British Actress Bolsters Labour Fight in Local Election
LONDON — GLENDA JACKSON has built a reputation as one of Britain's most accomplished actresses by voicing other peoples' words on stage and screen. Now, she must speak lines of her own. But as the Labour Party's prospective parliamentary candidate in the London constituency of Hampstead, the two-time Oscar winner is not at a loss for something political to say.
Within minutes of her selection to fight for a seat currently held by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's ruling Conservatives, Miss Jackson offered a taste of the fighting spirit she hopes will propel her into the House of Commons.
``The way we are treating our children at the moment is a disgrace,'' she declares. ``Teenagers are sleeping on pavements in cardboard boxes, the old are being ignored, the sick neglected. I've never been ashamed of being British before. We have to do something to end this travesty of a government.''
The choice of Jackson is a major victory for the opposition Labour leader, Neil Kinnock, who sees her as exemplifying the political and social attitudes he wants to bring to government.
``She will help our attempts to broaden the party's traditional working-class power base,'' says a Kinnock aide, pointing to Labour's bid for the middle class vote at the general election which must be held in the next two years.
To win selection, she had to convince a Hampstead Labour Party panel that her credentials were better than those of another woman who is a member of Labour's ``hard left.'' Her opponent tried to characterize her as an example of Labour's new ``sanitized'' image.
The local party however chose Jackson, one of her supporters said, ``because of her views and the way she expresses them. She has the right ideas on social issues. She is passionate, but not immoderate.''
Jackson says her main political interests lie in health, education, and housing - issues on which the Conservative government is frequently criticized. The current arithmetic of British politics appears to favor her for the Hampstead battle. The Labour Party is running some 25 percentage points ahead of the Conservatives in opinion polls. Jackson would need only a modest swing in Labour's favor to be able to defeat Oliver Letwin, her Conservative opponent.
Jackson is scathing about Mr. Letwin, a Conservative who worked in Mrs. Thatcher's policy think tank. ``He comes over as one of those Tories who speaks about expressing concern for the elderly, not by raising their pensions but by giving them a jar of homemade jam.''
Labour strategists expect her to be effective on the hustings. ``She has a tremendous commitment to the things the party stands for,'' says Peter Mandelson, the party's director of communications. ``I have heard her speak at rallies, and she can fire an audience. Any party trying to gain a seat and fighting a marginal [race] would take her candidacy very seriously.''