I'm tempted to take one image from Laura Fairrie's tenderly percpetive More4 documentary The Battle for Barking and fashion it into a metaphor for the disengagement between "New Labour" and working-class voters. It was the moment when Fairrie focussed on the shoes removed by Margaret Hodge in favour of the boots she required for a photo op on a building site. The maker's name spoke volumes: "Jimmy Choo". Could there be a more potent symbol of the social chasm between the (literally) well-heeled professionals of the Blair and Brown administrations and the citizens of one of London's poorest boroughs whose votes helped them win power?
Possibly not. Yet to damn Hodge for her expensive footwear would be cheap. She emerged from the film as a dauntless doorstep campaigner, undeterred by either the anger and disillusion of many white voters in this starkly unfancified working-class territory or by the personal tragedy of her husband's death and dedicated to doing her best for her constituents. Her obliteration of Nick Griffin, together with Jon Cruddas's triumph in the seat next door and Labour's expunging of Richard Barnbrook AM, Bob Bailey and the rest of the BNP Councillors from Barking and Dagenham Town Hall, was one of the small, hopeful pleasures of election night in the capital. Can that hope survive and grow?
There are some forbidding omens. As Fairrie says at the end of this interview, BNP locals remain active on the ground. I saw this for myself in September when they turned out to greet Boris. The borough's intolerable housing shortages and the tensions these feed seem unlikely to lessen.
Private sector rents are the lowest in London, yet the government's housing benefit time bomb is primed to explode under nearly 4,000 households in the borough including more than a hundred occupied by pensioners. Many of these will be only a little worse off, but a little can mean a lot when you haven't got very much. The same reforms will mean a new influx of claimants from the expensive Central London boroughs, forced to migrate in search of cheaper rents. Meanwhile, provision of social and intermediate "affordable" homes isn't going to become any more plentiful any time soon.
The Council knows that the housing powder keg is not disarmed. In wealthy Westminster Philippa Roe wants to stretch the "local connection" criteria that define those she is legally obliged to help when they are homeless from six months to three years on the grounds that she could give greater priority to longer-term residents. But where would those de-prioritised go, along with others priced out of Westminster and other expensive boroughs?
Last week on Radio 4's The Report, her Barking and Dagenham counterpart Phil Waker said he'd like the "local connection" period to be ten years. The more Roe gets her way, the worse for him. Waker is anticipating an increase in incomers, adding to the already often bitter competition for a limited local housing supply. What Waker doesn't precisely say, but surely knows, is that many of these incomers will be large, ethnic minority families. More fuel for the BNP.
"We're going to do as much as we can to protect the population that's here, wherever they're from," Waker says. "We can't house everybody in London that's poor and we shouldn't be asked to do so. London is there for everybody." In theory, maybe. But in practice?