H&K 2017: The Tulip Siddiq interview
As the incumbent MP, and a very active one at that, Labour’s Tulip Siddiq has a higher profile than the other candidates for Hampstead & Kilburn. It is hard to believe she has only been our MP for two years – she has packed a lot in to that time (including this recent interview with us before the election was called) and had a baby too! In our final interview of this election we look at how this campaign has differed from 2015, and what makes her nervous.
Two years ago, she told us that she had loads of energy and the campaign was really exciting. How is this time? “With Theresa May calling a snap election we only had a day to plan, last time we had a year, so it has been very intense. With the luxury of a lot of time in 2015 we could hold events to boost volunteers. This year, there’s been no time for any of that. And add to that a severe lack of sleep because of the baby!”
She has just done an interview with the BBC about having a baby on the campaign trail. “Normally, you can skip a meal, you can forgo a few hours of sleep; but you can’t do that with a baby – she needs her meals, her sleep, the basic human needs of a child can’t be neglected.”
Hampstead & Kilburn was always going to be a tight seat – such are the demographics here – but predictions have definitely changed over the course of the campaign. How has the campaign gone? “It’s very had to know how people will vote,” says Tulip. “[Pollster] Peter Kellner said that H&K was an odd-ball seat. I hope people are focussing on my personal record. This is the seat I wanted to stand in and the seat I wanted to win. But this year feels a lot more unpredictable. Brexit has changed everything, as has Trump being elected. Although Europe came up in 2015, we didn’t really expect that we would vote leave. The political landscape has changed.”
Tulip of course rebelled against her party on Article 50, voting against and resigning her frontbench position as shadow early years minister in the process. Given that H&K is a strong Remain constituency, this was probably a smart move, but with Labour’s own position rather vague on Brexit some hardcore Remain voters may still be sceptical.
For Tulip personally, being a rebel has been eye-opening. “The level of pressure you get to vote in terms of the party is immense – it’s borderline harassment if you go into the wrong lobby. But I’m a tough cookie and I’ve questioned the PM more times that any other backbencher.”
Tulip certainly continues to fight the EU corner: “I am very worried about the future; about what will happen with trade, about the number of scientific projects in the constituency that are dependent on EU funding, about what will happen with EU citizens in the NHS – a fifth of the doctors and nurses in the Royal Free are from Europe, for example. Bluntly, what is going to happened to the GDP of London?”
She says that, on the doorstep, “People seem to appreciate me voting against Article 50 – they even know the position I held – but it’s a mixed response and you need to win people over”.
Her Tory opponent this time around is Claire-Louise Leyland. A very different character from boxing-academy Simon Marcus in 2015. But is she more challenging? There are, after all, some Tories who feel Simon’s campaign never really picked up momentum. “I don’t really know much about Claire-Louise, and I haven’t met her that many times, whereas I knew Simon a lot better (as we were both Councillors) . I think part of the problem with Simon was that he was saying things he didn’t believe in. In this constituency people are very engaged and very informed and they’ll see through you.”
One of the biggest challenges facing many Labour candidates this year has been the electorate’s apparent disregard for Jeremy Corbyn. And not just the electorate – he’s already survived a vote of no confidence from within his party and Tulip has been a fairly outspoken critic of his, despite the fact that she was the MP to tip him over the line for nominations for the leadership (though she didn’t subsequently vote for him).
Yet in the past couple of weeks, it seems that Corbyn’s popularity has grown and this boost has been behind much of the rise of Labour in the polls. As we enter the final week of campaigning, is he an asset or a liability?
“If you asked me that four weeks ago, when Theresa May called the election I would have definitely said a liability, but I don’t know any more. Maybe his rise in popularity is a reflection that people are craving politicians who are human. I don’t know what to say about Jeremy anymore, because I’m as shocked as everyone!”
There are rumours that a number of Labour MPs are planning on forming a separate parliamentary Labour party after the election. Would Tulip join them? “I’m Labour to the core”, says Tulip. “You don’t make change by shouting from the sidelines, you make changes from within. I was talking to a Labour activist this week and he said he was never a fan of Tony Blair but he carried on campaigning for Labour and for many it is the same with Jeremy. Leaders come and go but we are the Labour Party”.
Labour’s rally in the polls has been reflected also in the bookmakers’ odds for this seat. They are always to be taken with a large pinch of salt, but they certainly suggest that H&K is no longer a clear Tory win, which many predicted at the start of the campaign. Tulip definitely has a good chance of holding her seat, so what is her biggest worry about the vote now. She is unequivocal. “It’s UKIP saying publicly that they have pulled out to support the Tories. They got 1,500 votes last time, which is bigger than my majority, so there is a big chance that we could wake up on June 9th with a Tory MP because of UKIP votes”.
Not that every Labour voter from 2015 can necessarily be relied on. Hampstead may be the clichéd home of the champagne socialists, but the reality is that the wealthier parts of the constituency vote Tory. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of potential Labour voters in the upper income brackets across H&K. Is Tulip concerned that Labour’s proposed tax rises on the very wealthy will hurt her chances given that she’s going to need every vote to overcome the national swing to the Tories?
She is very clear: “If you want public services to improve and you want money to go into the health services and schools, then where do you expect the money to come from? If you earn more than £90,000 you would have to pay £10 week extra. If I earned £90,000 I would pay that extra £10 a week.”
In 2015, the mansion tax was a bugbear on the campaign trail with areas like Hampstead and West Hampstead having plenty of properties that would have fallen into that category thanks to the rocketing prices of property in the area. That idea has been shelved, but Labour has said that it’s interested in consulting on a land value tax to replace council tax, but it is only a consultation. Tulip argues that revaluing council tax bands is long overdue. “If I were writing the manifesto, or ever became Prime Minister I would do that.”
Of course, we have to discuss the rubbish issue, which has been the biggest local topic for discussion since the fortnightly collection was introduced by Tulip’s Labour colleagues in Camden. “I’ve been shocked by the accusation that I haven’t done anything about the rubbish collection,” she says. “I realise how much it has affected people’s lives. I deal with the casework and as a local resident with a baby I’ve also been affected by the problems [Ed: nappy collections have been just one area that has not gone smoothly]. I may not have gone to papers, as I don’t think that is very constructive, but I met with [the responsible Camden cabinet member] Meric Apak about it back in March. We spoke for a long time – I almost never have hour long meetings with Camden Cabinet members!”
Will those who want to give Labour a kicking over the rubbish issue and can’t wait until next year’s local elections to punish the people actually responsible, push Claire-Louise over the line? It’s possible and Tulip has to contemplate life after just two years as an MP. What would she do?
“It’s hard to think beyond Thursday… so I don’t really know. One of the things about being an MP in an area like this has made me realise is that there is real need for someone to do interfaith work. There is a real need for people to come together. There is a big Jewish community here and a big Muslim one and the lack of interaction between them is astonishing. They are only five minutes down the road from each other and they have still never really interacted. You probably need someone like me who is equally comfortable with both communities to do something of the bring together.”
“I feel in the light of what happened in Manchester and in light of that fact there is a real threat of terrorism now, that I’d like to do some work looking into the causes of terrorism [Ed: this interview took place the afternoon before the attack on London Bridge on June 3rd]. What do we do to help people who feel so disenfranchised with the society they live in? The work I have done as an MP has shown me there is a big gap we need to address.”
“Whether I win or lose I’m going have to play some part in lobbying for a softer Brexit. I’m working on a legal case with a local QC, Jessica Simor at Matrix, on some legal aspects of Article 50 and I’d like to do something about scrutinising the government.”
Finally, why should someone vote for Tulip Siddiq?
“I am the local candidate who grew up here, went to school here, been a local councillor here, had my baby here. I’ve always put this interests of the constituency first, and will continue to be a strong independent voice for Hampstead & Kilburn”.