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Wednesday, 6 June, 2001, 10:11 GMT 11:11 UK
Enfield Southgate: Still up for it?

Enfield Southgate was just another London suburb until Michael Portillo lost his seat there. Now his successor is fighting to keep it Labour, writes BBC News Online's Jonathan Duffy.

Nine o'clock in the morning and, as you surface from the Piccadilly Line at Southgate, an eerily familiar face hovers at the station entrance.

It's the smile that's most recognisable - a tight-lipped grin that is burned into the memory of everyone who stayed up to the small hours to watch the general election count of 1997.

Stephen Twigg
All smiles from Mr Twigg - but not on Thursday night
It belongs to Stephen Twigg, Labour's most celebrated giant killer who pulled off an astonishing victory that night over the then defence secretary and darling of the Tory right, Michael Portillo.

On a night when Tory heads rolled in such rapid succession they seemed to blur, Mr Twigg's defeat of the 15,000 Conservative majority in the London seat of Enfield Southgate provided a memorable toe-hold.

Journalist Brian Cathcart caught the spirit of that night's Tory bloodbath with the title of his book about the election: Were You Still Up For Portillo?

Harder job

Four years down the line and Stephen Twigg is again calling on the voters of Enfield Southgate to demonstrate their support for him. But it could be more difficult this time.

Labour now has a track record in government and Mr Twigg's job is in the hands of his electorate.

John Flack
Tory candidate John Flack: The landscape's changed
As he greets the trickle of late commuters walking into the station, he knows that things hang in the balance. With a majority of 1,433, this is Labour's 15th most marginal seat.

Health, education and crime are the big three concerns, he says. The question mark that hung over the local Chase Farm hospital four years ago has been lifted, but now there are worries about hygiene levels inside.

School places are an issue as well, with worries about some children still haven't been allocated places for the new secondary school in September.

And while parts of the constituency appear to drip wealth, crime is still a worry.

Mobile phone muggings

"There's been an increase in street crime," Mr Twigg told BBC News Online.

"In Southgate we've had muggings of young people, mostly for their mobile phones. And in New Southgate there's been an increase in muggings of the elderly.

Whatever the result, I've promised I will look serious and very sober

Stephen Twigg, Labour candidate
"It's not really very high crime here, but everything is relative and perception counts for a lot."

Certainly some of the residential roads seem to be in rude health. In the procession of cars that zip down The Bourne, a leafy main road that connects Southgate to nearby Palmers Green, there is an unusually high quota of shiny 4x4s, Jaguars and open-top Audi TTs.

The houses mostly date from the 1920s and '30s when developers moved in en masse to transform this spot of greenbelt into a gentle London suburb.

Huge oaks and horse chestnuts line the roads while hedges and conifers neatly spill out on to the pavements, partially obscuring the rows of mock-Tudor houses.

Houses and tower block
Poverty lurks amid the suburban sprawl
To the untrained eye this would appear to be classic Tory heartland. Yet while you struggle to spot many political posters in front windows, those you do see will most likely be for Labour.

Something odd seems to be going on in Enfield Southgate; strange at least for those who still like to see Labour as the workers' party and the Tories as representing the management class.

John Flack, the man who wants to wipe that uncertain smile from Stephen Twigg's face for the Conservatives, acknowledges such a twist.

"I think those days where if you lived in a detached house you voted Tory and if you lived in a working class area you voted Labour are largely gone," he says.

Something in the water?

This seems to be born out in conversations with some of the locals. Al Taylor, a mini cab driver waiting at Oakwood Tube station for his next fare, talks a blue streak when asked his opinion of Tony Blair.

Greek shop
Greek shops are dotted throughout the neighbourhood
"Tell me why I have to work seven days a week under this government to send my son to university. They're putting the tax up so it costs me a fortune at the petrol station, my insurance is up and now some muppet is going to charge me to drive into central London.

"I want to know what they're putting in the water that makes everyone think this government is so fantastic. Frankly, I just don't see it."

Yet Labour clearly enjoys support in the less affluent areas as well, again judging by the number of posters in windows.

Here the roads are wider, the trees a little more sparse and the houses somewhat less ornate. Grip handles outside front doors reveal this part is popular with pensioners.

Thatcher's followers

Yet it's not a deprived or downtrodden area - home to the lower, rather than the upper middle classes; the sort that admired Thatcher and have been courted by New Labour.

Coverack Court
Coverack Close: Dance track
It's hard to find serious deprivation in this neck of the woods. But among the trees and semis lurks Coverack Close, a collection of two tower blocks and several other low-rise blocks of flats.

The atmosphere immediately jars with that in the rest of the vicinity. A dance track blares from an open window while a group of shirtless teenage boys fool around in the playground.

In the parking lots, a succession of burnt-out, smashed up cars slump on deflated tyres.

There are no political posters at all but at least one voter on the estate, Rob Barnes, pledged to back John Flack.

A question of delivery

The Tory contender, who is keen to distance himself from his "love him or hate him" predecessor, says the big issue among voters is Labour's lack of delivery in areas such as crime and health.

Police sign
Despite the sign, the shutters were down on Southgate police station
But he has also been laying into the Labour-run local authority for hiking up the council tax.

"Ok, I wouldn't have control of the council. But the feeling is that Labour MPs are not putting pressure on the council to perform. I would put them under scrutiny," he says.

Stephen Twigg meanwhile, is preparing for his biggest day in front of the cameras in four years. And this time, he has vowed there will be no grinning.

Whatever the result, he says, "I've promised I will look serious and very sober".

Which might be good politics, but certainly won't make such good television.

The place The people The Commuter blues The sights
1. The place 2. The people
3. The sights 4. The Commuter blues


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