Is Chris Philp in Bank Holiday mode, or is this his Kilburn gear? The usually casually besuited Conservative PPC for Hampstead & Kilburn is wearing a grey fleece, jeans and some snazzy trainers as he chats to a supporter on the Kilburn High Road, while the wind does its best to deliver a pile of leaflets across the entire constituency in one fell swoop.
We retreat to Caffé Nero.
Chris tells me in his brisk no-nonsense style that the campaign is going well – he manages to mention that he got married here last year, which may be the best-known and least-disputed fact of this year’s election in H&K. Chris neither mumbles or waffles. This is rather refreshing. When the question is one he’s answered before, the answers come smoothly. Throw in an oddball, such as what has surprised him most about this campaign, and he stumbles slightly – it feels like he’s searching for the on message response.
I’ve met Chris once before, very briefly, after the hustings a couple of weeks ago. I’ve seen his apperances at other hustings on video, and read about his performances as well as catching him live and overshadowed by Boris last week. In front of an audience he can be a little didactic. One-on-one, after you’ve got past the dubious jokes about the Lib Dem campaign (“what campaign?”) he is far more personable; the poster boy image is shed for one of determined focus and commitment and it’s easy to believe that Chris would work hard for the constituency.
He says that the economy and jobs is a major issue being raised on the doorstep, and that holds true across the whole constituency. Public services are also at the forefront of people’s minds, especially education – one of Chris’s particular interests: “People are feeling that the state is failing to meet their needs”.
Business rates are a particularly local challenge, especially in West Hampstead. West End Lane businesses have seen rates double recently compared to an average London increase of 10 percent, due to valuations that said that property prices had shot up in the area. The Conservatives are saying that, if elected, they will make small business relief automatic to ease the burden on this sector.
Glenda Jackson had said that affordable social housing was the main issue she was encountering and I put it to Chris that the Conservatives were keen to sell off local housing stock. He set out the context for Camden’s sell-off, placing the blame on the previous Labour-run council that had failed to invest in maintaining properties. This had led the current Lib-Dem/Conservative coalition in Camden to sell off 500 of the council’s 25,000 properties, of which 130 have been sold thus far. The money raised, he argued, was going towards upgrading the rest of the housing stock. This would hold through until 2012-2013. Further funding would come from both within the existing budget and the rather drastic measure of rebuilding some council housing with higher density estates from which surplus stock could be sold off.
Chris slammed Labour claims that the Tories would cut Sure Start, “categorically assuring” me that Sure Start would not be cut and saying that such smears were symptomatic of Labour’s “ethical bankruptcy”. While we’re on the subject of categorical answers, he also denies point blank that his campaign has received any money from Lord Ashcroft.
Does he, I asked, agree with David Cameron that Britain is broken? Chris answers carefully, perhaps aware that this term has become quite emotive, saying he belives that “some parts of society are broken”, citing the country’s high rate of teenage pregnancy, long-term unemployment, and Britain’s high debt.
I had wondered whether all the tedious bickering between the parties here about exactly which of them were serious contenders for this seat might have finally been put to bed. However, Chris was adamant that this was still a two-horse race and no, Ed Fordham was not one of those horses. He alleged that a Lib Dem activist had placed a major bet on Ed to win in order to reduce the bookmakers’ odds – even suggesting that Nick Clegg’s party pulled this trick across the country. To my mind, it seems slightly risky to be so confident that the Lib Dems won’t be in the mix on election day.
If he does not win the seat, Chris says he plans to sleep and then go for a run on Hampstead Heath, but has not thought beyond that. If he is returned as the MP for Hampstead & Kilburn in the early hours of May 7th, his first meaningful tasks will be to work on sprucing up the Kilburn High Road and focusing on the proposed new school in Swiss Cottage. Indeed, he expressed an interest in an education role in any future Conservative government, “I went to state school and – against the odds perhaps – went to Oxford. I believe all children should have equal opportunities,” continuing to argue that educational attaintment should not be based on parental wealth – either in terms of affording private education, or moving to more expensive areas where the best state schools are found.
Finally, the question for all the candidates. Why should I vote for Chris Philp? “Because I have a great track record of getting things done, and it’s the only way to be sure of a change of government.”
Before returning to his wingmen, who are valiantly trying to woo the electorate on the High Road, Chris pops to the gents thereby missing the sight of his rival Ed walking past the Tory stall. Another great photo opportunity missed.