Wes Streeting Labour And Lee Scott Conservative
On a sunny morning in Ilford North, the traffic roars down Woodford High Road towards Gants Hill roundabout. The campaign offices of Labour’s Wes Streeting and Conservative Lee Scott are just a bus stop away from each other – but the two men could not be further apart.
Just two years ago, Streeting, the one-time president of the National Union of Students, caused a huge upset in this constituency by overturning Lee Scott’s majority of 5,404 to snatch the seat by a tiny majority of 589 votes.
Now Scott, 61, who held Ilford North for 10 years, is seeking to regain his seat – and he thinks the tide of unpopularity trailing Labour candidates because of the Jeremy Corbyn factor may give him impetus.
Despite Streeting, 34, being one of the most outspoken critics of his own leader, Scott continues to refer to his opponent as “Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour candidate”, a description Streeting himself predicted Scott would use.
And despite Scott, a father-of-five who suffered from major anti-Semitic attacks in the 2010 election, saying only weeks before Theresa May’s snap election announcement that he would not stand again, he is back on the campaign trail after consultation with “the boss” – his wife.
He says he feels a sense of unfinished business but when I put it to him that with as narrow a loss as 589 votes he might be entitled to feel “I was robbed”, Scott shakes his head. “I lost, simple as that”, he says. “Now it’s time to move on.”
For both men, 2017 is a very different sort of election from 2015. In 2015 Scott, a former campaign director of UJIA, was the incumbent MP in Ilford North, a son of the constituency who lives and works locally. Streeting was by his own admission an “unknown quantity”.
Now the situation is reversed, and it is Streeting who is the incumbent and Scott who is the challenger. But on the day we met, there was one thing in common – neither was able to campaign because of the national suspension, agreed by all parties, imposed after the bombing atrocity in Manchester only days before.
There is an air of suspended animation about both men, plainly itching to get back on the doorsteps. Each reports positive responses – Scott, in fact, says he was persuaded to run one more time after receiving “hundreds” of emails urging him to try to win the seat back once the election had been called.
But Streeting says: “I actually have a record to stand on now. I have been heartened by the number of people who say they will vote for me on the basis of my work as a constituency MP.”
Ilford North’s voters, he says, include Corbyn fans “and those who say they wouldn’t vote Labour because of Corbyn, but are prepared to vote for me because of my local work. It’s a really mixed picture. Ilford North is marginal in every sense – it’s about 50/50 on Remain or Leave”.
Streeting is remarkably frank about his biggest problem, particularly when it comes to Jewish voters. It is Corbyn, of course. “I’ve been really moved by some of the conversations I’ve had with Jewish voters in the last weeks.
“On one hand, there is a warmth toward me that wasn’t there two years ago, and that’s based on my record as an MP. People have seen that I’ve stayed true to my word: I’ve been one of the leading campaigners against anti-Semitism, willing to put my head above the parapet and tell a few home truths to the Labour Party.
“I’ve taken on Ken Livingstone and shown a real leadership role as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Committee on British Jews and as vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Antisemitism. But there is no doubt that Corbyn has been the biggest hurdle, whether it’s at the school gates at Clore Tikvah and Ilford Jewish Primary School, or at Sinclair House or Chabad Lubavitch.
“There has been real anxiety about what Corbyn stands for, how he has tackled anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, and for some people that hurdle is just too much and they won’t vote Labour. For others, they will stick with me, and I recognise that is quite an ‘ask’ after how the Labour Party has behaved in the last two years – and I am very touched by that.”
Of his opponent, Streeting says: “If people elect Lee Scott, they will be electing another Conservative MP to make up Theresa May’s numbers, who will nod through whatever she is doing in Parliament. If I am returned, that makes a huge difference because Jewish voters know they will have a champion who will take on anti-Semitism within society and within the Labour Party.”
For Streeting, the biggest challenge is “preventing a Tory landslide”, although in fairness it is probably more holding on to his slender majority.
A bus stop away Lee Scott, in campaign offices tucked away near Chabad’s Ilford headquarters, says: “This election is far more about the stability of Theresa May than the chaos of Jeremy Corbyn”.
But he can’t resist getting a dig in at Corbyn by saying that the election is also about national issues, “rather than who people want as their local candidate”. For good measure, Scott says he is very proud of having Theresa May as his party leader, something he doesn’t feel Streeting is able to say of his own leader.
Scott says he enjoys helping people, “and I believe I still have something to offer”.
Though he himself voted on the Remain side in the EU referendum, he has since changed his mind and said as much weeks before the election was called, something which may well play well on Brexiteer doorsteps in the constituency.
Scott is also helped – though he does look a little embarrassed by it – by the decision of UKIP not to pick a candidate to run in the Ilford North contest.
The party took 4,500 votes in 2015, but Scott insists that its 2017 decision does not mean UKIP is supporting him (Streeting, unsurprisingly, says it does).
Rich Clare – Lib Dems
Rich Clare, standing for the Lib Dems, says: “I’m running here in Redbridge because I’ve lived here my whole life and I think that local people deserve better than Theresa May’s steamroller hard Brexit. Labour just aren’t putting up an alternative – our MP Wes Streeting voted with the Tories to trigger Article 50 and has no interest in giving us a say in what kind of deal we get with the EU.
“Since the last election, I’ve started working for an animal welfare charity and kept campaigning locally to protect school spending and for more local NHS resources, so many local residents will recognise me and the work we’ve been doing.
“It seems absurd that in this day and age anti-Semitism remains a major problem. Last year’s EU referendum seems to have emboldened a small but nasty section of society and attacks on ethnic and religious minorities have been on the increase, even in political parties – we saw Shami Chakrabarti’s ‘whitewashing’ of the Labour anti-Semitism report last year and Ken Livingstone being given a slap on the wrist for saying Hitler supported Zionism.
“There was even a Lib Dem candidate selected who had made awful remarks in the past, criticising ‘the Jews’ among other comments. We absolutely can do something about it though. I was proud when Tim Farron showed real leadership and sacked that candidate. It’s 2017 – there is just no reason to tolerate anti-Semitism.
“Faith schools absolutely can and usually do provide excellent levels of education for children but I think they should follow the independent school model. With that said, I’d absolutely support the increase and expansion of Jewish schools.”