Wednesday, 3 June 2015

The Voters of Hornsey and Wood Green are a Vengeful Bunch

Lynne Featherstone

So, along with 45 other Lib Dems, Hornsey and Wood Green MP and junior coalition government minister Lynne Featherstone lost her parliamentary seat in the general election on 7 May. With a swing of 15% from Lib Dem to Labour in the constituency where I live, Catherine West was elected with 50.9% of the vote, overturning a Lib Dem majority of nearly 7,000 votes.

This constituency was held by the Conservatives until 1992, when Barbara Roche won it for Labour and has consistently voted left/liberal since. Writing a final email to constituents and published on her website, Featherstone said:

‘I know how hard it was for my left leaning constituents – because many of you told me on the doorstep – to decide between keeping me and your genuine fear that if you voted for me that we would get a Conservative government. Ironically we have one anyway.

And I know from my right leaning constituents how they feared a Labour government – so voted for me to try and have one less Labour seat.’

Featherstone who won the seat in 2005 in the wake of the Iraq war, which was very unpopular locally, with a similar 15% swing to the Lib Dems, has bombarded residents with leaflets ever since, telling us what a good constituency MP she has been. The strategy failed to pay off spectacularly this year, and her farewell email to residents only alludes to the truth behind her ousting.

Between 1992 and 2005, Barbara Roche cultivated the ‘good constituency MP’ image, attending resident’s associations meetings etc. But this paled into insignificance when Labour supported George Bush’s ill fated invasion of Iraq. Roche voted in favour of Britain joining the ‘coalition of the willing’ despite the flaky evidence of Iraq’s possession of chemical weapons. Hornsey and Wood Green residents were not impressed, and the final nail in Roche’s coffin was a letter sent around the constituency in 2005 by Tory candidate Peter Forrest. Forrest stated that Roche was ‘a good constituency MP,’ the voters promptly threw her out.

Although Featherstone was the beneficiary of the voter’s anger in 2005, she seemingly learnt nothing from Roche’s experience. When the Lib Dems decided to prop up a minority Tory government in 2010, fully supported by Featherstone, she was a dead woman walking. The Lib Dems lost half of their seats on Haringey council in 2014 and finished behind the Greens in the European Parliament elections in Haringey on the same day.

Featherstone’s explanation for her defeat that ‘left leaning voters feared a Tory government’ is only partially true. What Hornsey and Wood Green voters really didn’t like was that without the Lib Dems making up the numbers in Parliament, we would not have had a Tory government for the last five years. And our MP was one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the coalition. In short a betrayal of trust. As for her ‘right leaning voters’, the idea of Tory voters propping up Featherstone, just made the ‘left leaning’ voters even more determined to chuck her out. In an echo of Peter Forrest’s letter in 2005, the Tottenham Conservative party chair sent a letter to Tory voters in Hornsey and Wood Green, urging them to vote for Featherstone. 

Just like Roche before her, it was Featherstone’s actions beyond the constituency that sealed her fate. Let this be a warning to our new MP, Labour’s Catherine West; constituency work is not enough here, it is how you vote in Parliament on the big issues of the day that determines whether or not you will be returned as our representative. If you get this wrong, you will suffer the same ignominious end as your two immediate predecessors.


  1. The irony of the Lib/Dem slaughter is that this election was the first time since the 1900s that the Liberals had annual Land Value Tax (to replace business rates) in their 2015 manifesto.
    It will be interesting to see if the Lib/Dem rump continue to advocate our Green Party policy for LVT or like Labour since 1945 - they chuck it out with the bath water.

  2. Another useful pointer might be this: Featherstone was a good MP in her first term because she was responsive. In her second term, she was hamstrung by being a junior minister. Time and again she would respond to my requests for certain actions: I can't do that because of the ministerial code'; this also applies to shadow ministers.
    It is shameful that constituencies that are represented by ministers and shadow ministers essentially lose a free voice.
    This should be something any MP should be wary of. And of course, a mixed electoral system that combines constituency MPs with lists could - by and large - avoid the problem.