Islington South and Finsbury – Liberals are irrelevant, says Labour MP
By Marina Kim
The Liberal Democrats are doing well in polls in Islington but the Labour candidate is fighting back hard.
Emily Thornberry, the Labour candidate for Islington south and Finsbury, says voting Lib Dem, and thus risking a hung parliament, effectively means letting the party decide what government we will have.
“Why would people give this power to someone else to make a decision for them? People in Islington do not want a Tory government.” she said in a phone conversation with me.
Thornberry doesn’t regard the Liberal Democrats as a genuine competition, either on a local or national level. This is despite the close call of only 484 votes between them at the last general election. She is also unphased by her Liberal Democrat opponent Bridget Fox’s tactic of targeting Tory voters in order to oust Labour.
“The contest is only between a Tory government and a Labour government. The Liberals are irrelevant in that.” she said.
Emily is clearly up for the fight in this symbolically important north London Labour seat. She moved into the affluent Richmond Crescent in 1993, the same day that Tony Blair’s family moved in nearby a few doors along.
But she has not always lived in such grand surroundings and is keen to talk about the issue of poverty.
“I was brought up by a single parent who had three children. My father left when I was seven years old. At that stage there was no entitlement to nursery education, no after school club, no assistance for childcare at all. The child benefits were paid at a very low level.
“The assistance the Labour government has given and all their initiatives were an enormous help to single parents. Frankly that is what brought me to the Labour party. I am proud to be a Labour candidate.” she said.
Despite areas of great wealth, one in two children in Islington lives in poverty.
That number is worse than in many other parts of the capital where the proportion is one in three. Emily’s critics, including opponent Bridget Fox, blame her for the fact that after five years as an MP there are a lot of unresolved issues remaining in the borough, and that she has not done enough to fight some complicated social problems.
“It’s connected with the dynamic of the population in Islington, 43% of the population are in social housing. It’s difficult to re-house everyone.
“We’re not building enough social housing. Only the most desperate get enough points to get better housing in Islington,” she said.
Emily made campaigning for more social housing in the area her personal crusade. She grew up on a council estate, and the difficulties families face are familiar to her.
“The LibDem council has been building 2000 new flats a year and only one in seven of those is social rented housing, and then we have 13,000 families waiting on social housing. I object to every single planning application if there is less than 50% of social housing.”
“A lot of families are stuck in overcrowding and they need assistance. In my view it is better if the flat remains empty than it is developed into a luxury flat.” she said.
It is difficult to understand who in the council is there to blame for the lack of housing, as Emily also said:”The council is basically being run by the opposition which is the Labour although they are a minority. The Labour put the budget through the council even though we are in opposition.”
During her time as MP Ms Thornberry has made a name for herself as a keen supporter of environmental programs and was named as environment charity champion of the year in 2006 by a politics website. She is close to Ed Miliband, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, who came to support her campaign in the borough.
However, the climate change bill which she helped to get through caused some controversy. The document legally binds future governments to cut their carbon emissions by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050, and it is not a cheap business. This is going to go ahead even if other countries do not join in.
“I’ve been advocating for a bill to tackle the problem since I arrived in Parliament,” she said.
According to the government’s own estimates, the potential cost of the bill is up to £205bn, while the maximum benefits are estimated to only amount up to £110bn. The overall cost of the bill for each family in this country could be up to £10,000.
Ms. Thornberry however insists this is a price worth paying.
“If the planet warms up it will be more expensive for all than that.” she said.
Emily says the population in Islington south and Finsbury is mostly concerned with housing. Other concerns are “jobs, future, hope and economy on the whole.”
Speaking of the reasons that brought her into politics, she said: “I am fairly articulate. I come from a poor background and have experience of life. So, I thought: Why not?”
Why not indeed? And in the face of intense pressure, Emily is confident she will hold on to her seat.
“I think what you will see is that Islington south will swing back to Labour. The Liberal Democrats in Islington are a diminishing force, and increasingly so.”