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Lib Dem Nancy Jirira wins Fortune Green by-election

Nurse returns eight years after losing her council seat, replacing Flick Rea

23 July, 2021 — By Harry Taylor

Nancy Jirira (front, green jacket) celebrates with Liberal Democrat members at the Crowndale Centre on Friday

LIBERAL Democrat Nancy Jirira has won the Fortune Green by-election, replacing Flick Rea, and said her victory had been the result of the area being ignored by the Town Hall’s ruling Labour group.

Cllr Jirira, who previously served as a councillor for six years from 2008 to 2014, said her win was also down to fears of Labour having total control in the ward, and the leadership only paying “cursory attention to what people are saying”.

The by-election was triggered in June, after Ms Rea stood down after 35-years as councillor. Key issues included congestion on Minster Road and problems with bin collection in the area. Labour said a low turnout had hampered their efforts to win.

Cllr Jirira said: “It’s amazing because Labour actually threw everything up to 10pm onto this ward, this was the ward for them and that’s what they wanted. That was their aim.”

The community nurse featured prominently in BBC One’s Hospital documentary last year, set in Hampstead’s Royal Free Hospital, as she battled Covid-19.

Cllr Jirira after arriving at the count, with Camden Liberal Democrats leader Luisa Porritt (left), Janet Grauberg and Sam Campling

She added: “I won this because I knew what was going on locally on the roads, on the roads like Minster Road, the rubbish being everywhere and also without a doubt, just plain labour not listening to people, just ignoring local issues, paying cursory attention to what people are saying.”

Labour had high hopes for winning the final seat in the ward, already having two councillors in Fortune Green, but have never been able to claim all three. Yet a poor campaign meant they fell further behind. At the count at the Crowndale Centre on Friday, their candidate, Lorna Greenwood, got 849 votes, behind Ms Jirira on 1,197. Conservative candidate Ian Cohen got 518 votes.

In the last full elections in 2018, Labour’s other candidate finished more than 100 votes in front of the trailing two Lib Dems, putting them on level pegging with the Lib Dems at the outset of the by-election.

Lorna Greenwood (centre) with Labour canvassers in Fortune Green

Leader of Camden Council Georgia Gould added she hadn’t heard complaints about rubbish collections while she was out campaigning. Last year the Labour group blocked Conservative Party requests for a review of the contract with outsourced provider Veolia, despite unhappiness with refuse around the borough.

She said: “Not one person raised rubbish on the doorstep with me. A lot of people said Flick is standing down, we owe it to her to vote for the person they’ve chosen and we’ve had a lovely note from Flick. It wasn’t a huge issue on the doorstep.”

She added that the Town Hall’s team was “holding Veolia to account all the time”.

Legions of canvassers had been out in the area over the last few weeks, with some residents writing notes telling activists to “stop disturbing” them. Cllr Jirira said it had been part of a “personal” campaign by the Labour Party to finally secure all three seats in the ward.

“This is personal to Labour,” she said. “They are not fighting Hampstead, they are not fighting other wards as much as Fortune Green, it’s amazing how they can stop fighting elsewhere and concentrate on one ward.”

Tory candidate Ian Cohen in good spirits at the Crowndale Centre despite the result

Leader of Camden Conservatives Oliver Cooper said: “The real shock for Camden is the quite significant fall in the Labour vote. The Greens didn’t stand, [Labour] were defending the record as a council and had a very large fall in the vote share in a ward where they had two of the councillors. It’s a damning indictment.”

Cllr Gould said that despite the result she was bullish about the party’s chances in the ward at next year’s full elections in May. “I think we’ve got two really popular councillors in Richard [Olszewski] and Lorna [Russell], people know them, they work hard for that community, and the numbers weren’t that different from normal, it was just a lower turnout, particularly in our strongest areas.

“I do think that in a different context, in the local elections where there’s more profile and we tend to see 10 per cent higher turnout, the Labour vote is there.”

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