As rain lashed mercilessly outside, a crowd of sodden Labour supporters huddled sportingly around the bar of the Turks Head pub in Twickenham. Nestled on the corner of two leafy residential streets, the Turks Head is very much a local pub. A narrow room with its own side entrance rolls out like an old Dutch barn beside it. Inside, VOTE LABOUR signage has been tacked to the walls, one has fallen off and is propped up on the floor. Tension fills the air. Labour is a lost hope in Twickenham and somehow that feeling is reflected in the room. Even the sunshine didn’t come out for Twickenham Labour that night. I speak to local Party Chair, Rhonda Evans-Woolfe, about the campaign so far,
‘Since Corbyn, our membership has soared and we’ve got one thousand, five hundred members… so we’ve got the manpower now to try and seriously stop being a political irrelevance.’
Ten miles south-west of central London, Twickenham boasts many claims to fame. Hosting the world’s largest rugby stadium, it is the unofficial home of Rugby Union. The River Thames runs along the southern border, originally forming part of the Hundred of Hounslow that was mentioned in the Doomsday Book. Eighteenth century poet, Alexander Pope, lived in a villa in Twickenham, and his garden was tendered in his memory until Lady Howe, exasperated by the steady stream of tourists, pulled it down in 1808. In ‘An Essay on Man’, Pope tries to understand the complex condition of the human species. After much criticism of our faults, he decides we are perfect for the fact that we are alive; our perfection deriving from the blessing of our very existence,
Then say not man’s imperfect, Heav’n in fault;
Say rather, man’s as perfect as he ought:
His knowledge measur’d to his state and place,
His time a moment, and a point his space.
If to be perfect in a certain sphere,
What matter, soon or late, or here or there?
The blest today is as completely so,
As who began a thousand years ago.
Rhonda accepts that Twickenham Labour Party has been far from perfect. However, with a raft of new members, they’re now changing tact.
‘I think for a long time our local Labour Party has been focusing on national politics. But actually its finally dawned on us that in order to become relevant to people’s lives we’ve got to start off with local politics.’ Rhonda’s voices rises with the force of new-found determination, ‘Our aim now is to get Labour Councillors on Richmond Council… We’ve targeted a ward and we’re going to work that ward, and we’re going to get three Councillors elected – hopefully – at next year’s Council elections.’
Back in the Turks Head, the show has started. Comedian, Patrick Monahan, cracks bitter-sweet jokes about the dire housing situation young people face today. Although housing is a national issue, it is also a local concern and one around which Labour Councillors could gather local support especially as Labour’s recent manifesto promises more favourable terms for renters.
Although the show went down well, the energy in the room remained downbeat. But a plan has been hatched and the culture may be changing.