On Wednesday night the local Conservative group held an open primary to select their Hampstead & Kilburn parliamentary constituency candidate. Anyone could go along and vote for one of the three candidates, whether or not you were a member, or even supporter of the party.
I couldn’t make it, so local Tory voter Greg reported from the front line.
“More than 200 people attended the Open Primary to select the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for the 2015 general election. Three candidates had been shortlisted and each had 30 minutes to convince the audience why they should vote for them.
|Great turnout for the event
The candidates did not appear at the same time and lots were drawn to determine who would appear first second and third. All candidates were asked the same three questions by the moderator and then for the remaining time, the audience were able to ask a question. Strict rules ensured that once an issue had been raised, no further questions could be asked on that topic.
Apart from some obvious planted questions, topics ranged from local issues (saving the high street) to national (the economy, gay marriage, immigration and High Speed rail) and international issues (the EU, defence and international aid).
The moderator’s questions gave the candidates an early opportunity to declare their love for the area – what it stands for, its heritage and how it represents all that is great about London. Although Seema Kennedy lives in St Albans, she promised to start house hunting in the area the next day should she win. Simon Marcus believed he knows what it takes to win the seat, following his council by-election victory last September.
Each was asked to list an issue of party policy they disagreed with. Alex Burghart wanted to see the party go further on tax breaks for married couples, Seema Kennedy wanted the government to spend more on defence and Simon Marcus was concerned about the direction of policy for small businesses. As a small businessman himself, he wants to see less regulation and, as a last resort, legislation for state lending to boost jobs and growth. All were asked their views on Europe. The consensus was that David Cameron’s referendum on a negotiated settlement was the right way to resolve the issue.
|Burghart: next government must address “social deficit”
Some of the highlights from the audience questions for Alex Burghart included one on who should be leader of the Conservative party if David Cameron does not secure a majority in 2015. Diplomatically, Alex suggested “the very best candidate.” He argued that the greatest challenge post-2015 would still be the economy but, relating to his day job, he spoke about the “social deficit”, which the next government must address. He argued that the council could do more to protect local business and cited an example in Westminster where there is an arrangement to protect petrol stations from closing. He would like to see private landlords sit round the table with the council to ensure the high street is not taken over by large chains.
|Kennedy: uncontrolled immigration puts strain on public services
Seema Kennedy was asked about her views on immigration. As an immigrant herself, she said that much of the beauty of the area is down to it being a “melting pot.” However, she argued that uncontrolled immigration puts a strain on public services and so agreed with the government’s policy. She answered a tricky question on Article 50 of the EU’s constitution (the one relating to withdrawal). She was confident that David Cameron would secure the right result. She was also concerned that the high street was dying and listed business rates as a reason. She believed that business rates are and will continue to be a barrier to small businesses opening and talked of a friend in Kensal Green who was unable to extend her premises because of the extortionate rates.
Simon Marcus was asked what he would do in his first 100 days as the candidate. He explained how he would build on what he has done since September, try and achieve a solution for West Hampstead police station, talk to free school groups, residents associations and others. He received a round of applause when he answered that he agrees with the proposals on gay marriage, but also said it is important for religious organisation to have a choice and that freedom of choice has to be preserved. On reaching out to kids on the council estates he used his experience of setting up a boxing academy to ensure kids have a purpose. On reaching out to the wider community he said that he would knock on doors and target all areas through community meetings. He believes the way to win is to get the message out to as many people as possible.
|Marcus: in favour of Boris Island
Marcus also said he would like to see the international aid budget reduced but made to work further, would like a chance to look study HS2 more closely, perhaps increase the National Minimum Wage, and if pushed would like to see airport expansion at Stansted – although he is a fan of the Boris Island proposal.
|Counting the votes
Once the votes were cast, the moderator announced that Simon Marcus had won in the first round having achieved at least 50% of the vote. In his short acceptance speech, he didn’t want to get “schmaltzy”, but said it “was a dream come true.””