If you’ve been following the election at all, it’s been hard to avoid Tulip Siddiq. The Labour candidate for Hampstead & Kilburn has been all over the papers over the past few weeks, with spreads in the Standard and lengthy profile pieces in the Independent and Sunday Times.
If you want all the background on her family history (which triggers bouts of smear campaigning from time to time), I suggest you read those. When West Hamsptead Life caught up with her in Apostrophe in the O2 centre, the fast-talking Tulip was focused on her own campaign.
“We started campaigning two years ago, and the beauty of that is that we’ve covered everywhere. I’ve campaigned up in Frognal, where people have been surprised to see me, and now we’re more focused on West Hampstead, Kilburn and Queens Park which is where our councillors are although we came very close to winning a council seat in Belsize so even that is not a no-go area.”
With the bookmakers and many polls calling the seat as a Labour hold with, one must assume, an increased majority from Glenda Jackson’s 42 votes, does Tulip think she’s got it in the bag? She’s too savvy to fall for that trick – and like all politicians, is acutely aware that the key to winning is getting core voters to turn out.
“The main thing is that Labour voters come out on the day – please don’t stay at home thinking this is just another election. The national media has always got the seat wrong and so have the bookies, so I’m not paying too much attention to that. My basis for thinking I can win is on the canvas returns and the promises we get on the doorstep. But it’s hard to call because when I’m on the doorstep everyone is nice to me. Even Tory voters are nice to me because they see the candidate and they’re so nice to me that it’s almost impossible to gauge. I’m absolutely not complacent, and yes, I think I could probably still lose.”
She’s also aware that the national mood is not necessarily reflected in the constituency. “People here make up their own minds,” she says. She also reports a recent upturn in the reaction towards Ed Miliband. “I think the TV debates and the non-dom status announcement seems to have filtered through to people. And I think the Tory personal attacks are really backfiring. I don’t know who’s advising them but it goes down badly. People are asking why they are picking on him on the way he looks.
I suggest that if enough Lib Dem voters go Labour then it would be hard for her to lose, but she points out that although some of the Lib Dem vote is coming to Labour, a lot of people are very apathetic and feel very disillusioned not just with Nick Clegg but with poltiics in general. “As politicians, this is our fault. We shouldn’t promise stuff we can’t keep. I do wonder if these voters will stay home; it’s not so obvious that a whole chunk will come over to Labour. Even in West Hampstead, some very well informed people are saying they just can’t bear to vote this time. That’s a sad state of politics if they feel they can’t vote for anything. I am working on Lib Dem voters telling them they have a choice between me and the Tories. Some say I’m a liberal at heart and I can’t vote for anyone else, and I respect that.”
Tulip has worked on campaigns before, but this is her first parliamentary campaign as the candidate. She’s not been surprised by the press attention given that it’s a high profile seat, but rather says she’s been surprised by how much fun it is. “Everyone keeps telling me I must be really tired, but I’m on adrenalin. I almost can’t sleep at night because I’m so excited about what’s going to happen the next day.”
She admits that she – along with Simon and Maajid, her main rivals – misjudged the hustings. The candidates have attended 20 hustings, some large and lively, but some very small indeed with just half a dozen people in the room and some of them can be party members.
We turn to the thorny issue of housing and what Labour can do for the young professionals who can’t get on the housing ladder.
“The crux of the whole problem is that we need to build more houses. We also have a duty to look after those young professionals who are privately renting so they can afford to buy in the future. We’re not going turn over the housing bubble over night but the private rented sector is so unregulated that the horror stories I hear. I hold surgeries and I’d say 8 out of 10 cases is housing, and not just social housing but also the private rented sector. Rogue landlords charge whatever they want, ask for as much deposit as they want, there’s no kind of accountability, and then they can tell you to leave at short notice. These are things we need to look after as the Labour party.”
“I think scrapping letting agency fees so you don’t have to pay two sets of fees is a good start, but Labour has also said you have three years secure tenancy if you are in the private rented sector, and landlords can’t increase the rent in those three years, and I think that’s a step in the right direction.”
She reiterates that the underlying problem is still the lack of housing, “My problem with housing is that the laws are so heavily in favour of private developers. We need to reduce the powers of private developers and give councils more of an opportunity to build. Another step is to restrict the sale of property to overseas buyers, which I don’t believe is bad for business in the same way that cracking down on tax avoidance doesn’t send businesses elsewhere. Lets not underestimate the power of London.”
Tulip’s Conservative rival Simon Marcus has made a habit of objecting to Conservative party policies, so I ask Tulip which Labour policies she is least proud of.
“I’m not proud of the immigration stuff. I won’t be caught dead drinking out of the Labour immigration mug and it’s not allowed in my office. We got the six mugs with the pledges and I said “Get the immigration one out of my sight now!”
She admits that there is a need to find out who’s in the country, and that she’s in favour of stopping people coming here who are criminals . “You also need to prosecute people who don’t pay the minimum wage and have illegal immigrants working for them. In the first two years of this government I don’t think there was a single prosecution for not paying the minimum wage, which can’t be right. We need to crack down on that.”
However, she argues that both the Tory and Labour rhetoric on immigration is wrong and she doesn’t think the party should be pandering to UKIP. “How is it suddenly acceptable to say ‘immigration bad’? It’s because UKIP has framed the debate for us, so I’m not proud of that.”
One quote in the press that Tulip claims to be embarrassed about was from a “close aide” to Ed Miliband who described her as “prime minister in waiting”. If that’s jumping the gun, what are her ambitions if elected?
“The main thing we have to do is make people in Hampstead & Kilburn feel they have a representative who really is listening to them and who lives in the area.” She’s active on Twitter and replies to e-mails from locals in a way she suggests Glenda Jackson would never have done.
“My role is to represent people in the seat and look into issues of deprivation, because there is such a difference in life expectancy between Hampstead and Kilburn at the moment. But I think my top priority is to make sure that our young people feel like they have a choice. At one school debate, a girl in the front row asked why she should believe anything we say, and I realised we’ve lost an entire generation. So there’s a big role to play in making sure they come back.”
So a junior minister or shadow cabinet position? “I’d need to think about it when the times comes”, she says, wary of tying herself down.
One plausible outcome tomorrow is that she wins the seat, but the Tories and Lib Dems form another coalition. What would be her biggest concerns if that happened?
“My biggest worry locally and nationally is that amid all the talk of the FTSE reaching a record high, of how we’re doing the best among the G7, amid all that, the people who really need help get overlooked. My worry is that the bedroom tax will stay, which is really hurting people in our patch. We keeping looking after an economy that works for the few and not for everyone else. When politicians, who are all well off, go on television and say how much the economy is improving, we need to think about the people for whom its not improving. The economy isn’t so fragile that we’re going into another recession, we just need to think a bit more about the people at the bottom and that’s my worry because if the Tories get in they’ll be so triumphant that they’ll just continue with what they’ve been doing.
And so to the question I’ve asked each candiate. Why should someone vote for Tulip?
“You should vote for Tulip if you want a fairer society, if you want to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor and you want to protect public services.”