    That’s not far off 30,000 votes vs Labour gained? Kinda huge.

    Nick, you may not like her, but what is it that she is doing so right that you’re not telling us? On those figures she surely has a huge local following, in an area with great poverty as well as Guardianistas.

  • citizenandreas

    In Norwich, candidates are already in place for both Norwich North and Norwich South and are getting down to the business of campaigning, Jessica Asato the candidate for Norwich North was selected on an AWS. Not sure how the constituencies compare with Hornsey and Wood Green, but I think it’s worth pointing out that the situation you describe is not replicated across the country.

    Also, should point out that the use of quotes around the word ‘transphobic’, it could be warranted for Suzanne Moore’s piece but Burchill’s piece was genuinely offensive.

    • FrankS

      Burchill said what most people think.

      • Andreas

        Speak for your bigoted self.

        • FrankS

          Oh dear.

          • citizenandreas

            Would add that the Andreas above is not me, but I share his sentiments.

            • BorderlineFascist

              Are all trannies called Andreas then?

              • FrankS

                Maybe something to do with the “andr…” prefix.
                Maybe ones who go the other way tend to be called “Gynnie”.

              • citizenandreas

                I’ve got no idea what it’s like to be transgendered, but I can’t imagine why anyone would choose to be if it was something they didn’t feel at an instinctive level. I’d therefore imagine that the being told that you are a freak of nature would not be a nice one. Burchill’s column pretty much says “you people are freaks” in 10 foot high letters, it’s no wonder people were upset by it.

            • FrankS

              Yes, I can see some scope for confusion.

  • Kilmarnock12

    Lynn Featherstone, when she gave her brief “Christina Hendricks” example, made it very clear she was talking about a diversity of body image portayals in the media because our young girls are bombarded by images of one sort of body as ideal. To conflate this with a suggestion she was promoting the qualities of a subordinate character this actress played in a notoriously intentionally sexist world envisaged by Mad Men is cheapshot, deliberately inaccurate playground journalism. It’s expected, funny satire in the Daily Mash, but not to be reported on as “fact” by you with an axe to grind. She was also not a minister when she gave her comments about Julie Burchill. If you do not like her, try critiquing the true position, which would be far more powerful.

  • Paul Anderson

    I’m not au fait with Hornsey and Wood Green these days, but it’s not true that it’s one of “very few” Lib Dem seats on the Labour target list: there are 16 of them, which is well over a quarter of the Lib Dems’ parliamentary representation. A dozen of them are very good prospects for Labour.

  • jenni87

    Hornsey and Wood Green also, unsurprisingly, covers both ‘Hornsey’ and ‘Wood Green’ – two areas which do not fit the description provided in the introduction. As a result, Lynne’s office apparently processes around 15,000 pieces of casework per year – probably the majority being on immigration, benefits and housing issues. She is constantly standing up to the awful Labour Council, who’s incompetence is another reason why the Local Labour party are so disillusioned. A quick look at Lynne’s website – – is enough to demonstrate what an active local MP she is. Her actions speak louder than words – and it would be a travesty if the seat returned to another ‘Barbara Roche’ Labour MP with no connection with or concern for the views of their constituents!

  • Gaby Charing

    Lynne Featherstone is no long a minister. Fact check before posting?

    • kreuzberger

      Lynne Featherstone is still a Minister – now in the Department for International Development. Guess the Tories didn’t like how much of a fuss she kicked up about gay marriage, page 3 etc. Fact check (and spell check) before commenting.

      • Gaby Charing

        My apologies. I relied on my recollection of Wikipedia, which, when I checked it at the time of her comments, showed her no longer being equalities minister, but didn’t as I recall give the new job. I should have checked again today. Mea culpa, and apologies to Nick.

  • stowlawn

    Nick I love your writing but there’s a lot of this area that isn’t Muswell, Crouch End and Highgate, It’s a bloody disaster area once you go down the hill from those places, I live down the hill.

  • Muswell Hillbillie

    Labour don’t need to win Hornsey & Wood Green to win in 2015. A very decent national swing from CON => LAB will win them the election. Lynne is a popular constituency MP. What she has or has not said about this or that nationally is not relevant here. Lib Dem incumbency is powerful, and the reason there will be no “Lib Dem Wipe Out” in 2015. See university of Nottingham study:

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