Brent Central is a north-west London seat whose residents have voted Labour and Liberal Democrat in local and national elections over the past decade. The outcome next May could well indicate the shape of the government to come.
Brent Central is a lively, vibrant and exciting part of north-west London which I am so proud to call home. It stretches from leafy Mapesbury through happening Harlesden. It has enormous ethnic and cultural diversity and great local pride in itself and includes one of London’s most beautiful nature reserves around the Welsh Harp reservoir.
Brent Central was created in 2005 after boundary changes and includes large areas that have traditionally been solid Labour and others that swing to Liberal Democrats. In 2010 I was narrowly defeated by Liberal Democrat Sarah Teather who had first taken a local Labour seat in a 2003 by-election when voters expressed their anger at the Iraq war.
It is great news that Progress has made Brent Central an Operation Flight seat as the campaign here is all about bringing voters’ hearts and minds back to Labour. Teather has been a popular and visible local member of parliament, campaigning in particular on refugee rights, but the fact is that the coalition government in which she has played a frontbench role has wreaked such havoc on local people.
One of the Liberal Democrat’s most prominent MPs commented on her party’s immigration policies that ‘this decision is deeply depressing. We would rather let people drown for nothing other than baseless political motives. It shows that when it comes to immigration, the government has plumbed new depths of inhumanity.’
She therefore had to take a strategic decision to try and separate herself and not contest Brent Central in 2015.
Every day I am out and about with my team in Brent and every day I hear local people’s stories of housing problems, fears for the privatisation of local accident and emergency and other NHS services, and worries about getting and keeping secure work. I am involved with the local Citizens Advice Bureau and the caseload of debt and basic survival stories is truly frightening. As a magistrate I am seeing the real impact of legal aid cuts. A place like Brent Central cannot take another term of government like this one.
When Teather announced she would not stand again, she said she believed the Liberal Democrats no longer stood up for social justice.
So my campaign continues. I am on the doorstep most days, I meet local business people and ask them what kind of economic policy would work best for us, and I visit inspiring volunteer-led services like Brent Law Centre where smart and compassionate people are attempting to bridge the justice gap we now have. More attention and more ‘boots on the ground’ from Progress can only help.
As MP for Brent South until 2010 I was the first African-Caribbean woman in government and I was a minister for young people and youth engagement. I was disappointed to lose last time in Brent Central, even more so as one of the first things the Liberal Democrats and Tories did was to dismantle the office for young citizens and youth engagement. But I am determined to win Brent Central for Labour in May. We have all been let down by Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats. We urgently need change. I am thrilled that Progress has made Brent Central a key seat and I cannot wait to welcome activists here to help reach as many voters as we can and tell them Labour has an alternative plan.
Dawn Butler is parliamentary candidate for Brent Central
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