“If I get to Westminster – even if I got to be Prime Minister – I would still work in the fish and chip shop. Otherwise you lose touch.”
So said Jill Fraser, Liberal Democrat candidate for this year’s General Election in Primrose Hill’s constituency of Holborn and St Pancras, when we met for coffee at the Greenberry Cafe earlier this week.
Passionate about local issues, Jill has lived and worked in the Queens Crescent neighbourhood for decades, and it was her job at the fish and chip shop – the Blue Sea in Queens Crescent – that set her on the path of local politics. Chatting with her customers and hearing their concerns inspired her to act: “You can always change things if you get involved,” she explained. “It’s local issues for me.”
Serving as a councillor from 2003 until the 2014 Lib Dem rout – with Flick Rea the only Liberal Democrat to retain her seat – Fraser fought hard on local issues that affect the lives of ordinary people. She cites her biggest triumph as the limiting of parking restrictions in the Queens Crescent area to just two hours, mindful as she is of convenience for ordinary people. “You can come and pick up your Mum and take her shopping and people can pop to the crescent for a pint of milk,” she points out. Life can go on more smoothly without over-tyrannical parking restrictions.
Her work on behalf of local people was rewarded when she became the first Lib Dem Mayor of Camden. Her face lit up as she told me about it. “It was just like being Cinderella,” she chuckled, although she was quick to point out that at the end of her tenure, having passed the role on to the next incumbent, she was back to going home on the bus instead of in the mayoral chauffeur-driven car.
As a longstanding governor of Rhyll Primary School, she was tickled at being asked by a young pupil, “How can you be Mayor and work in a chip shop?” She was similarly touched when, handing out football medals to a team of very young players, one little boy who had been eyeing her chain of office asked her “Whatever did you win that for?” “It certainly wasn’t football!” was her reply.
Fraser also has the distinction of coming the closest to unseating Frank Dobson as MP when she stood in the 2005 General Election. “I was only 4,800 short of beating Frank,” she explained, pointing out that she achieved an 11.5% swing, the biggest in London and in fact originally rejected by the computer as an impossibility when the results were phoned in after the count.
This time around she says she will “fight to the bitter end,” despite being realistic about her chances of victory in the Labour safe seat. She reasons that “people will decide whether they are voting for the next Prime Minister or for someone to represent them. If they want someone to represent them, they will vote for me. The country sadly does not understand the powers that they hold by voting.”
What are the big local issues for Holborn and St Pancras? HS2 is high up on the list for Fraser. “We don’t need to tear down half of Camden to get to Birmingham. We need better services but we don’t need to throw good money after bad. If you want to build a train, for goodness sake link it to the airport and Cornwall.” The lack of common sense about the project makes Fraser suspicious: “I think there’s something underhand about the whole operation,” she stated.
Housing is another issue, and Fraser has seen this affect her own family. Her three grown up children, well-educated and with good jobs, have found themselves, like many, priced out of London. “We are in danger of losing the middle tier,” worries Fraser. “We will have the very poor and the very rich with nothing in the middle, which will be dangerous in a few years’ time.”
What has caused this situation?
“Nobody’s policies, even ours, concentrate on London as a special case.”
Would the mansion tax help?
“No!” exclaimed Fraser. “We all wish Vince Cable had never mentioned it. The mansion tax can’t work because of London. What is needed is a rebanding of the council tax so that it is more realistic.”
More home-building is also required, says Fraser, who believes that high-rise building is a necessity, declaring that “the only way is up!”
“But not rabbit hutches,” she goes on to caution. “You need space and light. Mental illness is caused by dark, miserable homes. But I have a lack of faith that we can do it properly without greed.”
The welfare state is a further cause for concern: “The welfare state was supposed to be to support people to become independent; now it’s making people dependent. As it stands it is taking away people’s dignity, their self-esteem and the will to actually do something.”
How does Fraser think that the Lib Dems have fared in the coalition?
“I think we have brought a very important balance against the Conservatives and we have stopped them from doing everything they wanted to do. We have also brought in some excellent policies such as the raising of the personal tax allowance so that the poorest pay less tax, the pupil premium and free school meals for all primary school pupils. The coalition is like a marriage. You can’t go through a marriage fighting each other. There has to be compromise.”
There’s no doubting that Jill Fraser is a wise woman and a doughty campaigner, who has done a lot of good for Camden. Whether or not she can take advantage of the retirement of Frank Dobson and close down the Labour majority, however, remains to be seen, but she is going to give it a darned good try.
© 2015 Joanna Reeves, all rights reserved.