On Sunday, the Kilburn Festival was in full swing in the blazing sunshine. A few streets away in Mazenod Avenue, local Labour party members were listening to speeches by the three candidates vying to be the party’s replacement for Glenda Jackson on the ballot sheet for Hampstead & Kilburn. The heat clearly got to some as there was a headbutting incident outside, though no charges have been brought.
The chat in the run-up seemed to suggest that Sally Gimson, a councillor in Highgate, could upset the favourite, Tulip Siddiq. The third candidate, Sophie Linden, had a couple of high profile supporters including Fiona Millar, but no-one seemed to think she would win.
In the end, Sally’s support wasn’t enough to stop the Tulip juggernaut and now Conservative Simon Marcus knows who he’ll have to beat if he wants to overturn that wafer-thin majority of 42 votes that Glenda clung on to in 2010.
|Tulip Siddiq at the West Hamptead Women’s Centre
Tulip will need to ensure that the local party, which can appear to be fractured and fractious to outsiders, unites behind her if she’s going to be Glenda’s successor. She is charming and personable, but critics suggest that whereas Glenda had the confidence to shoot from the hip, Tulip prefers to play it safe and check the party line. She’ll need to get past that if she’s going to come out of the hustings process unscathed – this is one of the most highly educated constituencies in the country, and voters expect answers not spin.
On Thursday night, the Liberal Democrats met to choose their candidate – for the second time. You may remember that back in January, the party announced Emily Frith would be its PPC (prospective parliamentary candidate), and then a month later she was made a better offer and vamoosed. The local party grandees were not best pleased and it’s taken them this long to get someone else.
The three candidates that people were talking about were James King (a former local councillor and champion of Kilburn), David Buxton (also a former councillor, and a disability rights campaigner), and the leftfield candidate Maajid Nawaz (a former Islamist radical who spent five years in prison in Egypt, who now runs Quilliam, an anti-extremist think tank).
The result was something of a surprise: Maajid Nawaz will be campaigning against Simon and Tulip for the seat.
He’s likely to be an energetic campaigner – judging by his Twitter feed, which this morning consists largely of retweets of people congratulating him, he’s certainly a strong self-promoter. It will be interesting to find out how he plans to balance campaigning (and potentially sitting as an MP) with his think tank work, which he is clearly passionate about. He was quoted in the Ham & High this morning saying, “Quilliam will remain a priority for me because its values shape my beliefs and outlook.”
He’s already a TV regular, with Newsnight and Question Time appearances, so does he see Hampstead & Kilburn as a route to a larger platform, or will he be an active local MP? Both he and Tulip, who worked on Ed Miliband’s leadership campaign, could be positioned as candidates with their eye on the bigger picture rather than being interested in getting their hands dirty locally. Tulip will no doubt cite her role as Camden cabinet member for culture, where she can be cast as either the saviour or the axe wielder of the borough libraries.
It will be interesting to find out over the next two years what Maajid will bring to the table in terms of his local politics, and to what extent he tows the Lib Dem party line versus positioning himself as a party maverick.
Expect all three candidates to become increasingly visible, especially as we approach the local and European elections next year. No doubt there’ll be a few other candidates – Magnus Nielsen is expected to stand again for UKIP, and it’s hard to believe the Green Party won’t put someone forward after a strong showing in the London mayoral elections and give the high profile of Hampstead & Kilburn.