Image from commons.wikimedia.org
This week the Walthamstow community seems to have cracked itself apart. For once it wasn't about Mini Holland, the controversial scheme to make Walthamstow Village more bike-friendly. No, this latest schism concerns something on a far less local scale - the vote on the airstrikes on Syria. And the figure at the centre of it all is Stella Creasy.
Even before this week, you've probably heard of Stella. She's the kind of politician that the media love to write about as she's popular, quotable and photogenic. In the 2015 General Election, she secured 68.9% of the vote - the second biggest majority in London. So the very idea that those same constituents were turning on her in a pitchfork -wielding mob outside her house was too delicious for the press to turn down and stories about the protests "outside her house" were all over the country before anyone had even bothered to check whether Stella's house did in fact look like the Queens Rd Mosque and whether the parade of local liberals and vicars' children were armed with anything more dangerous than post-it notes. By the time the credentials of the source (a single Facebook user) had turned out to be bogus, it was too late. The attacks on the protestors had started and they had retaliated on social media, both hurt and irritated at being branded troublemakers.
At the same time, darker threats were being made by Twitter trolls and anonymous callers to Stella's office. Her decision to vote "Yes" on the strikes was unpopular with the vocal majority on Facebook groups, who refused to believe that they didn't represent the constituency as a whole. Thrown into the mix were threats of deselection by a local counsellor, whose sister is being tipped as Stella's replacement should a deselection happen.
Of all of it, this last bit strikes me as the most bizarre. Why should an MP be deselected for making a choice not everyone agrees with? She was given the mandate to make decisions by that 68.9% of Walthamstowians and she was given a free vote by her leader. I don't believe that she made this decision lightly, especially knowing the backlash she would face. I still don't know whether it was the right decision and I'm amazed by people who hold polarised opinions on such complex issues - it's not an ideal solution to the Daesh problem but the "No" protesters have so far failed to come up with a credible alternative. Over-emoting about dead babies never helps rational discussion - people are dying in the Middle East, whatever happens. Bombs kill indiscriminately. So do Daesh. Tough call.
But Stella made that call. And since then the torrent of abuse has been relentless. Most MPs would hide away in an office and wait for it to blow over but not Stella. She's been hitting social media hard, responding in person to every critic and not shying away from the difficult questions she'd being asked. There is no way she can win this with the wider public - before the vote, her thoughtfulness was being slammed as "dithering" and a "No" vote may well have been perceived as her being easily swayed. She has lost fans and will probably lose votes. From an outsider's perspective, though, this kind of reaction seems at best misguided and at worst spoilt.
An outsider? Why yes, I am not one of Stella's constiuents. I live mere metres outside her constitiency - six houses and a shop lie between me and the boundary, which places me in the wilderness of IDS-land. But I work in Walthamstow, sing in a Walthamstow choir and throw my ageing indie kid shapes on a Walthamstow dancefloor. So I have an interest in E17 affairs. And I've seen from afar that Stella, whatever her views on Syria, is a ruddy good MP. She's present, she's knowledgable and she's engaged. I can't imagine IDS holding a public meeting to justify the way he voted on anything (Stella's is here if anyone's interested). In fact, IDS has been seen literally running away from his voters into the nearest forest. For us miserable Chingfordians, an MP like Stella is unimaginable riches.
So I'm imploring you, don't throw her away over this one issue. You've disagreed, we understand that. Now move on. Remember the ways that she has worked for Walthamstow for the past five years and the good humour in which she's done it. She's intervened in local issues, calling out the payday lender and dishonest letting agents that plunge people into poverty. She received death threats on Twitter for her feminist campaigning and she carried on. She listens to what her constituents say, even if this time she didn't agree with it. She's been a force for good in what we can only describe as dark political times.
This is not about, as one Facebook wit put it, whether she "knows her way around a Pulp song". This is not about the late-night social media discussions on whether banana bread constitutes a cake or not. This is about an MP who makes decisions that she believes to be right, knowing that she's sacrificing her personal fanbase for it. She's as noble as Scott Saunders from "The Apprentice".
And, if you don't appreciate her, come and move to Chingford. A few months under IDS and you'll soon realise how lucky you were...