IT’S hard to get a word in edgeways with Karen Buck. Despite our best efforts during the sunny Friday afternoon I spent following her on campaign, it was impossible to spend more than two minutes with the Labour MP without someone interrupting.
Out in Harrow Road at least Karen Buck is a local celebrity.
On every street corner we meet at least one person who comes up to her with a concern about the area, be it about market stalls blocking the pavement or anti-social behaviour, everyone in the area seems to know her.
And, unusually for a politician, they seem happy to see her.
Despite the intrusion, Karen insists she “loves it”: “I find the community angle of doing an MP’s job is the part that I love most.”
“I think the community is fantastic, I have a great relationship with the local Labour councillors, they are a brilliant team so that makes a lot of difference”, she adds.
She takes me to Maida Hill Market opposite the Prince of Wales pub, which she is campaigning to prevent becoming a betting shop, and says when she took over as MP in 1997 there were drug deals going on in broad daylight. Eighteen years on it is a quiet, small, if a bit shabby market just selling fruit, vegetables and a bit of street food. This is why Karen is so keen to save the Prince of Wales, which was shut down in November after its publican was arrested for rape – though she herself admits the pub was “horrible” when it was open.
She points to the two other betting shops already operating on either side and says the area, already one of the most deprived parts of her constituency, could fall back into being “a no-go area”.
Karen bristles with indignation when she discusses the inequalities in the constituency.
When we meet she tells me that Westminster borough has the highest number of rented properties of any place in the UK; two-thirds of its residents do not own their own homes.
It is these issues that drove her into politics, she says.
“My entire adult life I have felt like that if the world needs to be changed then we all need to play a part in changing it.
“And I have always felt the incredible need to be part of it,” she says
“I feel like I am one of a team, and the changes we made, whether it was in Westminster North or in Britain as a whole, I think we made because we were a Labour government, not because of the individuals within it.”
Karen is the biggest cheerleader for Labour’s record in government and she is still sticking to the line that the financial crash wasn’t Labour – despite even her boss Ed Miliband admitting “mistakes were made”.
“Yes, we lost very badly in 2010 election but that was because of a global economic crisis – that we happened to be in government at the time of the crash,” she insists.
“I am absolutely crystal clear that crisis happened across the world and was a banking-led crisis and didn’t happen because the Labour government spent too much money on Sure Start programmes and local policing teams.”
She attacked the criticisms by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats saying “they were going to match our spending up until the crisis”.
Karen’s campaign has less polish than her Conservative challenger Lindsey Hall’s.
On the Friday afternoon I spent with her at least there were no shiny, happy, energetic young activists trailing her but experienced Labour councillors, Queen’s Park’s Patricia McAllister, and Guthrie McKie and Ruth Bush who represent Harrow Road ward.
But this makes her campaign feel more authentic, less stage-managed and less glossy.
While on the doorstep people offer her problems to solve, rather than pronouncements, and seem to genuinely want to hear what she had to say.
Karen’s campaign is one of continuity rather than change, but judging by her warm reception, the people of Harrow Road at least, think that may not be a bad thing.
Promoted by Andy Whitley on behalf of Karen Buck both at 4g Shirland Mews, London W9 3DY