Helen Hayes: A star is born in Dulwich and West Norwood

by Jonathan Todd

It wasn’t quite a warm summer day spent indoors writing frightening verse, as the Smiths song goes but it was a warm day, spent indoors, in a school hall with large windows. We could see the sunshine but we weren’t in it. We were inside, stewing.

When we re-emerged, Helen Hayes had been selected to fight Dulwich and West Norwood (DaWN) for Labour at the general election. Tessa Jowell has represented the seat since its creation in 1997, having won the previous Dulwich seat from the Conservatives with a slender majority 5 years earlier. Favourable boundary changes and Jowell’s assiduous cultivation of support across a constituency with pockets of affluence and poverty mean that she bequeaths a much more substantial majority of over 9000 to Hayes.

The seat may have transitioned from being perceived as marginal to safe under Jowell but some parts of it conform to the characteristics of seats that Lewis Baston deems ‘gentrifying inner London’. He sees changes in them that may benefit the Conservatives – “old working class traditional Labour households in terraced areas have been replaced by upwardly mobile and high paid couples and families”. The East Dulwich ward in DaWN, for example, is much less blue-collar than when Jowell worked in it as a social worker in the 1970s. Foxtons, Caffè Nero and various gastro pubs have arrived in the 8 years that I’ve lived in the ward.

Hayes will need Jowell’s capacity to build a big tent of support across different groups to keep the seat as safe as it has become. Douglas Alexander, Rachel Reeves and Chuka Umunna saw sufficient evidence of Hayes’ talent to endorse her candidacy. In addition, Frank Dobson, Patrick Diamond and – declaring an interest – myself did so. While it’s unusual for someone seeking to become a Labour PPC to secure the support of three members of the shadow cabinet, Hayes was not alone among the candidates in getting top level backing.

Sarah Brown, Stella Creasy and Ken Livingstone all backed Amy Lamé, a distinctive candidate who ran an eye-catching campaign. Steve Reed, Kitty Ussher and Glenis Willmott supported Fiona Twycross, a formidable campaigner and London Assembly Member. Dianne Hayter, Keith Hill and Steve Reed were behind Sally Prentice, a distinguished Lambeth councillor. “There is no better candidate for Dulwich and West Norwood,” said Reed on Twycross’ website. Prentice “has considerable experience and would be a very committed MP,” Reed was quoted as saying on her literature.

It was, therefore, a race that attracted a considerable amount of high-level interest and endorsement – more than one in the case of Reed. It also attracted, I was told, more votes than any other Labour selection in London during this parliament. Voters were treated to a sparkling set of speeches and a wide ranging Q&A – with Prentice, in particular, showing an impressive grasp of policy during the Q&A, as well as being candid enough to acknowledge her own struggles with depression in response to a question on mental health services. Another candidate, Denise Scott-McDonald, was less successful than others in attracting prominent backers but performed capably in the hustings.

One advisor to the last government, though, moaned that “the Labour cliché tombola” had been in operation. There were undoubtedly a lot of professions of eagerness to tackle inequality and deliver a living wage, while dismantling of the NHS and tax evasion were frequently castigated. The tombola extended to a minute’s silence for Tony Benn. Inserted into the agenda after an ardent intervention from the floor.

When the tombola stopped spinning, DaWN was left with a candidate of real substance. The South London Press, the local newspaper, consistently reported Twycross as the frontrunner and likely winner. Yet Hayes defied this expectation. As she did in 2010 to become one of two Labour councillors elected in DaWN’s College ward. Giving the ward Labour representation for the first time since the early 1970s.

Growing to fill Jowell’s considerable shoes is the next step for Hayes in a political career already marked by notable successes. This career builds upon one as a businesswoman for over 17 years, having been a business owner since the age of 23. A town planner and now a partner in one of the UK’s leading architecture practises, Hayes would bring a business experience and knowhow to the PLP that it has too often lacked.

Jowell was selected in Dulwich before AWS existed. But the forward thinking CLP insisted upon having a female candidate. Hayes is capable of living up to its best traditions. If she can find solutions to the problems confronting this diverse constituency, she can find them to those that face the country too. She is now closer than any of the other authors of the book published by Uncut at conference last year to being in a position to implement their ideas.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut 

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3 Responses to “Helen Hayes: A star is born in Dulwich and West Norwood”

  1. Jenny Baxter says:

    So where the hell are you? Why are we forever getting Conservative propaganda shoved through our letter boxes and ABSOLUTELY NOTHING from the Labour Party? Does Helen Hayes not want to get in at the general election – just four months away now – and retain the long held seat for this constituency. I feel very angry as a very long time labour voter and feel very let down and frustrated. My husband used to be frequently rung up to help deliver leaflets in our road (South Croxted Road) but this has long since stopped. Tessa has been an excellent member of parliament – and also a well known public figure. But Helen Hayes is a completely unknown quantity. Should’nt she be out knocking on doors and introducing herself instead of letting the conservative candidate take all the glory?

  2. Sian Evans says:

    I too have been disillusioned over the years of New Labour.
    However now all of us have to work to ensure we do not elect another Tory government.

    So lets sign up and get going to support the Labour Party under Ed Miliband and ensure
    a Labour victory at this election.
    That is vital for Everyman in Britain.

  3. Rob says:

    It’s hardly likely she won’t be elected so why waste the paper?

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