The Gerrard Chronicles 1997

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On the Campaign Trail


Well, we got rid of the scoundrels at last. Islington South was paired with Brentford & Isleworth, our old stamping ground (Ken had been a Councillor there) & a marginal with an exceptionally unpleasant Tory MP, an Indian who's goon squad forced Indian shopkeepers to put up his posters, so that is where we worked. On Election Day, we did a delivery of Vote Todays in Islington before breakfast, our only local effort & spent the rest of the day in B & I. The Tories were almost invisible, having very few tellers (without which, they were not mounting a serious campaign) & we put Ann Keen in with almost as big a majority as our own Chris Smith, more than 14,000. Joy was unbounded when the Chief Twigglet beat Portillo in Southgate, even among his local opponents, like us. We left the Islington celebration party at 4 next morning just after we won Wimbledon (after a skeletal campaign) & Ken said, 'This is getting silly'. Yeh! Our delight was unbounded when Chris was made Heritage Secretary. The Tories 31% nationally means that there are more Republicans than Tories, a point for gloating at the 'Republic' AGM. Our delight is naturally not unalloyed - the government has some daft ideas, like job creation, something Ken told them is off the agenda of business but let us not niggle about detail - yet. We did buy the BBC video of Election Night & ‘Were you still up for Portillo?’ by Brian Cathcart to gloat.


There is something interesting about William Hague, the new Tory leader. Us in the Labour Party do not consider it in any way disreputable, so we do not mention it but in his own party, it is likely to be contentious & is therefore, one of those secrets that everyone seems to know. Funny old world. We were, of course, somewhat sad at the death of Lady Di but, like many of the chattering class intellectuals, are still trying to work out the exact significance of the OTT public reaction. It did produce our first Republican victory for some time, as the Queen was forced by public opinion to do something she did not want to. As we have each heard from quite independent sources, that Diana was pregnant, this seems to be another well-known secret & one wonders if that would affect the public perception. Avis heard from the autopsy via her police contacts & Ken from Diana's maid via the journalist rat pack.


The Anderson Yard Campaign has at last seen Planning Permission granted for the housing. By the Autumn, the flats were going up & a show flat (verrry nice) was available. Many a successful campaign does not know when to stop. This one did & merged with the Islington Society at the April AGM, putting some members on its Environment Committee. However, new doubts have appeared over the Collins Theatre & now having a reputation for getting things done, everybody expects Avis to sort out problems that are arising from other developers trying to exploit neighbouring sites with inappropriate, badly-designed buildings.


Charter 88 had their February Council meeting in Edinburgh, which largely concentrated on the plans for a Scottish Parliament. This was an excuse for a little holiday. In Scotland, in February? We went all round: up the East coast to John O'Groats, along the top ('A' road = cart track) & down to Ullapool by the coast. Ken saw Stac Pollaidh at last. Only then were we driven off by appalling weather & were almost stuck in a flood at Callander. We stayed at Dornoch (not recommended), Rhiconich (highly recommended - there is only one place to stay) & Ullapool.

Ken near Rhiconich

Stac Pollaidh, Scotland's smallest Big Mountain

Anyone thinking that the Charter's task was done with the election of a somewhat sympathetic government can think on. Although our successful Constitutional Convention in July drew two Cabinet Ministers, the government's approach to the constitution is not coherent & holistic, so the hardest part is yet to come. At the November Council Meeting, we moved from criticism to being 'critical friends' of the government & have to start getting details right.
However, winning the two Celtic Referenda was a good start, with Eleri Carrog, the normally abrasive Plaid Cymru representative embracing everyone to the point where Ken wondered if Wales has a National Liquor we don't know about. She even had good words to say for Ron Davies. Claire Rayner joined us & was immediately useful. Ken promptly palled up with her. We elected Sue Goss as the new Chair. Francesca Klug, the woman who forced Jack Straw to a rethink on a Bill of Rights, is Vice-Chair.

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Contact: Ken Baldry or Avis Saltsman, 17 Gerrard Road, Islington, London N1 8AY +44(0)20 7359 6294 or e-mail him or her
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