West Hampstead library at 8.30am on polling day 2015 via Rita Tudela

Election fever hits West Hampstead, again.

West Hampstead library at 8.30am on polling day 2015 via Rita Tudela

West Hampstead library at 8.30am on polling day 2015 via Rita Tudela

For the third year running, voting fever is upon us. Hampstead & Kilburn looks like being a key battleground once again as Brexit clashes with broader political and party-political issues to muddy the waters for many voters.

To be honest, like Brenda, I’m not sure I can take much more. We love West Hampstead because it’s a nice place to live, but it’s the marginal bit of a marginal seat – and therefore politically interesting. Indeed, Channel 4 News has already been vox-popping Kilburnites (Labour activists may want to look away).

So far, only two of the three main parties here have candidates. Labour’s Tulip Siddiq will be trying to hold the seat and her job as MP, while the Lib Dems were well ahead of the game selecting Kirsty Allan some months ago. The Conservatives will choose their candidate on Tuesday.

Campaigning won’t begin in earnest until after Parliament is dissolved on May 2, and the deadline for candidates isn’t until 11 May – so plenty of time for the Greens, UKIP and whoever else fancies a tilt to come out of the woodwork.

The #Whampstead 2015 hustings

The 2015 West Hampstead Life hustings (yes, that is PJ O’Rourke in the front row)

The not-to-be-missed West Hampstead Life hustings (I think the largest in the constituency in 2015), will be sometime at the end of May – the precise date is t.b.d. Election day itself is June 8.

Setting the stage

If you’re new to West Hampstead, then here’s a quick primer on the constituency’s recent electoral history.

Back in 2010, it was a three horse race with Glenda Jackson (MP for the area since 1992) unexpectedly holding the seat with the slimmest of majorities – just 42 votes separated her and Conservative Chris Philp (now an MP in Croydon). Lib Dem Ed Fordham was very close behind – just another 800 votes behind Chris – making H&K the tightest three-way in the country.

Five years later, that Lib Dem support collapsed from 31% to just 6% and H&K was a straight Tory/Labour dogfight. Yet again, the Conservatives were pipped at the post when Tulip Siddiq took 44.4% of the vote to Simon Marcus’s 42.3%: a margin of victory of less than 2% and less than 1,200 votes.

In 2017, the national political landscape looks very different. Depending which polls you read, the Conservatives are on about 48%, Labour on 24%, Lib Dems 12% and UKIP 7% (Times/YouGov – April 19).

Hampstead and Kilburn is in the top 25 Conservative target seats so if the national swing of ~7% to the Tories was replicated locally, they would win comfortably. They only need a 1% swing from Labour to take the seat.

But Brexit complicates matters. Theresa May has put Brexit front and centre of this election, but Camden was one of the 10 most pro-Remain areas in the country, with 74.9% voting Remain last year. In addition, Labour’s Tulip Siddiq has been a prominent Brexit rebel within Labour, voting against the party on Article 50. Nevertheless, Labour has clearly stated already that it will not seek a second referendum should it get elected in June.

The 2017 candidates

Just to show how much of a surprise the election announcement was, the Conservatives are in the embarrassing position of not having a candidate yet. This is because of plans to change constituency boundaries, which would have led to Finchley and Golders Green MP Mike Freer becoming the candidate for a new Hampstead and Golders Green seat. These boundary changes might still happen, but not until after this election.

The Conservatives will not be holding another ‘open primary’ to pick their candidate, as they did in 2010. Instead a members’ meeting on Tuesday will choose someone from Central Office’s pre-approved list, which includes current leader Cllr Claire-Louise Leyland and Cllr Siobhan Baillie (both of whom were in favour of Remain). Central Office could parachute in a candidate, even a Brexiteer, but this would more likely damage rather than enhance their chances in the seat. One prominent former Tory has already announced how he will vote, and it won’t be Conservative.

For Labour, Tulip has announced (albeit in rather vague terms on social media) that she will stand for the constituency.

Tulip campaigning in 2015. Photo by Eugene Regis

Tulip campaigning in 2015. Photo by Eugene Regis

It seems the snap election will prevent the re-selection (deselection in some cases!) process for many Labour MPs, but the divisions in the Labour party won’t help their chances. Dan Hodges, Glenda Jackson’s son, former member of the Labour party and Corbyn critic, has already announced who he is voting for – the Tories. It seems he is not alone in his doubts as many Labour supporters, including this prominent one, have expressed concerns over Corbyn’s leadership.

The Lib Dems chose their candidate last autumn. She is Kirsty Allan, she works in PR and has worked for MPs Lynn Featherstone and Norman Lamb. The Lib Dems have the obvious advantage of having a clear Remain stance – but with only one councillor left on Camden – Fortune Green’s own Flick Rea – the Lib Dem central office seems to be focusing resources elsewhere. In 2015, Kirsty ran in neighbouring Westminster North, where she come in fourth with 3.7% of the vote, just behind UKIP with 3.8%.

Kirsty Allan, Lib Dem candidate. Image @kirstyrallan

Kirsty Allan, Lib Dem candidate. Image @kirstyrallan

Expect to see street stalls on West End Lane and outside Finchley Road Waitrose in the coming weeks as all the parties ratchet up their election machines. There are still local elections for much of the country to deal with first on May 4th (and a council by-election in Gospel Oak to divert attention locally), but then it should be all guns blazing.

Tulip_ft

Don’t trust an MP who says they’re a “regular person”, says Tulip

Where's the NHS money Boris? Image credit: Tulip Siddiq/BBC

Where’s the NHS money Boris? Image credit: Tulip Siddiq/BBC

Tulip Siddiq, MP for Hampstead & Kilburn, is a busy working mother and her baby daughter Azalea is going through a naughty, determined, stage at the moment. After her mother’s recent haranguing of “smirking” foreign secretary Boris Johnson in the House of Commons, perhaps we know where Azalea gets it from. We sat down with Tulip to talk politics, Brexit, spin and, of course, West Hampstead.*

Juggling political life

At the moment, Tulip and husband Chris both have full-on jobs, and a baby to bring up. She laments that they are often like ships passing in the night and sometimes don’t get to see each other much. When they do, it’s a multilingual affair. Tulip talks to Azalea in Bengali, while Chris talks to her in Mandarin (he is a fluent speaker) to give her a good grounding before she starts learning English. Interestingly, if Chris talks in Bengali, Azalea refuses to answer him. Poor kid is probably baffled!

Juggling home and work life sounds pretty standard for most people, but Tulip is not impressed by those politicians who profess to be just ‘normal regular people’. To become an MP is quite a struggle – in her case with what she describes as a gruelling selection process (particularly bitter as “you are up against your friends”), followed by contesting a tight marginal seat, which can be a vicious experience. It is an unusual existence, and Tulip suggests you shouldn’t trust anyone who suggests they are just a regular woman, or man, who just ended up there by accident.

Tulip revealed that it was a Conservative who gave Tulip her first break in politics. Andrew Marshall, now an independent councillor for Swiss Cottage, is the man responsible, according to Tulip. Back in 2007 there was a council by-election in Fortune Green, following the death of councillor Jane Schopflin. At an informal hustings for candidates, Tulip says that Andrew was impressed enough to email Anna Stewart, then the leader of the Camden Labour, saying very complimentary things about Tulip. This, she says, is what got her noticed and she was then selected for Regent’s Park ward, made a Camden cabinet member, selected as parliamentary candidate and is now our MP. Andrew himself has no recollection of the hustings or the email.

Unity and division 

It may sound strange to outside ears for a member of one party to openly praise a member of another. But the reality is that parliament is not always as partisan as it appears. Tulip has worked with Conservative MP Maria Miller on a cross-party bill on sex and relationship education, and also actively supports Harrow MP Bob Blackman’s private member’s Homeless Reduction Bill. She even shares a corridor (and long chats) with Chris Philp, who many readers will remember as the Tory candidate who came just 42 votes short of toppling Glenda Jackson in Hampstead & Kilburn in 2010.

Tulip is also working on another cross-party bill with Conservative MP Oliver Dowden who, like Tulip, has a constituent imprisoned in Iran. West Hampstead resident Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has spent almost a year now in prison in Iran and Tulip say she is trying hard to get a meeting with the government to discuss her case, but claims Boris is stalling.

Lest we should think that all is sweetness and light across the house, Brexit of course remains divisive. Tulip was one of the Labour rebels who opposed the bill (and stepped down from the shadow cabinet as a result), and she is disappointed with the Tory response. She suggests that some Conservative MPs talked a good game but when push came to shove only Kenneth Clarke voted against the bill.

There are 17,000 EU nationals in Hampstead & Kilburn, one of the highest number in any constituency. Of course they don’t get to vote in a general election, but Tulip argued that “I’m not here to get votes, I’m here to help people.  I am your MP. If you live here I will represent you”. Of course in an area that voted some 3-to-1 in favour of Remain, far in excess of her victory margin, voting against the bill hardly seems like political suicide. Tulip does point out that it is becoming harder not to be very guarded when making public statements given the volume of nasty attacks that ensue if you say something even mildly controversial (that’s you Twitter trolls). A recent Guardian interview with her and anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller, gives some insight into the intensity of vitriol women in particular can face, and the lengths public figures like Tulip have to go to to keep themselves safe.

Brexit has predictably led to a big jump in EU casework – for example she is trying to help a Spanish constituent who has custody of her child whose father is British. Will she be allowed to stay? None of these implications were discussed by the Leave campaign at the time of the referendum, and as Brexit minister David Davis frankly admitted, there has been a complete lack of preparation.

Even this week, Tulip voiced her Brexit ire in the House of Commons, criticising Boris Johnson for “smirking at the British public” over the claim that £350m would go to the NHS.

Thankfully, Tulip is generally amused by Speaker John Bercow cutting MPs down to size in the chamber. “His comments are so funny,” she says (the clip includes a good example).

If proposed boundary changes go ahead, which would on paper suit the Conservatives, then perhaps her rebel stance will help her. Even if there is no change, the national polls don’t look good for Labour under its current leadership. Of course, she is fighting the proposals anyway – which would see Kilburn drop out of the constituency and leafier suburbs to the north and east come in.

Tulip’s main concern is splitting the Kilburn High Road across two constituencies. It is, she points out, already under-represented, particularly  since it straddles two boroughs – four if you go far enough north and south. She became particularly aware of the problems Kilburn faces when her constituency office was there and she became involved in all sorts of local issues: HS2’s ventilation shaft in South Kilburn, payday lenders and loan sharks targeting the area and even parking for Eid prayers.

What about West Hampstead?

Whatever boundary changes, West Hampstead will remain in the constituency, and so the conversation turns to our own neighbourhood. Tulip says that she was sorry to see long-standing Lib Dem councillor Keith Moffitt go, but that Labour’s Phil Rosenberg has carried on the tradition of working hard for the community. As a former local councillor, she is well aware of the problems local councils face at the moment: “The government doesn’t care about local councils, if you haven’t been a local councillor you don’t know the full impact of the decisions they are making.”

On the thorny issues of fortnightly waste collections in the area, Tulip politely demurs that she doesn’t know the full details, although she says that she understands the concerns and lots of people are coming to her surgeries about the issue. She does point out that councils have to make difficult choices and not everyone is aware of the level of services the council provides in other areas – much of which is statutory and cannot be cut.

As the conversation draws to a close, a school bus passed by, which Tulip said she had used as a 16-year-old – yes, she’s lived here that long. Of course, she still finds out new things about the area in West Hampstead Life, which she kindly says plays an important role in keeping locals informed (whether or not we say nice things about her personally). “I always read things where I think ‘I didn’t know that.'”

*this interview took place before the tragic events around Westminster last week

 

Hampstead & Kilburn on the left, and the proposed Hampstead & Golders Green on the right

Tulip at risk if parliamentary boundaries change

Local Labour MP Tulip Siddiq could face an uphill battle to retain her seat if plans to redraw constituency boundaries come into effect.

The Boundary Commission has published proposals, at the request of the government, to reduce the overall number of MPs from 650 to 600 and to more evenly balance the size of constituencies in terms of population. The impact on Hampstead & Kilburn as a constituency, and thus on West Hampstead, would be significant.

The local proposal is for a new constituency called (slightly erroneously) Hampstead and Golders Green, which will be a little less urban and a bit more suburban than what we have today. Or, one might say, a lot less red and quite a bit more blue.

Under the plans, H&K would lose the three wards from Brent that it gained when it moved from being Hampstead & Highgate to Hampstead & Kilburn in 2010; and gain two wards from Tory-held Finchley & Golders Green as well as Highgate ward from Keir Starmer’s Holborn & St Pancras seat.

Hampstead & Kilburn on the left, and the proposed Hampstead & Golders Green on the right

Confusingly, although Golders Green station would be part of the new seat, Golders Green ward would become part of a new Hendon constituency. Maybe the new H&K should just be called “Hampstead” as it encompasses Hampstead, Hampstead Heath, Hampstead Garden Suburb and West Hampstead?

Kilburn and Queens Park would merge into a Queens Park & Regents Park constituency taking in Maida Vale, while Brondesbury Park would be subsumed into a Willesden constituency.

If these changes go ahead – and they are only proposals at the moment – the electoral impact locally could be dramatic.

Labour would not be able to rely on votes in Kilburn and Queens Park, which are both Labour (Kilburn staunchly so), while the Conservatives would benefit from their strong support in Childs Hill and Garden Suburb. Labour would see some gains from Highgate, though the vote there is quite tight, and would benefit from losing the resolutely Conservative Brondesbury Park, but the net impact of both is relatively small.

Tulip won in 2015 with a majority of just 1,138 – but if we take the local election figures from 2014, for which ward-level figures are available, Kilburn ward in Brent alone delivered a bigger majority for Labour than that (on a much lower turnout). With no Kilburn, and two new Conservative-leaning wards, Hampstead & Golders Green would appear to be a relatively safe Conservative seat (though in these politically turbulent times, only a fool would make a hard and fast prediction!).

West Hampstead and Fortune Green have been the marginal wards in H&K, making them arguably among the most important wards in the country in 2015 when Labour was defending a majority of just 42. If the proposed changes come to pass, then it’s hard to see that still being the case.

Given her slender majority, it’s no surprise then that Tulip Siddiq has been interviewed by the BBC about the proposed  changes; and Channel 4; and the Camden New Journal. Her C4 News interview is below (at least for the next few days). FF to 4’03”.

Local Tories have been supportive of the changes, though in neighbouring Barnet the Conservative MP Mike Freer was ‘sad’ at plans to break up his seat of Finchley & Golders Green.

There will be five public hearings in London, including at Westminster on the 17-18th October and Harrow on the 24-25th where you can give your opinion on the changes. Or you can write and express your view. For more information visit the Boundary Commision’s 2018 review website, and the London page and report [pdf], which give much more detail.

How do you feel about the proposed changes?

Polling_Station

High Remain vote in West Hampstead, but turnout only average

Camden has released more details of the Brexit vote. The results are not strictly ward based (the count was organised in this way for reasons of accuracy) as postal votes were allocated randomly and evenly per ward. With that caveat, the percentage vote in favour of remain in the the local wards was:

Hampstead Town 79.72%
Fortune Green 79.71% (just pipped by Hampstead)
Frog & Fitz 79.18%
West Hampstead 78.43%
Swiss Cottage 77.79%
Highgate 77.06% (said to have been highest, but wasn’t)
Kilburn 70.20%

However, the results also reveal a surprise on turnout. Despite photographs of queues at West Hampstead Library polling station making the national press, turnout in Camden overall was 65.5%*, exactly on a par with the last general election. Yet nationally it was 72.2% (66.1% at the last general election) and, according to the Evening Standard, in comparable Islington it was 70.39% and in south west London 71.98%. So why was turnout in Camden relatively low? Local weather?  Demographics?  Voter registration?  Error in my sums?

*Turnout; 21,128 (postal votes cast) + 74,154 (ballot papers cast) = 95,282 / 145,328 (total Camden electorate) = 65.5%

EU Referendum hustings Fr Andrew

Undecided voters swayed by Sherriff Centre EU referendum hustings

EU Referendum hustings Fr Andrew

West Hampstead is a very civic-minded area and last night The Sherriff Centre in St James’s Church held a hustings on whether Britain should stay in the European Union. The audience of about 60-80 people was generally respectful and let everyone speak. A republican debate on Fox news it was not. Each side also had a stall with more information. The panel was moderated by Father Andrew Cain.

Audience fills up at the Sherriff Centre

For the Remain side: Andrew Marshall (Conservative councillor for Swiss Cottage and former Deputy Leader of Camden Council), and Hannah Phillips, who is leading the Holborn & St Pancras remain campaign (though has no political affiliation)

Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall

Hannah Phillips

Hannah Phillips

For the Leave side: Calvin Robinson (teacher and Conservative candidate in the recent Kilburn (Brent) by-election) and John Mills (a prominent voice in the Labour party supporting Brexit).

Calvin Robinson

Calvin Robinson

John Mills

John Mills

The referendum campaign on both sides has, with a few exceptions, been pale, male and old(er). It was welcoming therefore to hear Calvin and Hannah balancing out the experience of John and Andrew. There was a proper debate and although there was a bit of passion from the audience and some accusations of both sides on lying, it was all in moderation. We in West Hampstead are a bit respectful.

In the end, did the debate really change anything? Father Andrew conducted a poll of the audience and it transpired that nobody who was previously decided changed their minds, but four uncommitted voters came to a decision.

Whichever direction you think Britain should take, do vote on June 23rd. It’s a momentous decision that will affect everyone, so get out there and make sure your voice is heard. If you’re finding it hard to filter the facts from the fiction, try FullFacts for some stats behind the spin.

Tulip Siddiq maiden speech

Tulip gives maiden speech in the House of Commons

Tulip Siddiq maiden speech

Tulip Siddiq, newly elected Labour MP for Hampstead & Kilburn, stood up yesterday lunchtime to make her maiden speech to the House of Commons during the EU referendum bill debate.

After kicking off with a few witticisms about the constituency, she turned her attention to the more serious issue of immigration. She also managed to crowbar in “my constituency” in 10 times and “Hampstead & Kilburn” eight times in just nine minutes.

Tulip wins

Tulip wins Hampstead & Kilburn, and increases Labour’s majority to 1,100

Tulip wins

It’s all over. Tulip Siddiq has won Hampstead & Kilburn for Labour by just 1,138 votes. In the context of the evening, that’s not a bad result for Labour.

The final votes
Tulip Siddiq (Lab) 23,977
Simon Marcus (Con) 22,839
Maajid Nawaz (LD) 3,039
Rebecca Johnson (Green) 2,387
Magnus Nielsen (UKIP) 1,532
Ronnie Carroll (Eurovisionary party) 113
Robin Ellison (U Party) 77

2015-05-07 22.20.59

LIVE: Election 2015 – Hampstead & Kilburn

4.03am
Oliver Cooper has won the Hampstead Town by-election, triggered by Simon Marcus standing down. He won comfortably ahead of Labour, with the Greens just nicking third from the Lib Dems. Holborn & St Pancras looks to be all but done and dusted, but Hampstead & Kilburn is definitely tight. Tulip, looking tired, said “What will be will be,” admitting it was neck and neck between her and Simon. Labour sources claiming she’s still well ahead (like 1,000 votes), but Tories think it might be closer – though there’s not a convincing vibe that they’ve won it.

2015-05-08 03.58.11

2.22am
Quietened down a bit here. Simon says that if he loses he gets to spend more time with his kids, but if he wins the privelige speaks for itself. He also said he admired Tulip’s fighting qualities and wished they’d not been fighting the same seat so neither would have to endure recounts… that is if we are to have a recount. Tories telling the press that it’s too close to call. Given national trend, it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise now if it was a bit squeaky.

01.55am
Good to chat to Dan Snow on his Unelection online show just now. You can watch the live stream here.

01.40am
Has been a slow hour. Simon Marcus has arrived (he was flanked by policemen when i spotted him!) and the Tories are telling the media that Hampstead & Kilburn is too close to call. Doesn’t marry up with Labour’s belief that they’ve held with an increased if not massive majority. No advance yet on an result time of 4.30am.

12.53am
Labour’s Tulip Siddiq has arrived at the count with her mother. She looked a little nervous while trying to appear calm for the scrum of photographers that surged forward.

Tulip arrives 1

Tulip arrives 2

Simon hasn’t yet turned up – unless I’ve missed him, which is unlikely given that he’s a big lad.

12.39am
Counting, counting, counting… Holborn & St Pancras looks as nailed on Labour as everyone expected. The BBC have predicted Hampstead & Kilburn as Labour hold, though apparently the first ballot boxes to be counted are from the traditionally Conservative areas of Frognal, Belsize, Hampstead etc. so Labour supporters are far from jumping with joy on that side of the room. Looks tight, though people are talking low thousands. Good to catch up with former Camden mayor Jonathan Simpson who’s still full of pomp even if he’s passed the ceremony on to his successor!

12.04am
It’s getting livelier in the green room and in the count. Frank Dobson is here as is his presumed successor Sir Keir Starmer. Still no sign of Tulip or Simon. Natalie Bennett is doing a LOT of interviews, which seem to be along the lines of “lets wait and see what happens”. I was apparently in shot in one of them, helpfully captured by the BBC website!

BBC image

11.32pm
Three of the five main Hampstead & Kilburn candidates are here. Tulip and Simon still missing. Green room getting buzzier as it seems the first exit poll might be bullish for the Conservatives and the result may not be so clear cut.

The guys from the Camden New Journal are here – along with various other media, broadcast, print and online.

11.14pm
The partisan coffee cup is covering UKIP and the Greens as a few of you have pointed out on Twitter!

10.52pm
Only the Greens seem interested in the first result on the TV. For some reason. They’re very prominent here with their green t-shirts, while everyone else wears a rosette.

10.36pm
The green room is filling up with party worthies. The WiFi is terrible. Natalie Bennett is doing a TV interview. Labour in Hampstead & Kilburn are quietly confident but not expecting a big majority. No sign of any of the H&K candidates yet. The count is currently looking at postal votes.

2015-05-07 22.20.59

10.34pm
Evening everyone, and welcome to the live coverage of the count. One, two, thr… Trust me it’ll get worse as the night goes on. We’re in for a long one though hopefully not as long as 2010 when the result was declared at around 9.30am to some very bleary eyed (and teary eyed in some cases) party supporters and journalists.

Camden is predicting a finish time of more like 4.30am tonight. Hang in there with me. I’ll be tweeting interesting stuff from @WHampstead as the night goes on and updating this page as well.

I’m also going to be popping up on Dan Snow’s Unelection crowdsourced zero-budget online-only election night broadcast (Yes, Peter “Swingometer” Snow will also be there). So if you’re multi-screening, do check that out too. In the meatime, buckle up and stay tuned.

Tulip Siddiq at the West Hampstead Life hustings. Photo via Eugene Regis

Election 2015: The Tulip Siddiq interview

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.

Tulip Siddiq at the West Hampstead Life hustings. Photo via Eugene Regis

Tulip Siddiq at the West Hampstead Life hustings. Photo via Eugene Regis

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.”

Maajid Nawaz_ft

Election 2015: The Maajid Nawaz interview

Liberal Democrat Maajid Nawaz is on television far more than any of the other Hampstead & Kilburn candidates and yet despite his high profile and self confidence, he is still a distant third favourite for the seat with pollsters, pundits and bookmakers.

Maajid Nawaz

Maajid’s assured manner and strong hustings performances could well mean that he outperforms the party nationally but, during a long chat with him in The Alliance a couple of weeks ago, he himself seemed unsure as to whether being in politics is the right course for him. “This is my first taste of politics and if I don’t win, I’m trying to work out whether I serve the issues I care about better as the head of Quilliam or whether I can continue serving them [through politics], and it’s something I have to decide.”

Quilliam is the anti-extremist think tank Maajid runs and heads up. It advises governments on policy, publishes research, and does outreach work in communities. Maajid’s personal story has been told in many places, not least by him at every hustings and in his book, Radical. As a teenager, Maajid joined an Islamic extremist organisation, which eventually led to him being imprisoned in Egypt. Amnesty International adopted him as a prisoner of conscience and he finally returned to the UK in 2006. He joined the Liberal Democrats before the 2010 election – which was the first time he’d voted.

He argues that there are many reasons why he chose to stand in this election. “Personally I felt it was important because of my journey. I sit here before you in The Alliance in West Hampstead and it’s a long way from a solitary confinement cell in Egypt, but it’s part of my journey and part of what I want to be able to demonstrate is that there is hope to bring people together. It can potentially send out a signal to young angry teenagers that there is another way to engage in the system, who knows how successful that will be, but the symbolism is there at least. If the 16-year-old me had had the alternative messages, who knows how I’d have reacted to it.

Hampstead & Kilburn appealed to him, not just because it was where he first lived when he returned from Egypt, but because it’s such an engaged constituency. He argues it’s a “small ‘l’ liberal” area, though recognises that his party needs to understand why that doesn’t translate into votes for the “big ‘l’ Liberal Democrats”. When the seat became available after the first candidate, Emily Frith, stepped down, Paddy Ashdown asked him to stand.

“If this seat hadn’t come up it’s unlikely I’d have gone for another seat”, he says. “The Liberal Democrats don’t really have safe seats, so it had to be a combination of factors for me to make all this effort and risk potentially not winning. I’m not really comfortable going out of London. I live here, I work here. And within London it’s realistically the only seat I can really gel with.”

If this election is part of Maajid’s journey, the obvious question is where does he see that journey taking him if he does – or doesn’t – win.

“Hypothetically”, says Maajid with comic exaggeration into the microphone, “If I don’t win then there’s a lot to do with Quilliam. Extremism isn’t going away; there’s another book coming out, I’ve got lots of speaking invitations which I keep turning down because of this. Also the nature of British politics means that being an MP isn’t the only position one can have, so I have the option to explore the future of my relationship with the Liberal Democrats.”

We spoke the day before the Daily Mail published revelations about Maajid’s visit to a strip club on his stag night. Despite the big splash, the article didn’t actually seem to cause too many ripples in Hampstead & Kilburn, and Maajid himself was able to quip about it at the next hustings. However, one has to assume that he was aware this was coming: “I haven’t been attacked too much yet by the right wing press but I imagine something might come up and that would also affect my decision because how much of a distraction do I want from the extremism agenda if I’m being gunned at by the right-wing press just because they don’t want me to win a seat.”

We turn to the scenario where Maajid does win. What are his political ambitions, given that he doesn’t yet seem entirely sure whether politics or Quilliam is his natural home?

“My dream job would be to be in the coalition negotiations and get out of it an elected House of Lords and proportional representation. If I got just those two things, then the country has changed forever, and I’d be happy as a backbencher.”

“Obviously I’d be a new MP so I’d need to give myself a bit of time to learn the ropes and then go forward. If I were to go for a ministerial role, even a junior ministerial role, I would be interested in foreign policy or communities and local government, which deals with social cohesion.”

Aside from his natural territory of counter-extremism, Maajid seems most passionate about housing. He mentions a couple of times that he himself couldn’t afford to buy here. The Liberal Democrats, he tells me, have pledged to build 300,000 new homes although he’s not sure over what timeframe. His personal view is that housing is such a critical issue in the country that there should be a cabinet level minister for housing so someone is accountable. “That’s not a Liberal Democrat suggestion, that’s a personal me suggestion, which I’ve invented but I hope someone takes it up!”

On the spare-room subsidy aka the ‘bedroom tax’, he’s very clear that both the Conservatives and Labour have got it wrong. “There is an issue when we have such an acute housing crisis. Why should someone who’s single have a two-bed flat if they’re not disabled? If they don’t have the need. Labour is in this precarious position where they recognise there’s a housing crisis but they don’t want to flip that so that someone like me, in a 1-bed, should get a bigger place if I had a kid and was in council housing. Labour hasn’t addressed that need, and the Tories haven’t addressed the fact that someone could be disabled or hasn’t been offered alternative housing, but still gets turfed out. So we’ve said, if someone is disabled then they’re exempt. If they’ve volunteered to downgrade and they haven’t been offered an alternative, they’re exempt. But if they fit the criteria, if they’re not disabled, if they’re offered suitable and adequate accommodation to downgrade and they refuse then they have to pay the subsidy.”

Of course the challenge of this is always the geographical element – if the alternative offered is not local, or even in the same part of the country, do tenants still have to take it up to avoid paying?

“I don’t know if the policy goes into that level of detail, but that’s obviously worth looking at.”

One challenge Maajid faces is the accusation that he’s so preoccupied with national and international issues that he lacks sufficient knowlege and interest in local matters.

“The Liberal Democrats have a reputation for being the best at local stuff and I don’t have that reputation.”. His spin on this is to suggest that the ideal scenario is therefore to have a candidate like him who is big on larger issues, supported by a very strong team locally. “We’ve got the Flick Reas and the Keith Moffitts who do know the local stuff inside out.”

Whether Fortune Green councillor Flick or former West Hampstead councillor Keith are willing to do the local grunt work while Maajid pops up on Newsnight isn’t clear, but what he’s suggesting is that a vote for him is a vote for the whole Camden Lib Dem team. “It’s the package”, says Maajid.

Given the hammering the local Lib Dems took at the local elections last year, losing five of their six councillors in West Hampstead and Fortune Green, one wonders whether the “package” is an appealing proposition to voters or not.

The final question: Why should I vote for Maajid Nawaz?

“A vote for me is a vote for hope, for unity, for showing what can change, it’s for reinvigorating liberalism and the democratic process and for trying to enthuse young people. It’s a vote to revive our belief in the system and it’s a vote for someone who will speak his mind and stand on principle even if it means joining a party that had no chance of forming government when he joined it.”

Simon Marcus (right) walks down West End Lane with Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond

Election 2015: The Simon Marcus interview

Simon Marcus wants to be your Conservative MP. He also really wants you to know that he would be a strong independent voice for Hampstead & Kilburn. On the Conservative backbenches, but independent. Throughout the hustings, and in his interview with West Hampstead Life, Simon has gone to considerable lengths to make clear that he is prepared to stand up and disagree with Conservative party policy – on HS2, on the spare room subsidy, on Trident…

Simon Marcus (right) walks down West End Lane with Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond

Simon Marcus (right) walks down West End Lane with Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond

A cynical observer might wonder whether he’s banking on the electorate in these parts favouring a strong minded MP. Glenda Jackson, stepping down at this election after 23 years as the local MP, has never been afraid to speak her mind after all.

Simon himself will tell you that it’s the very freedom to be able to speak his mind that brought him across to the Conservatives from his left-wing background.

Simon talks a lot about the sense of duty instilled in him by his parents. His father, an Irish immigrant from Cork, was one of the first NHS doctors and saw first hand how tight-knit communities were in the East End of London after the war. “That extraordinary social conscience and witnessing the poverty and the hardship but also the duty and the strength of community that people had gives you a very clear view of the world,” says Simon.

His great grandparents escaped the rise of fascism in Eastern Europe but found it again in the form of Oswald Moseley in London. “They were all communists, and I spent a lot of time with them; so my grandfather would read the Morning Star with me.”

Simon describes his parents as being “democratic socialists”. “Freedom of speech was taught as a foundation of democracy,” he explains. At university, as a young left wing activist, Simon describes his frustration at arguments being shut down. “I expressed views that the left would not allow me to express, but they were important questions – if we have too much immigration then wages are lowered and we have to make sure people have a good standard of living.” But, he contines, these sort of discussions weren’t allowed and he’d be called terrible names.

Some 20 years later, having moved across the political divide, Simon argues that his views haven’t changed. “Twenty years is a long time , but my views didn’t change at all. I tried to work for the Labour party after university, but Labour became a party with which I could not live.”

“One of the many reasons I found a home in the Conservative party was because of my values, and the values of my grandparents and parents – forged in the times of the Great Depression – because you’re allowed to speak freely. You can criticise the Tory party from any direction.”

Simon’s tries to boil his views on politics down. “It’s about doing the best you can with what you can for all. And the difference between socialism and more mainstream beliefs is that subtle difference between absolute equality and equality of opportunity. I believe in equality of opportunity. Absolute equality doesn’t work and wherever you’ve seen it tried, people have died in their thousands. And that should be the end of the argument, but it’s not for some people. What any successful leader has realised is that you have to occupy the centre ground, and that means equality of opportunity – letting people run with their talents and their abilities. I think Labour has perhaps lost sight of this.

Simon reels off a list of his values, again drawing on his family’s background. “Hard work, discipline, family, respect for others, responsibility for yourself and for society.” “It’s incredibly ironic that the values my communist grandparents taught me could only find a home in modern politics in the Conservative party”

We turn to the here and now and to Hampstead & Kilburn. The consistent complaints, says Simon, are cleaner streets, cleaner air, cheaper housing, more police on the beat. “Obviously mansion tax is huge in more than half the consitutency while social housing is a big issue on the South Kilburn estate. In the north of the constituency, overdevelopment is a huge issue.”

Getting even more local, Simon waves a hand at West End Lane from our seat in The Alice House, “What would really make this one of the finest streets in North London would be if the Travis Perkins building was not only replaced with a good mix of social housing and affordable and private housing but with some social space below, off the road. You need a focus for a high street.”

How will he get this done?

“A large part of my work if I’m elected will be carrying on where I left off as a councillor [for Hampstead Town].” He talks about the South Kilburn estate, making sure there’s more social housing there. “There’s got to be a better way for the people who’ve lived there all their lives. I know you’ve got to make money and you’ve got to pay for it, but there’s got to be a balance. So it would be up to me to ask for a meeting with the developers, the investors, with Brent Council, and say ‘look, lets find a way through’”.

Simon believes his track record “speaks for itself” before going on to elaborate what he’s achieved. “I’ve been in small businesses my whole life, paying wages, creating jobs, creating a ground-breaking charity out of nothing. I worked for the British Chamber of Commerce in Brussels for four years; I’ve worked with the biggest law firms in the world, the biggest building firms in the world, with every industry from defence to petrochemicals. I think getting people round a table and getting a good result is something I’ve done most of my adult life be it on a global scale or be it at the ward scale. It would be a real privelige to do it for this constituency.”

Although this makes him sound like some sort of superhuman business man, Hampstead & Kilburn isn’t Simon’s first tilt at Westminster. In 2010 he stood in Barking in an effort to knock the BNP into third place. The seat was always safe in Labour hands, but the Tories were determined that the BNP shouldn’t come second and Simon secured that against the odds – a fact he likes to mention as the bookmakers continue to keep Labour’s Tulip Siddiq as odds-on favourite here in H and K.

“I’ve spent my life creating something out of nothing and earning trust from people. To transfer those skills to politics is just second nature.”

If Simon wins and the Conservatives are in power after the election he states clearly that he has no aspirations in this parliament to be anything other than a backbench MP with a “loud and strong voice” for the constituency. He’d like to be involved in areas such as social policy and education, and says he’d refuse a junior minster position because it would mean he couldn’t criticise the government. “I’m not a career politician, i’m going to stand up for people and do what’s right. And you can hold me to this – I’d say no.”

Amid all the talk of the fact that the Conservatives are trying to overturn the smallest majority in England of just 42 votes, Simon also wants to clarify his quote to Al Jazeera last year where he said it might be too soon for him to win. “A year and a half ago I was just talking about both sides of an argument, making a reasonable comment. But if you’re asking me now, I’d say Hampstead & Kilburn has changed very quickly and that is why I have a very good chance of winning.”

The final word to Simon. I should vote Simon Marcus because… “I was born and bred here, I’ve lived here all my life, this is my home and I will work very hard for you.”

The 2015 #Whampstead hustings

Listen: Candidates respond in hugely popular election hustings

Hampstead & Kilburn hustings West Hampstead Life turnout_700

Fantastic turnout for the hustings

St James’s church filled up fast as locals poured in for the West Hampstead Life hustings at the Sherriff Centre. US social and political commentator PJ O’Rourke was in the front row for a BBC Radio 4 documentary; Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis was a couple of rows further back – off-duty, though still tweeting; and a journalist from the Independent tried to ask me what I thought of Tulip. Meanwhile, the rest of the nave was chockablock with locals eager to hear what the five Hampstead & Kilburn candidates had to say.

Tulip Siddiq Hampstead Kilburn West Hampstead Life hustings

Tulip Siddiq (Labour)

Simon Marcus Hampstead Kilburn West Hampstead Life hustings

Simon Marcus (Conservative)

Maajid Nawaz Hampstead Kilburn West Hampstead Life hustings

Maajid Nawaz (Liberal Democrat)

Rebecca Johnson Hampstead Kilburn West Hampstead Life hustings

Rebecca Johnson (Green)

Magnus Nielsen Hampstead Kilburn West Hampstead Life hustings

Magnus Nielsen (UKIP)

Then it was time for the questions. Most people were reasonably good about asking fairly succinct questions, though one or started to ramble. Why do people do that!? Topics ranged from the opening gotcha on TfL’s changes to the bus routes to housing to foreign policy and homophobia in religion. Listen to the whole glorious event below (apologies to Simon, we missed the opening couple of lines of his speech, but you can watch that on the video below – the audio quality on the video drops off later, so I’d recommend the audio version overall).

We’ll dive into more specific answers over the course of the week.

Photos courtesy of Eugene Regis (more photos here)

Hampstead & Kilburn 2015 Candidates

Grill the candidates: Election hustings March 31st

Hampstead & Kilburn 2015 Candidates_cropped

As the May 7th election gets closer, and election literature starts to pour through you door, how best to know who to vote for?

Go to a hustings to hear the candidates answer questions – maybe your question. If you’ve never been to a hustings before, or aren’t sure if they’re really for you, why not come along to the Sherriff Centre on March 31st and give it a go? This will be an accessible way to meet the candidates, see what the issues are, and understand where the differences between the parties lie.

Hampstead & Kilburn was the closest three-way marginal in the country in 2010 and Labour held the seat by just 42 votes from the Conservatives (the Lib Dems were many people’s pre-election favourites, which tells you how tight it was). So, the idea that your vote doesn’t matter holds no water here, and when you consider the national situation that puts Labour and the Conservatives neck and neck in terms of numbers of seats they expect to win, every vote in a swing seat like this really can influence the make-up of the next government.

It’s important therefore to know who you’re voting for – not just the party or party leader, but the actual person who would be your MP. We’ve already briefly introduced the five candidates standing so far – Tulip Siddiq (Lab), Simon Marcus (Con), Maajid Nawaz (LibDem), Rebecca Johnson (Green), and Magnus Nielsen (UKIP).

On March 31st, you’ll have the chance to grill them in person at the West Hampstead Life hustings held at The Sherriff Centre in St James’s Church on West End Lane/Sherriff Road.

The event is a chance to hear from the candidates on why you should vote for them, but more importantly to ask them questions about the issues that matter to you.

Format
We’ll start at 7.30pm promptly, so please start arriving from 7pm. The doors will be open before that if you really want to get a good seat. We plan to wrap at 9.30pm.

The Sanctuary Café will serve coffee and tea (and possibly cake!) until 9pm, and there’ll be wine available for a donation (money going to St James’).

Each candidate will give a 3 minute opening pitch on why you should vote for them. As you’ll know if you were at the lively council election hustings, we will be strict on the timekeeping and an alarm will go off after 3 minutes.

The rest of the evening will be broken into three sections: Local, National, International. There are of course blurred lines between these, but hopefully it lends some structure to proceedings. Local will be for topics and issues directly related to London, and West Hampstead specifically. National will be for broader policy areas: e.g., the economy, immigration, the NHS. International will be for geopolitical issues as well as issues such as climate change.

Each section will start with a question from the chair, and then the floor will be open for questions from you. Please raise your hand only for a question that falls within the section we’re dealing with. Some questions of course could fall into a couple of sections, e.g., housing.

There’s no need to sign up beforehand or pre-submit questions, just stick your hand in the air. We do suggest that you have your questions ready though and please keep them short and succinct – we want questions not statements. We won’t have time to get to everyone’s questions, but we’ll get to as many as we can and encourage the candidate to give reasonably brief answers.

That’s it. We look forward to seeing as many of you there as possible, so do come along!

Hampstead & Kilburn 2015 Candidates

Election 2015: Hampstead & Kilburn candidates line up

The five big parties have now all announced their candidates for the Hampstead & Kilburn constituency in May’s general election. We take a look at the runners, the latest thinking on the outcome, and the critical role West Hampstead will play in the final vote count. Put March 31st in your diaries for the West Hampstead Life hustings at The Sherriff Centre.

The candidates

Tulip Siddiq Hampstead KilburnFor Labour, which holds a 42 vote majority, Tulip Siddiq will be aiming to replace the retiring (though never shy) Glenda Jackson. Jackson has held the seat since 1992 though her margin of victory in 2010 was a nailbiting 42 votes. Tulip, who, unlike Glenda, lives in the constituency, was a Camden councillor for Regents Park ward until she stepped down in 2014.

Simon Marcus Hampstead KilburnSimon Marcus is the Conservative candidate. He was selected in an unusual open primary way back in January 2013. He is a councillor for Hampstead Town ward and may be unique among modern day politicians for appearing to concede that this might not be his year as far back as January last year.

Maajid Nawaz Hampstead KilburnMaajid Nawaz will stand for the Liberal Democrats. He was the replacement after their original choice jumped ship for another job back in early 2013. Maajid has a relatively high profile and regularly appears on TV and radio talking about Islamic radicalism. He is a former Islamic extremist who now runs Quilliam, “the world’s first counter-extremism think tank”.

Rebecca Johnson Hampstead KilburnThe Greens are putting forward Rebecca Johnson. Rebecca is a well-known figure in the campaign for nuclear disarmament, and is a relative heavyweight. This is a high-profile area where Green Jenny Jones polled well in the mayoral election, so it’s understandable the party would want a credible candidate.

Magnus Nielsen Hampstead KilburnFinally, UKIP has turned once again to Magnus Nielsen. Magnus is the only candidate from 2010 contesting the seat again. He made the headlines most recently at the West Hampstead Life local election hustings where he suggested that perhaps universal suffrage hadn’t been such a great idea.

Who’s going to win?

Lets turn to the bookmakers first. Ladbrokes has Labour as comfortable odds-on favourites to hold the seat. Currently at 1/4 (slightly tighter than the 1/5 they were at last week). The Conservatives are second favourites at 5/1 (slightly out from 9/2), with the Lib Dems third at 10/1. The Greens are at 33/1, and Magnus isn’t given much of a chance as the 100/1 outsider.

Ladbrokes odds January 24th

Ladbrokes odds January 24th

Lord Ashcroft’s well-regarded polls also give Labour a comfortable lead, although the last poll was conducted back in August before the mansion tax issue came to a head. That put Labour ahead on 47% (+14 points from the 2010 result), Conservatives down 3 points at 30%, Lib Dems at 13% down from 31% in 2010, Greens at 6% and UKIP at 2%.

Lord Ashcroft poll August 2014

Lord Ashcroft poll August 2014

Conservative blogger Iain Dale raised a few eyebrows earlier this month when he called Hampstead & Kilburn as a seat that would change hands at the next election and be a Conservative gain. What leads Dale to the contrarian position? “A lot of new info”, though he doesn’t care to share what that might be.

What is the likely outcome? Few would predict a repeat of 2010, when the seat was the closest three-way seat in the country with just 841 votes separating Labour from the Lib Dems in third . The polls suggest that the Lib Dem vote will crumble (though not as much as it will nationally) and that more of those voters will go red than blue, bolstering Labour’s majority considerably.

The Conservatives are making much of the mansion tax issue – that is Labour’s proposal to raise an additional levy on homes worth more than £2 million. According to estate agent Knight Frank, this consitutency has 4,783 properties that fall into that category at the moment; though not everyone who lives in one is necessarily cash rich. The question is surely whether there are more traditional Labour voters who would defect over the issue than there are disillusioned Lib Dem voters who’ll go back to Labour. If the predictions for the collapse of the Lib Dem vote is accurate, then the answer is clearly no.

In Maajid Nawaz, the Lib Dems might have a candidate who will outperform the polls. Despite being hit hard in the local elections by Labour, the local Lib Dems’ came out ahead of the party nationally beating the Conservatives into third in West Hampstead, Fortune Green and Kilburn (though coming fourth behind the Greens in Conservative-held Swiss Cottage). This die-hard Lib Dem vote in at least part of Hampstead & Kilburn should ensure their third place; and Maajid’s unusual background might bring in some votes from those disillusioned with “normal” politicians. Nevertheless, it’s hard to see him springing the big surprise.

What of the other two? UKIP is not expected to do well here; it struggles in urban areas. The Greens might have wondered whether they had a shot at third, but Maajid is probably too strong a candidate for that. So they are likely to finish fourth, with UKIP in fifth.

The most marginal wards in the most marginal seat

Whichever way the seat goes this year, the result is unlikely to be as tight as that in 2010 although it is a relatively evenly split constituency: Hampstead, Belsize, Frognal and Swiss Cottage are reasonably secure Tory areas, Kilburn and the Brent side of the constituency are pretty dominantly Labour, which leaves West Hampstead and Fortune Green as the swing wards in a marginal seat. Voters might have evicted all but one of the Lib Dem councillors last year, and delivered a thumping Labour win, but with a higher turnout and the growing affluence of the area, it very much feels that the streets around West End Lane are where the battle for Hampstead & Kilburn could be won or lost.

West Hampstead share

Local election 2014: The results

As the dust settles after an emotionally intense Friday evening at the Somers Town Community Centre, it’s time to recap the results from the four wards we’ve been covering.

First up, West Hampstead

John Bryant Liberal Democrats 836
Natalie Eliades Conservative Party 800
Nick Grierson Conservative Party 811
Richard Griffiths Green Party 327
Zane Hannan Green Party 343
Keith Moffitt Liberal Democrats 943
Magnus Nielsen UKIP 202
David Pearce Trade Union and Socialist Coalition 67
Angela Pober Labour Party 1,166
Gillian Risso-Gill Liberal Democrats 901
Phil Rosenberg Labour Party 1,179
Andrew Saywell Conservative Party 715
Quentin Tyler Green Party 250
James Yarde Labour Party 1,082
Total (inc. rejected)   9,622
Turnout   38%

Labour managed the clean sweep here (something residents will hope they can do to the streets as well), with the shock being the removal of Keith Moffitt. One suspects that if Keith had been standing in Fortune Green he’d have got back in, but the slightly more transient nature of the West Hampstead population may well have meant that national politics played a larger role here and his personal reputation counted for less.

West Hampstead share

Fortune Green next

Ian Cohen Conservative 893
Juan Jimenez Green Party 326
Nancy Jirira Liberal Democrats 950
Leila Mars Green Party 403
Lucy Oldfield Green Party 318
Richard Olszewski Labour & Cooperative Party 967
Andrew Parkinson Conservative 739
Flick Rea Liberal Democrats 1,151
Lorna Russell Labour & Cooperative Party 1,028
Nick Russell Liberal Democrats 865
Tom Smith Conservative 686
Phil Turner Labour & Cooperative Party 904
Total (inc. rejected)   9,246
Turnout   39.2%

Hard to know what’s more astonishing here: Flick coming top of the poll on a day when the Lib Dems were obliterated nationally or Labour dispatching the Tories into a distant third. The Lib Dems actually came top in Fortune Green with 32.1% of the vote, vs. Labour’s 31.3%. The Conservatives were well back at just 25%, although Ian Cohen’s 893 placed him fifth overall only 11 votes off fourth placed Phil Turner. Despite the outspoken animosity between some Labour people and Flick, hopefully these three councillors can work together on local issues.

Fortune Green share

From the two marginals, to the two safer seats

Kilburn

Sarah Astor Green Party 402
Douglas Beattie Labour 1,661
Richard Bourn Green Party 276
Maryam Eslamdoust Labour 1,611
Thomas Gardiner Labour 1,543
Janet Grauberg Liberal Democrats 876
Sheila Hayman Green Party 286
Jack Holroyde Liberal Democrats 746
James King Liberal Democrats 883
Nick Vose Conservative 411
Tim Wainwright Conservative 409
John Whitehead Conservative 357
Total (inc. rejected)   9,483
Turnout   38.31%

It was billed as a two-way fight, and that’s exactly what it was although in the end Labour’s margin of victory was more comfortable than many had thought. The Lib Dems – two of whom are former Kilburn councillors – found that their local credentials weren’t enough to unseat the incumbent Labour couple who have moved out of the area, while Mike Katz’s replacement came top of the poll.

Kilburn share

And finally… Swiss Cottage

Chris Butler Liberal Democrats 300
Tom Franklin Green Party 433
Roger Freeman Conservative 1,294
Andrew Haslam-Jones Liberal Democrats 230
Helen Jack Green Party 367
Andrew Marshall Conservative 1,340
Jill Newbrook Liberal Democrats 347
Ben Nunn Labour 1,029
Sheila Patton Green Party 339
Simon Pearson Labour 1,008
Gretel Reynolds Labour 960
Don Williams Conservative 1,221
Total (inc. rejected)   8,886
Turnout   34.67%

A low turnout in Swiss Cottage, which is predominantly made up of the redbrick properties of South Hampstead. The Conservatives were always expected to hold this comfortably, but in the end the margins were a little close for comfort, with Labour polling very strongly indeed – in no other local ward did two candidates get more than 1,000 votes and not get a seat.

Swiss Cottage share

West Hampstead councillors_ft

Labour sweep Lib Dems out of West Hampstead

Labour_victory

Labour pulled off an astonishing victory yesterday evening, and redrew the political map of north-west Camden. West Hampstead and Fortune Green have been a fortress for the Liberal Democrats, with each ward headed by a popular councillor: Keith Moffitt in West Hampstead and Flick Rea in Fortune Green. This morning Keith – one time leader of Camden Council – is no longer a councillor, while Flick becomes the Lib Dems only councillor in the borough.

Labour won five of the six seats available in the two wards as well as holding Kilburn fairly comfortably despite a robust campaign from the Lib Dems. Swiss Cottage was a safe Conservative hold, although Labour ran them much closer than expected and before postal votes were counted it looked as if an upset was even possible.

Last night belonged to Labour, which gained 10 seats in Camden to give it 40 of the 54 on offer. All 10 were taken from the Lib Dems, who also lost two to the Conservatives in Hampstead Town and Belsize. The Greens kept their seat in Highgate, where turnout almost hit 50%, albeit with a different councillor – Sian Berry replacing Maya de Souza. The Greens will be disappointed not to have got a second seat there.

It was apparent as soon as the count got going that the situation looked good for Labour and worrying for the Liberal Democrats. With the dubious benefit of knowing what had happened in the rest of the country well before the count even began, the orange rosettes were already nervous and stress levels were clearly rising. There was an air of despondency hanging over the Conservatives milling around the counts for West Hampstead and Fortune Green – especially the latter ward, where they had high hopes of getting at least one seat.

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Of the two wards, West Hampstead was called first but everyone knew the result. Only Keith had any chance of surviving the cull but there was no recount called, which meant the gap couldn’t be that close. John Bryant was the first name to be called and polled just 836 votes – the lowest of the Lib Dems and only 25 clear of Nick Grierson, who was the highest polling Conservative. Keith cleared 943 votes, but with a turnout of 38%, it was always going to need more than 1,000 to get in. Angela Pober was the first Labour candidate to be called out (names are are read out in alphabetical order) and she brought in 1,166. Gillian Risso-Gill took 901 votes – the farmers market hadn’t been enough to save her. Labour’s Phil Rosenberg won 1,179 votes – the most of anyone in the ward, and then James Yarde brought up Labour’s tail with 1,082 – 139 votes ahead of Keith and bringing 20 years of council service to an end.

West Hampstead's new councillors  James Yarde, Angela Pober, Phil Rosenberg. with Tulip Siddiq (second left)

West Hampstead’s new councillors James Yarde, Angela Pober, Phil Rosenberg. with Tulip Siddiq (second left)

Keith wiped away a small tear and then made a point of congratulating all the newly elected councillors. Not all losing candidates that night were as gracious. Nor were all winners. Night like these can bring out the worst of tribal party politics, though there were mercifully examples of generosity of spirit from all parties.

In the end, a combination of hard graft by the Labour candidates and the national swing had been too much for the personal vote for Keith to overcome. It was still a surprise. Labour had known that Keith would be the hardest incumbent to dislodge, and it proved the case, but it’s always a coup to remove the leader of a party.

The CNJ's Dan Carrier interviews Keith Moffitt after he loses out to Philip Rosenberg in West Hampstead

The CNJ’s Dan Carrier interviews Keith Moffitt after he loses out to Philip Rosenberg in West Hampstead

Attention switched to Fortune Green, where a recount was ordered. We already knew that the Tories were out of this. “If only Ian Cohen had had six more months”, one Conservative told me, seeming to forget that the Conservatives only finalised their list of who was standing across the two wards at at the last minute. Ian himself was still smiling, taking the hit on the chin. He’ll still be popping up at local meetings I’m sure.

Waiting for the Fortune Green recount

Waiting for the Fortune Green recount

Lorna Russell had already been told she’d polled enough to get in – and promptly collapsed. Labour really hadn’t held out that much hope for Fortune Green, expecting the Tories to do well and the Lib Dems to put up a strong fight. No-one but no-one had really thought Flick was vulnerable and, as these pages suggested, perhaps the other two Lib Dems could ride that wave to safety.

Keith Moffitt and Flick Rea look anxiously at ballot papers

Keith Moffitt and Flick Rea look anxiously at ballot papers

The reality was that Flick came home very safely – she actually topped the poll in Fortune Green, proving that personal votes can and do make a difference. Lorna was a surefire second, which meant the recount was between Labour’s Richard Olszewski and incumbent councillor Nancy Jirira.

Finally, the returning officer called everyone up to announce the final two wards – Fortune Green and Highgate. Fortune Green was first. The Conservative’s Ian Cohen (once thought of as a possible Lib Dem candidate) had done very well: 893 votes, more than 150 ahead of the next Conservative and narrowly in fifth place overall. Close but no cigar. Nancy was the next from the big three to be called – 950 for Nancy, agonisingly short of the 1,000 mark. Then Richard… 967. It was enough. Just 17 votes between them. Labour supporters whooped and cheered, knowing they’d done the unthinkable and obliterated the Liberal Democrats in their own backyard.

Flick took 1,151 votes and Lorna 1,028. Labour’s Phil Turner got 904 votes.

That left Flick Rea as the de facto leader of the Lib Dems in Camden. Outside the Somers Town community centre, she was in a feisty mood, and expect her to make a nuisance of herself in council meetings.

What does it all mean for local residents? At one level, not much – after all Camden was Labour before yesterday and remains Labour now – only with even more control. The Conservatives become the official opposition party.

On a more local level, it means that our new councillors have some big shoes to fill. They’ll have to learn fast how to navigate their way around the council and expectations will be high. Up in Fortune Green, Flick may well find that she’s bombarded with queries from locals who know and trust her to help them and simply don’t know much about the new Labour councillors. She’ll need to work with them though if she’s not to drown in case work.

It had been a long afternoon and evening. Labour gathered on stage for a victory celebration worthy of any cup-winning football team. Frank Dobson MP – who’d appeared for the photoshoots with winning teams in his Holborn & St Pancras constituency – had long gone home, but Hampstead & Kilburn hopeful Tulip Siddiq was very much still around. She’ll be hoping that the Labour surge in north-west London carries her to Westminster next year, while her Conservative rival Simon Marcus has to pin his hopes on a blue revivial nationally if he’s to stand any chance.

Meanwhile, congratulations to Phil, Angela, James, Lorna, Richard and Flick for winning their seats in two closely fought battles. We’ll be talking to them all – as well as some of the Lib Dems who’ve been pushed out of the way – over the coming days. You can also see a full breakdown of all the votes and the swings for the parties. I’ll leave the last word to long-time resident Tony Penfold, who tweeted last night: “Some good people who helped make West Hampstead what it is have left the stage, newbies now have to walk the walk. Whamp is watching”.

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Liveblog: The Camden Count

Hmm – liveblogging from just a phone proved tricky; in the end, everything happened on Twitter!

17:45 it’s really warm in the counting hall. Most candidates in the middle, well away from the press. Two wards announced so far, Bloomsbury and Kings Cross, both comfortable Labour holds. There’s a recount in Belsize. West Hampstead and Fortune Green still close. There are an unusually high number of split ballots (where a voter chooses candidates from more than one party)

17:15 No announcements yet but most wards are more or less decided. West Hampstead and Fortune Green both very close. Latest predictions are Labour clean sweep in West Hampstead and take 1 or 2 in Fortune Green.

16:40 Here we are at the count in Somers Town. Labour looking confident both generally, where their hold of the Town Hall seems fairly assured, but also in NW Camden. West Hampstead seems to be super tight and Keith Moffitt looks anxious, though he may well cling on. Up in Fortune Green, Labour is telling me that it’s much closer than people were expecting.

Keith Moffitt and Flick Rea look anxiously at ballot papers for West Hampstead

Keith Moffitt and Flick Rea look anxiously at ballot papers for West Hampstead

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A sweaty few hours for local Lib Dem councillors

Camden’s late count means candidates will be sweating it out for longer than most, especially those in tight wards – which includes West Hampstead, Fortune Green and possibly Kilburn.

We woke up to the news that Labour and UKIP have made gains in councils that have declared so far, while the Lib Dems have taken a beating.

In West Hampstead and Fortune Green, the Lib Dem candidates, five of whom are incumbent councillors, still have a few more hours to see whether they can buck the trend. The BBC is calculating a 13% drop in support for the Lib Dems but they aren’t being wiped off the political map – as I write they’ve lost only four more seats than the Conservatives (from a much smaller base of course), and have retained 237 to date. They are losing 1 out of every three seats. The challenge they have locally is that the margins are tight in West Hampstead (remember, that Labour fell just 77 votes short in 2010 off a much higher turnout). Fortress Fortune Green was markedly safer with a 446 seat cushion over the Conservatives. Check out “What happened in 2010” for more detail on share of votes in the local wards.

Holding all six seats in the two wards would be a great result for the Lib Dems and Labour would definitely feel miffed if they can’t nick at least one – but expect West Hampstead at least to go down to the wire. A split ward is more than possible.

Over in Kilburn, in a two-way fight that got nasty right before polling day, it would be a minor miracle if the Triple-J Lib Dem team of James, Janet & Jack could buck the national trend and unseat Labour. But a ramping up of candidate sniping suggests that Labour aren’t as confident as they perhaps should have been (or arguably would have been if they hadn’t kicked Mike Katz off the slate).

Overall, it’s hard to see Labour not retaining control of the Town Hall – they’d need some strange results for that to happen. But all eyes will be on West Hampstead – the most marginal ward in the country’s most marginal constituency?

Polling_Station

Not voted yet? Maybe you should give it a whirl

Twitter is awash with people getting quite ranty about voting. I defintely think it’s important to vote but not always for the reasons that get rammed down our throats.

“People died for our vote”
Yes, they did. And hurrah for that. But that was about 100 years ago and while we’re very grateful ‘n all, don’t vote because someone died for it. People have died for all sorts of stuff over the years. Vote because you care about what’s happening to your world now and in the future.

“If you don’t want [insert rabid party du jour] to win, then vote. Their supporters will”
Yes, maybe, though depending where you live that “support” may be more ephemeral than you think. Voting to stop extremists IS a good reason to vote, but only if you are confident that you’re not diluting the vote of the other parties. Instead, why not vote because you want to see a party win. If enough people do that, the extremist parties will be blown out of the water anyway.

“Put up or shut up”
This is certainly a justification I cite – but then I see a lot more people moaning about stuff than most of you do! It’s true that if you don’t vote then you really don’t have a leg to stand on whe it comes to complaining, but don’t vote so you can moan later, vote because you want things to get better.

And then come the wave of objections

“My vote doesn’t matter”
The age-old challenge of democracy. Obviously if everyone thought that then the system would collapse. If votes didn’t matter, there wouldn’t be political parties and policies would be set by a centralised bureaucracy. See: China. We happen to live in one of the most politically competitive parts of London – remember Labour held the Hampstead & Kilburn seat by just 42 votes over the Conservatives in the General Election, and lost out on a council seat in West Hampstead to the Lib Dems by just 77 votes. So here, even if nowhere else, your vote really does make a difference, and even more so when turnout is low. If you’re reading this from a safe seat, remember that it’s only “safe” because people go and vote. If you want to turn a safe seat into a marginal one, you have to be part of making that happen. Don’t forget that funding, media exposure and parties’ own resources move based on votes.

“All the parties are the same”
No, no they’re not. Yes, at the leadership level it can seem as if a bunch of middle-aged and well educated white guys (and occasionally women) are running the show. Yes, it can seem as if all the parties are very “establishment”, but that doesn’t mean that they have the same beliefs, especially on issues such as welfare, healthcare, education – things that affect all of us at some point, and affect how the places you live and society around us evolve. Vote because you have some vision and ambition for yourself and the people around you and there’ll be a party that mirrors that better than the others.

“None of the parties reflect my views”
No shit Sherlock. Aside from the political groupies who bristle at the notion that anything their party does could ever be misguided, how many of us fully subscribe to every single policy that any party develops? I certainly don’t. Don’t abandon the idea of voting because no-one is offering perfection. Get real. Vote for the party that comes closest to your ideals or that will be best for you and the people you care about. If you feel that strongly about it, stand for election yourself.

“Russell Brand said there’s no point voting”
Not voting isn’t the same as voting FOR Russell Brand. He’s not going to do anything about the big issues of our time such as carbon emissions, economic stability, or negotiating with the European Union. Love is all you need – along with weekly rubbish collections, right? ‘Cos Russ certainly isn’t going to solve the problem of fly tipping on West End Lane however entertainingly articulate he may be. So, sure, knock yourself out. Sit at home and pretend you’re an anarchist. You’re welcome back into the real world at any time – and the people who ARE elected will generally still try and help you out if you need it; they’re good like that. And if they don’t – guess who’s got the power to get rid of them?

If you’ve not voted yet, and aren’t sure who to vote for, then why not look at our Election Special pages to help you make your mind up. And if you’re still not sure:

Dr Clare Craig submits the free school application to the DfE

Schools: What the parties say

It’s fast becoming the most divisive issue in north-west Camden politics. Do we need more schools? What sort of schools? Where should they be? Who should run them?

Primary schools
It’s universally accepted that a new primary school is needed in our part of Camden. Under current legislation, a new school would have to be an academy – i.e., outside of local authority control. The only way round this is to expand an existing school.

Camden council, rightly proud of its primary schools, proposes to expand Kingsgate Primary School, which sits on the corner of Kingsgate Road and Messina Avenue. Kingsgate can’t expand on its existing site. Instead, the council wants to open a remote extension on what is now the Liddell Road industrial estate. We have covered this in some detail before. To fund the expansion, the council plans to allow a private residential development to occupy the rest of the site – controversially with next to no affordable housing, even though it intends to make a £9 million profit on the site (£3m from the housing + the £6m central government funding it has received since the first plans were put forward). It is not clear whether that £9m would be reinvested in West Hampstead, or be dispersed throughout the borough.

Secondary schools
It’s not universally accepted that we need another secondary school. In fact it’s almost impossible to get clarity on the statistics being bandied around by both sides.

Parents campaigning for a new school mix up statistics from different geographic areas: constituency, ward, borough, postcode, which makes it hard to decipher the true need. Here’s the free school page on numbers (including links to the data). Meanwhile, the council argues that its analysis shows that there will be sufficient school places in the borough until 2022/23, including the NW6 area.

The only stat that seems clear cut is that across Camden, eight children ended up without a secondary school place in the last round of allocations.

The group pushing for a free school – already named the West Hampstead International School – submitted its application to the Department for Education about 10 days ago. The application is now for a primary and secondary school, and parents are also eyeing up the Liddell Road site. With 1,600 students, it would be the largest school in Camden when full in 2022, so potential sites are not obvious.

Dr Clare Craig submits the free school application to the DfE

Dr Clare Craig submits the free school application to the DfE

If the free school can’t secure the Liddell Road site, it’s not clear where else it could set up. The campaign website says only “Before securing a site we need to show the Department for Education there is sufficient demand so the school will be full when it opens. We are confident some of the brownfield land at the West Hampstead railway interchange can be secured for the school.”

There are almost no brownfield sites left that would be large enough – 156 West End Lane is large, but would be controversial for a school given the traffic situation on West End Lane. The O2 car park redevelopment would certainly have the size, but is a long way off. There’s likely to be more development of Blackburn Road, which could work but again, it’s not imminent and the school is hoping to take its first children in September 2015.

This issue of location has dogged proposed free schools locally. It’s been widely reported that some of these have had to tell parents who thought their child had a place that they don’t have a site and therefore parents should look at local authority options. The lack of sites is turning out to be a major problem and it’s hard to imagine that parents would have confidence in a school that has yet to secure classrooms but wants to open in 2015.

What do the parties have to say?
Labour opposes the idea of a new secondary school. It disputes the figures that suggest demand, and is pushing hard for the Kingsgate primary expansion on Liddell Road. It has by far the clearest position of the three main parties.

The Conservatives, said council candidate Andrew Parkinson at hustings, are “completely against Liddell Road as a site for a primary school”. In a more considered written response, he said, “Until we are satisfied that a full search for and assessment of other potential sites has been carried out, we will continue to oppose the choice of Liddell Road”.

The party has a manifesto commitment to supporting the free school but doesn’t seem to be throwing its weight behind the statistical analysis suggesting that a new school is needed, simply saying “Local people tell us that there are not enough local state school places for our children.”

Nor are the Tories willing to say where such a school would be located:

As for potential sites apart from Liddell Road, it would be inappropriate to name one site until a full assessment of suitability both for children and residents is carried out. However, the Travis Perkins building has been closed for three years and could potentially support either a primary or secondary school. Further, West Hampstead is to undergo significant change in the next few years as the railway lands (including sites at the O2 centre and Midland Crescent) are developed. The potential for a school to be included within these developments will also need to be fully considered.

Caught between the two seem to be the Liberal Democrats. They have argued against the expansion of Kingsgate to Liddell Road which, according to Cllr John Bryant at Monday night’s hustings, “for educational reasons, we think is wrong”. However, the party is not against Liddell Road being used as a primary school site, arguing that “we do not believe that the planned expansion of Kingsgate School is the right solution, and would prefer to proceed with either a totally new stand-alone primary school or consider the merits of a through school.”

In terms of supporting the free school, the Lib Dems say that they “support local campaigns for new schools, but would wish those schools to form part of the Camden family of schools”, which presumably means that they would come under some form of local authority control. This is broadly in line with national party policy on free schools, which boils down to “knock yourself out, but they’ve got to stick to the national curriculum and use qualified teachers”.

In a lengthy written response, the Lib Dems are keen to point out that they have supported the parents behind the free school campaign (although they acutally stop short of saying they support the proposed school itself), but that they also support Hampstead School as a “good local school.”

Where might a secondary school go?

“We believe that a general review of suitable sites for both primary and secondary school provisions in the West Hampstead and Kilburn area is needed, looking at all possible sites in the area, including Liddell Road itself, but taking full advantage of central government funding to avoid unnecessarily pushing businesses off of the site and using private housing to fund a school there; the 156 West End Lane site and other future development sites including the O2 car park, although it is important to be aware that unlike the other two sites mentioned that is not of course owned by the London Borough of Camden.”

When asked how they would ensure school place provision should the free school application fail, the Lib Dems’ response is

“We would say that the expansion of Emmanuel School and the building of the UCL Academy in Swiss Cottage have already gone a considerable way to addressing the shortage of both primary and secondary places in the area.” They continue “Should the WHIS application fail on technical grounds, we would encourage this parents’ group to continue in their efforts to provide further secondary school places in our area, possibly looking outside the precise geographical area of West Hampstead and Fortune Green.”

For the Greens, Leila Mars said at the hustings that the party supports free schools. This is in fact, not Green Party policy. The policy is to bring existing free schools back under local authority control.

UKIP‘s Magnus Nielsen didn’t have anything specifically to say on this issue at hustings, other than to recognise that primary education is very important. This was possibly the least controversial thing he said all evening.

Listen to all the parties’ comments on the schools question from last Monday night’s hustings

Excitement builds (photo via Richard Olszewski)

Election Special: Hear the candidates in their own words

As people gathered outside Emmanuel School on Monday night for the hustings, we were inside trying to get microphones to work. Despite one or two technical glitches early on, the message still came across loud and clear – people remain interested in what their politicians have to say.

Excitement builds (photo via Richard Olszewski)

Excitement builds (photo via Richard Olszewski)

The livestream of the event sadly failed (note to the school: Get a better Wifi connection!), but we do have a record of the whole evening, with just over a minute missing.

If you’re not hardcore enough for the whole thing, then here’s how the evening played out in bitesize pieces.

First up we had the three-minute party speeches.

Keith Moffitt for the Liberal Democrats focused on their record as councillors across the two wards

Ian Cohen for the Conservatives stressed their candidates’ expertise and focused heavily on the local issues

Philip Rosenberg for Labour talked about the party’s record in the Town Hall under the pressure of budget cuts

Juan Jimenez for the Green Party (apologies to the Greens, but this is where we lost a minute of the recording)

Magnus Nielsen for UKIP talked a lot about his family history but less about what he’d do for locals.

Dave Pearce for TUSC (Trade Union and Socialist Coalition) talked about cuts, jobs and housing security.

We then went on to discuss:

Rubbish – with issues of costs, enforcement and the contract with Veolia coming to the fore

Schools – specifically the different parties’ view on whether they support the proposed free school in the area.

Mansion tax – where much was made of the LibDems’ U-turn and there was an entertaining heckle!

Camden’s complaints procedure – would Sainsbury’s do a better job of managing the process?

Cycling & parking – is a wholesale review of parking restrictions needed?

Delivery lorries – everyone’s in agreement that Tesco lorries are a problem, what are the solutions?

Support for the Neighbourhood Development Plan – almost – almost – universal!

Getting the vote out – here’s where UKIP talk about removing the vote from some people

156 West End Lane – school? Community venue? What do the parties think?

Affordable housing – what does it mean?

And finally, how the candidates would fight our corner in the Town Hall (which led to one or two very odd replies).

If you want to watch everything in one go to get more of the atmosphere and hear what gets applauded and what doesn’t, then settle back with a cup of tea and a biscuit.

And a closing word:

Magnus Nielsen, UKIP

Hustings hoo-ha takes away from real issues

Monday night’s hustings for West Hampstead & Fortune Green wards in the local elections turned out to be popular. Some 150 people turned up to Emmanuel School hall to hear what 21 of the 26 candidates across the two wards had to say.

One of those candidates – UKIP’s Magnus Nielsen – took all the headlines the following morning after a peculiar answer to the question of low voter turnout where he mused that perhaps all the efforts made in the 19th century to extend the voter base might have been misguided.

The audience reaction – more laughs than gasps – tells you how little it resonated with voters. Yet, with one headline grabbing soundbite, the rest of the candidates’ efforts to discuss the issues that actually matter to local residents have been subsumed.

It was fairly clear that Nielsen was playing to the gallery with this and other bon mots throughout the evening. What West Hampstead voters – and quite possibly UKIP itself – might have found more disappointing was that Nielsen clearly hadn’t prepared a meaningful three minute pitch to voters unlike all the other candidates.

A lengthy intro about why someone with a Danish name was standing for UKIP means that half of his three minutes was about the war, and the other half consisted of a few digs at the EU.

There was nothing about West Hampstead, or even Camden and it rather felt as if it had been dreamt up at the last minute. Such a lack of respect for the audience and the electorate suggests that, despite the occasional bout of political hubris (“when I’m elected councillor”), the likelihood of Nielsen sitting in the council chamber for the next four years is even slimmer than it might have been at the start of the evening.

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Grill the candidates: Local election hustings May 12th

Courtesy of Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries

Courtesy of Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries

If you want to ask your local election candidates about the issues that concern YOU rather than those that preoccupy the media (West Hampstead Life included), then come to our hustings on Monday May 12th at Emmanuel School hall (new building on Mill Lane).

What’s a hustings?
It’s an opportunity to hear from election candidates and to ask them questions. They’re common enough in general elections, but relatively rare in local elections. Why am I bothering? I think that a lot of people don’t vote in local elections because they don’t know much about the issues or who they’re voting for. What better way to find out that to meet the candidates in the flesh to see how they cope over hot coals!

Who’s going to be there?
This hustings will cover two wards – West Hampstead and Fortune Green. Apologies for those of you who live in the other local wards, but these two wards share more similarities and it would be a logistical nightmare to do more than two wards given the number of candidates.

All 26 candidates from the two wards have been invited – that’s six each from the Lib Dems, Labour, the Conservatives and the Greens, and the UKIP and TUSC candidates who are standing in West Hampstead. As I write, it looks like all the candidates from the big three parties will be there alongside some of the Greens, UKIP and the TUSC. That’s a lot of people, but we’re going to ensure it’s manageable.

Weren’t you going to do this in a pub?
Yes, I was. For all sorts of reasons I’ve decided to move it to the school hall in the new Emmanuel School building on Mill Lane. The main reason was sound quality – with no PA system for us at the pub, I was conscious that it might become hard for everyone to hear. Sorry for those of you looking to have a pint with your politics, but we will be able to serve refreshments – and some of those might even contain alcohol!

What’s the format?
One person from each party will get three minutes (strictly timed) to give a pitch. Then I’m going to kick things off with a few questions for everyone. Each party is encouraged to let only one person answer the question. After this, I’ll open it up to questions from you the audience, ideally topic by topic to avoid repetition. Naturally we expect everyone to be civil and polite and adult – this isn’t the House of Commons after all – and I will get very grumpy if those questions become statements or are patsy questions from other party members. You won’t like me when I’m grumpy.

Dimbleby

Depending on the lateness of the hour, there may be a bit of time at the end to mingle with the candidates in case your pet topic hasn’t come up, and then I suggest that everyone migrates to the pub for a much more informal chat.

Give me the logistics!
We have the school hall for two hours – from 7.30-9.30pm. I expect us to start promptly at 7.45 and we do need to stop at 9.30. The school is on Mill Lane, on the left (south) side if you’re coming from West End Lane.

I’m not that fussed about politics, why should I come?
I’m surprised you’ve read this far frankly. Come because it will give you an insight into who the people are who want to make decisions at the local level, and into the sort of decisions they make. Sure, it’s not about whether to invade Iraq or scrap tuition fees, but it is about the area you actually live in – the communities, the schools, the rubbish on the streets, the planning decisions, the roads and so on. It’s the stuff that affects you day to day. Wouldn’t you want to know who’s making those decisions; wouldn’t you want to have some say in who those people are?

What’s your agenda? Who’s paying for all this?
Valid questions. I have no political agenda other than to encourage people to engage with politics. That’s why all the parties have been invited and encouraged to attend, and all will be given a fair chance to speak. The parties themselves are (hopefully!) making a small contribution to the event costs (hall and equipment hire, refreshments), which is quite normal for a hustings. In addition, West Hampstead estate agent Paramount Properties is generously covering the rest of the costs as part of a commitment to community engagement. Paramount has neither asked for nor will receive any influence or involvement whatsoever in setting the agenda for the evening or in any of the questions I shall be asking.

I can’t make it on the night – how can I find out what happened?
We may be able to livestream the event – that’s still to be worked out. Failing that we’ll try and record it. I will try and post some tweets during the evening but, as the chair of the event, that might be a bit tricky. We will, however, write it up afterwards.

magnacarta

The Magna Carta – it may have been signed under duress, but it’s still the basis of our democracy today

153-163 Broadhurst falling down_ft

Housing: What the parties say

Housing – we need more of it, and it needs to be affordable for more than the highest earners. Not too many people disagree on that. How and where we deliver that is a different story and one that can be written at both the national, city and local level. At the local level, councils are also of course responsible for allocating and maintaining council housing and housing services.

Labour‘s very first manifesto pledge is to build 6,000 new homes – including council homes. It won’t introduce fixed-term tenancies and 80% market rates as long as it has that power. During the current administration, Labour has been selling off assets to fund schools and housing. The most obvious examples locally are 156 West End Lane (the Travis Perkins building) and the Liddell Road industrial estate. The party pledges to ensure that “developments led by the council deliver 50% genuinely affordable housing” (50% by floorspace is the existing target for any development in the borough). It also pledges to continue its reforms of council leaseholder and tenant services.

TravisPerkins

The Conservatives pledge to make the council’s housing and repairs services more efficient. Specifically they will change how maintenance and repairs are managed including using competitive tenders and reducing red tape. They will sell the freeholds of street properties that have more than 50% leaseholders and encourage right-to-buy. The manifesto makes no mention of additional or affordable housing.

The Liberal Democrats say they will take a proactive approach to creating new social housing, taking advantage of central government schemes and using planning powers to improve the borough’s housing mix and provide homes for young people at a price they can afford. They also want to give council tenants and residents associations a more active role in the delivery of repair and maintenance services.

The Green Party says it would “pioneer innovative models of housing, such a co-housing where individual units share facilities and social space” to keep housing affordable. Such housing would be a priority for new developments on council land. It would also create a register of good landlords to incentivse high standards.

UKIP, which doesn’t have a Camden manifesto but a generic local election one, says it will oppose the bedroom tax but provide incentives to re-use empty homes and that new housing should be directed to brownfield sites. It argues that ending “open-door immigration” would reduce the pressure on housing.

The TUSC, standing in West Hampstead, says it would prioritise the building of social housing including sheltered and accessible housing. It would also push for proper maintenance of current council housing stock by selecting a company that is sensitive to occupant needs/desires and able to provide quality for money. It would also work with developers to build sympathetic private properties of various sizes and that include affordable housing. It wants a register of local landlords and proposes rent caps for private tenants .

WHL perpsective: your reaction to these is likely to depend on your own housing situation and on the sort of communities you want to live in. If you believe that mixed communities are stronger and more interesting places to live than homogenous places then consider that (re)developments in all our wards should seek to improve the socio-economic mix. If you’re a council tenant then the issue may boil down to whether you think the current Labour administration has improved services to tenants or not.

MillLaneHouses1

Let us know your thoughts on the policies below and on what housing topics you think the parties should be concerned with.

Polling_Station

West Hampstead elects

Local and European elections take place on May 22nd. Eager readers have already been checking out the West Hampstead Life election pages, which give a detailed rundown of each of the four local wards, as well as explaining why it’s worth voting and a host of other info.

All the candidates for the local elections have now been announced. Three of the the four wards we’re covering – Fortune Green, Kilburn and Swiss Cottage – have 12 candidates each; that’s three from each of the Labour, Lib Dems, Conservatives and Greens. West Hampstead ward has an extra two candidates, one from UKIP who’s already got himself in hot water, and one from the other end of the political spectrum – the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition.

Why West Hampstead ward? It’s likely to be the most closely contested of the four wards with the incumbent Lib Dem candidates relying heavily on a personal vote as their party braces itself for a beating. Labour are attacking it hard, while the Tories have been waving around demographic statistics that they believe mean they’re destined for victory. The reality? It’s likely to be close, and a split ward (not all elected councillors from the same party) is quite possible.

Fortune Green feels more like a head-to-head Lib Dem/Conservative battle although Labour does have some strong candidates – all of whom are standing under the Labour and Cooperative party banner. Kilburn is a straight fight to the death between Labour and the Lib Dems and no-one else will get a look in. It’s notable that it’s the only ward that the Conservatives haven’t sent over candidate bio information for and if you can catch a local Tory off the record, they’re likely to concede that victory in Kilburn would be a surprise.

Swiss Cottage, on the other hand, is likely to remain safely in Conservative hands – if either of the other two even got a look in here, it would be an upset and would probably indicate a particularly bad day at the ballot box for the party nationwide.

What’s the difference?

The three main parties have all published their manifestos for Camden. Labour’s is a reasonably punchy document with five clear pledges followed by a wadge of extra detail. The Conservatives is a frankly too long tome that gets in cosnsistent digs at Labour (in red text, just so you don’t get confused), which is disappointing when a manifesto should be all about what you are going to do rather than trash talking the opposition. The Lib Dems have gone for a funky online version, that’s actually quite easy to navigate and lets you quickly zoom in on the topics that matter to you.

The Green Party, which I’m sad to say has been phenomenally uncommunicative, doesn’t appear to have a manifesto document, but sets out its policies here. The Greens are far from a token presence in Camden – they hold one council seat in Highgate and are working their environmentally friendly socks off to win all three seats there. Unfortunately for them, their existing councillor Maya de Souza is standing down. Richard Osley does a good job of explaining the challenge this leaves them.

UKIP doesn’t have a Camden branch and appears to have one “local election” manifesto for the whole country, which you can read here. The TUSC manifesto is here.

Over the next few days, we’ll take some of the major issues that we face here in north-west Camden and looking at the parties’ policies as well as seeing what individual council candidates have to say.

FlickReaMBE

Politics and public services: Review of the year

Back in January, local MP Glenda Jackson confirmed what she’d told me back in 2010 – namely that she wouldn’t stand for re-election. Thus the tightest three-way seat in the country would have three new candidates. Chris Philp, who was beaten into second place, finally secured the Tory nomination for the safe seat of Croydon South. Expect to see him on the front benches before long.

The Lib Dems stole a march on the other parties by announcing Emily Frith as their candidate. A month later, they were back at square one as Emily got a better offer. The local party grandees were distinctly unimpressed.

The Tories were next to announce their candidate, based on a open primary. Rugby fanatic Simon Marcus, councillor for Gospel Oak, got the nod. Simon’s made a big deal of trying to save Hampstead police station from fellow Tory Boris’s cuts. He failed.

That left Labour. The party decided to draw up an all-women shortlist, which ruled out popular Kilburn councillor Mike Katz.

Fiona Millar’s name was bandied about as a contender, but she withdrew and in July, the nomination went to Regents Park councillor Tulip Siddiq.

In the same month, the Lib Dems regrouped and put forward the high-profile Maajid Nawaz, founder of think-tank Quilliam. Simon and Tulip have strong local credentials, while Maajid is a TV regular focusing on more international issues. Nevertheless, the consensus is that by bringing in a big hitter, the Lib Dems have at least made the contest more interesting than it might otherwise have been.

The election isn’t until 2015, but expect the battle for hearts and minds to heat up over the year and some major players from the parties to turn up.

Not that Glenda shows signs of going quietly – she’s been more visible in the House of Commons this parliament than in previous years. She also made the news in April with a strident attack on Margaret Thatcher in an otherwise hagiographic House of Commons session.

It wasn’t Mike Katz’s year. He got shafted by his party and was deselected to stand in Kilburn in 2014’s local elections and then missed out on nomination for Brent Central.

Russell Eagling announced he wouldn’t be standing as Lib Dem councillor for Fortune Green again. Nick Russell will stand in his place. It was a big year for Russell though as he and partner Ed Fordham – who placed 3rd in the 2010 general election – got engaged after Ed’s tireless work championing the equal marriage bill paid off. The engagement even made it into Hansard and Jimmy Carr’s Big Fat Quiz of the Year.

Flick Rea, Russell’s fellow Fortune Green councillor, was awarded an MBE, which she collected from Buckingham Palace this month.

The local elections take place on May 22nd 2014. We’ll be holding a hustings nearer the time so you can meet the various candidates and get a better understanding of what councillors actually do and why you should get off your arse and vote for the ones you want.

We DO need some education – but where?
Schools were a political hot potato in 2013. A free school campaign got off to a blaze of publicity, but has been struggling in the past few months to generate enough support after a wave of negative comments.

In September, Hampstead School – the comprehensive school that’s really in Cricklewood – made the front page of both local papers for different, but perhaps related, reasons. The Ham & High ran a story about the free school campaign for a local free school, in which a Labour activist branded the campaigners “snobs”. The Camden New Journal meanwhile went with the story of the headmaster contacting police over the “anarchist tendencies” of a former pupil who ran a satirical blog about the school.

Secondary school provision is controversial, but everyone accepts that the area needs primary school places. The problem is where to put them. Camden is pushing forward its plans to expand Kingsgate School; except that the extension would be the best part of a mile’s walk away in Liddell Road, where there is a light industrial estate. Camden will build 100 private homes to pay for the school. This story continues to run.

Should they stay or should they go?
The West Hampstead police station was going to be closed, but then it wasn’t. In what seemed a very opaque process, the Fortune Green Road station was retained as an operational station, but its front desk would be open only limited hours as was the SNT base on West End Lane.

West Hampstead fire station has never been under threat in any of the restructuring plans for the London Fire Brigade, however Belsize station’s position has always been precarious and it looks like its fate is now closure.

Over the course of the year, the idea that the post office could relocate to St James’ Church has turned into a reality. The Sherriff Centre, as it will be known, will run as a social enterprise and include a café and fund community support workers. It was officially awarded the contract in August.

Meanwhile, the Swiss Cottage post office looks set to be closed completely. After some vocal campaigning, it’s now going to be moved into the Finchley Road branch of WH Smiths.

PhilJones

Liddell Road – how the night unfolded

There was a lively Twitter conversation during and after last night’s Camden cabinet meeting, at which the fate of Liddell Road was decided. If you weren’t following along, here’s the bulk of it – rearranged to make a bit more sense than the pure chronological output. It’s also a good record of the promises made by Camden to look into some of the issues in more detail.

Dramatis Personæ:
LiddellRoad – the campaign set up by traders
Richard Osley – deputy editor of the Camden New Journal
Phil Jones – Councillor (Labour) and cabinet member for sustainability
Theo Blackwell – Councillor (Labour) and cabinet member for finance
Keith Moffitt – Councillor (Lib Dem) for West Hampstead
Mike Katz – Councillor (Labour) for Kilburn
WHampstead – me!

Cllr Phil Jones
Boris_WHBA_Jonathan_7

Boris talks to West Hampstead businesses

Boris Johnson is either an ambitious and gifted politician or an incompetent buffoon. Whichever side of the divide you sit on, he is, indisputably, the Mayor of London and the blondest man you’re likely to see this side of Scandinavia.

This Thursday he made a relatively low-key and very short notice visit to West Hampstead to take part in a roundtable discussion with local business owners, under the banner of the relaunching West Hampstead Business Association (WHBA).

It stands for “White-haired Boris ambushed”

Local Conservative Party candidate Simon Marcus had managed to persuade his BoJo-ness to come along (lets remember this is by far London’s most marginal seat), so The Wet Fish Café was half-full of local businesses and half of local Tory supporters and hangers on. And me.

I was tasked with chairing the debate, which in reality meant trying to keep some control of Boris. To his credit, he did actually try and answer almost all the questions that I and other local business people put to him. And to their credit, the local Conservatives didn’t interrupt or whoop or make a nuisance of themselves. The result was a meeting that although predictably light on meaningful dialogue, was both entertaining and engaging.

We opened by asking the Mayor what City Hall could do to help small businesses. Boris of course takes the extreme laissez-faire approach to economics, putting him to the right of many in his party (by contrast, he’s socially relatively liberal). So the answer to the question – if you read between the lines – was really that local businesses needed to help themselves.

That of course is exactly what forming a business association is all about. He also suggested the WHBA looks at forming a BID (Business Improvement District), although West Hampstead would be quite small for a BID, and the scheme has come under some criticism for ultimately driving rents up. But it’s something no doubt the WHBA will look into.

There were questions of course about the extent of development in the area – and the type of development. With such a heavy focus on small one- and two-bed flats being built, it’s hard to see how the area’s weekday daytime economy will benefit as the occupants of these flats will be off to work. Boris countered that there was a mandatory quotient of three-bed properties in any new development and that Camden must be delivering this. Of course, one only needs to look at West Hampstead Square or the Mill Lane Apartments to see that the 3-bed properties are more “luxury penthouses” than “family homes”.

Boris also returned to a theme he’d addressed in his controversial speech the night before. He suggested that there was too much paranoia about foreign investors buying London property and that the money coming in was helping fund major schemes such as those around the Olympic village, Battersea, and Brent Cross. None of which particularly helps businesses in West Hampstead of course.

It’s not helpful to be over-parochial about such things, but high streets generally need support so they’re well placed to rise as the economy recovers. One of the mayor’s more practical thoughts was that some high streets – and he clarified this didn’t apply to West End Lane – were simply too long. If, he said, councils sought to concentrate long strung-out high streets using planing and zoning laws, then it would be easier to keep them vibrant. This strikes me as generally being a good idea – it might even help make a tiny dent in the housing shortfall if property on the fringes of these high streets could be converted into residential. Kilburn High Road is probably about as long a high street as is viable without splitting into separate sections, but it’s possible to think of others in the wider area that lack any defined central point – Harrow Road, for example.

Lorraine from Mamacita asked Boris what City Hall could do in terms of reducing red tape for smaller businesses. This turned into a bit of a convoluted conversation, but ultimately the mayor said he was in favour of loosening employment restrictions for businesses that had five staff or fewer. He struggled to understand why any business owner would have any problem firing anyone though. “I fire people all the time”, he said with gusto.

And with that, he trotted off with his entourage down West End Lane, first calling into West End Lane Books, where he (reluctantly, apparently) bought a copy of Zadie Smith’s NW. He was heading for St James’ Church where he met with Father Andrew Cain who explained how the post office was going to fit into the buidling. He then detoured to café Wired and Rock Men’s Salon on Broadhurst Gardens, where despite owner John’s best efforts, Boris couldn’t be persuaded into a chair for a trim of his white locks.

Photos by Andre Millodot and David Matthews

keithmoffitt

Grill your councillors on local issues

Every few months, each ward in Camden holds the sexily-titled “Area Action Group”. It’s hard to imagine a less-suitable title. I think we should borrow from the Americans here and use the more appealing “Town Hall meeting” idea… but I digress.

The AAGs are a chance to catch up on the latest issues in the area. Next week, this includes the rubbish/fly-tipping problem that you’re all so worked up about. Gary Borg – one of Camden’s street environment officers – will be present.

The evenings are hosted by the local councillors but they are explicitly not allowed to be party political (although that doesn’t stop one or two of the more boistrous councillors from making a few choice comments from the safety of the audience from time to time). They often invite officials from other public bodies to come and be interrogated by feisty residents. Turnout varies, but 80 people would be a rough average.

Don’t dismiss these meetings as not for you, at least not without coming to one first. They can be quite revealing and offer a chance to ask questions that often otherwise aren’t asked. I’m not going to pretend they are a laugh-a-minute and, as regular readers of this website, you are already up to speed with much of what’s going on locally.

But… but, my friends…

Once in a while it does no harm to see who the people are who represent you locally; and it does no harm to see the residents who are most vocal in such meetings and whether or not they broadly articulate your views. Then you can decide whether you’re in the Russell Brand or Robert Webb camp (I walked past Robert Webb on Tuesday night, he was heading to the tube station in quite a hurry – running late for his Hampstead Theatre production I wondered?).

I must also give credit to Keith Moffitt, the councillor who normally chairs the meetings. He does a good job of keeping the agenda moving along and not letting ranters get overly ranty (this can be a challenge).

Keith Moffitt, West Hampstead councillor

West Hampstead and Fortune Green wards hold a combined meeting. The next one is on November 13th – the day before #whampgather (still sold out, sorry). They are held at the synagogue community hall on Dennington Park Road, just off West End Lane. Wear warm clothes.

Here’s the agenda:

7pm Opportunity to meet ward councillors informally over tea/coffee

7.30pm Start of meeting and introductions

  • Transport for London – 139 bus route and other issues
  • Refuse collection and street cleansing – new service launched
  • Thames Water – Cllr Moffitt to give verbal update on feedback to date
  • Neighbourhood Planning Forum update
  • Any other business

See you there?

Rubbish_barclays

Rubbish problems blamed on budget cuts

We’ve discussed the rubbish problems recently; here’s what Cllr Phil Jones, Camden cabinet member for the environment, wrote in response to WHAT‘s recent enquiries about the problems both with recycling and fly-tipping. He cited three issues and mentioned a new initiative starting next week to help tackle the fly-tipping:

The introduction of the wheelie bins combined with changed collection days and new recycling arrangements (co-mingled recycling) impacted negatively on the service. Complaints rose significantly, as anticipated, in line with experience in other boroughs, as the Veolia staff didn’t know the rounds and were dealing with a new system. This should now have settled down. I can tell you that we are on track to make our anticipated financial savings and are already seeing increased levels of recycling.

Street cleansing budgets were cut 40% due to the £83.5 million of cuts targeted at Camden by the coalition government (far higher than richer, rural areas). This means streets are swept less often that they used to be. Additional money for street cleansing must be taken from other services. The council is now expecting £70 million of additional cuts to be found over four years from 2014/15 due to further extra cuts targeted at Camden by the coalition government (again far higher than richer, rural areas). The extra cuts will be front loaded and will have a big impact on services from 2014 onwards.

Street environment services staffing has been revamped in the last few months. The objectives included a) creation of a new education and enforcement team, b) increasing the skill levels of staff, c) improving contract management of Veolia. This meant that some staff were made redundant, others were demotivated for a period, and new staff had to get used to their roles. This process also had a negative impact on the services provided but is also now nearing completion. Officers should be responsive to problems and respond when issues are identified.

We are launching a new ‘Clean Camden’ enforcement campaign on 6 November. This will target fly tipping, dog fouling, littering etc. Officers will be targeting hotspots to fine people caught doing any of these environmental crimes. It will not stop these problems from occurring, so it is important to be realistic. It should highlight the unacceptability of such actions and send a warning to those who flout the law. We also need to gain more evidence on who is committing these crimes so people will be encouraged to send information to the council.

This last point is encouraging for people who are sick of their streets being strewn with debris. I think it’s easy to understand that budget cuts will have an impact on all manner of services, but when there are already laws in place that are meant to prevent some of the resulting problems, it seems strange that it takes a special initiative to enact them.

Abercorn School in Alfred Court

Camden says no to school on Fortune Green

The lack of a convincing transport plan meant that Camden threw out the proposals to turn the empty ground floor units of Alfred Court into a branch of Abercorn private school (that’s the modern block of flats that looks over the park).

Abercorn School in Alfred Court

Camden cited five reasons for refusal, of which four are related to the transport issues that had local residents understandably up in arms, and which you can read much more about here.

1) The proposed private school, by reason of its catchment, reliance on private transport, unsatisfactory arrangements for on-site servicing and parking for the proposed use, would result in an unsustainable development, detrimental to the operation of the site and contributing to congestion in the local area and highway safety impacts on and near to the site.

2) The proposed development, in the absence of a legal agreement requiring a management plan for the school, would be likely to result in unacceptable impact on the site and local area

3) The proposed development, in the absence of a Workplace and Student Travel Plan, would be likely to give rise to significantly increased car-borne trips and would result in a unsustainable form of development

4) The proposed development, in the absence of a legal agreement to secure a delivery and servicing management plan, would be likely to contribute unacceptably to traffic disruption, and would be detrimental to the amenities of the area generally

5) The proposal, in the absence of a legal agreement securing contributions towards Camden’s Pedestrian, Environmental and Safety improvement initiative would fail to undertake external works outside the application site, and would fail to secure adequate provision for the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles

Abercorn School could appeal of course, but even back in August it seemed as if this location was a hedge rather than the preferred strategy.

Local residents will be pleased. Bafflingly, the local Conservatives are trying to take some credit for the council throwing the idea out despite a extremely high number of comments from individual residents and collectively from the residents of the block itself.

Clare_Craig_NW6_School

NW6 School campaign: Camden vs. parents

The debate over whether West Hampstead does or doesn’t need an additional school – likely a free school – has been raging on for some months. I have found the claims and counter-claims hard to track and harder to verify as both sides draw on various sets of data to prove their point.

The story took an unnecessarily personal turn on the front page of the Ham & High a couple of weeks ago when an unnamed Labour source described the parents campaigning for a free school as “snobs”. The argument was that Hampstead School, which is to the north-west of our area, is a perfectly good school and parents who wanted a state education for their children should send them there.

Rather than wade into the debate myself, I thought I’d let the two most important people have their say on these pages. First, Dr Clare Craig. Dr Craig has been the most public face of the NW6 School campaign team. After she sets out her stall, Cllr. Angela Mason, Camden’s cabinet member for children, explains why the council believes there is no need for an additional school. (If you’re familiar with the story, you can jump straight to the debate in the comments section).

The campaigners

Dr Clare Craig

After being called “middle class, church-going snobs” in the Ham & High last week by a ‘well placed Labour party source’, I would like to explain the real reasons we are going to open a new school and why it needs to be at the heart of West Hampstead. The unnamed source implied that we put the needs of our own children above that of our community. This could not be further from the truth. Ours is a large group of concerned parents, from all walks of life, and from varied religious backgrounds and ethnic groups, who recognise a problem that Labour does not seem to want to acknowledge: there simply aren’t enough secondary school places to go around.

Only a handful of constituencies have fewer secondary school places than Hampstead and Kilburn across the UK. Against this background we can add two straws which will break the camel’s back: the first is a dramatic population boom that will launch us into the top 20% of constituencies for number of 11 year olds by 2016, and we’ll still be climbing that league table thereafter; the second is the arrival of new children due to the unprecedented level of housing developments planned in and around our area.

Current situation
The Hampstead and Kilburn constituency has only three state secondary schools: Hampstead School, UCL Academy and Queens Park Community School. They are all oversubscribed and the latter two have tiny geographical catchment areas. Brent and Camden Councils are responsible for ensuring enough schools across their boroughs but both have neglected our area. The distribution of Camden schools shows the black hole that has been allowed to develop.

Camden schools. click for larger version
Schools in the Hampstead & Kilburn constituency

The result of this shortage is that in 2010 49% of state school children from West Hampstead, Fortune Green and Kilburn wards found places out of Camden. There are no good schools just over the borough borders and children end up travelling a long way to attend Barnet grammar schools or church schools elsewhere.

The opening of the UCL Academy reduced the proportion travelling to 36% for the year in which it opened. However, the already tiny catchment area shrank further this year and is likely to continue doing so: It thus offers no practical solution for children from our three wards.

Our population explosion
The next few years will see a frighteningly sharp increase in the number of children searching for a secondary school place. Across Hampstead and Kilburn there are 1106 11 year olds this year. This will rise to 1300 in 2016 and 1380 by 2019, without taking into account additional children arriving from the many new housing developments. By 2016 we estimate there will be 184 extra children looking for a school place from population growth alone.

In terms of provision, there will still be only three schools in the whole constituency – the average London constituency has six. These three have places for 590 children (rising to 600 from 2016 with a slight expansion of Queens Park Community School). Brent Council, which is responsible for 35% of Hampstead & Kilburn’s intake, now sees this as a problem; Camden, by contrast, is responsible for 65% of constituency’s children (and 80% of the forecast increase), and yet senior councillors deny that there is a problem.

No. of 11-year-olds* No. of state school places** No. currently finding alternative schooling Deficit
2013 1,106 590 516 0
2016 1,300 600 516 184
2019 1,380 600 516 264
*These figures are calculated by modeling population changes between the 2001 and 2011 censuses and assuming a constant drop out rate for each age cohort, over the next 10 years.
**Hampstead school has 210 places, UCL Academy 180 and Queens Park Community School has 200 increasing to 210 in 2016.

Camden is predicting that the number of secondary school places in our area is about to peak and will then flatten off. Camden secures its planning data from the Greater London Assembly. Camden officials agree that the population is rising rapidly; but they believe that the GLA’s formula works well for predicting the proportion of children who will take up a state school place. Camden seems to think that the extra children are a ‘problem’ that must be addressed by the private sector and not by Camden. So what are parents who can’t afford to send their children to private school supposed to do?

We believe the Council’s analysis of provision outside state schools is flawed and shockingly complacent for a number of reasons:

First, it is unrealistic to expect the private sector to add places for a growing number of Camden families – instead, we are likely to see prices increase, with little if any additional capacity. Contrary to perception, the proportion of children attending private schools within our campaign’s target area is in fact lower than the Camden average (26% vs. 31%). Also West Hampstead has not become more wealthy between the two censuses unlike other inner London areas

Camden should not be relying on the private sector as an opt-out from its responsibilities, and in the current economic climate it is reprehensible to take the view that ever more parents should pay twice for their children to receive an education. It seems doubly bizarre for this reliance on the fee-paying sector to come from Labour councillors, many of whom have long opposed the very principle of private education on ideological grounds.

Secondly, the projections assume that a constant proportion of places will be provided in neighbouring boroughs, when in reality the well-publicised shortages across London mean that out-of-borough provision is likely to shrink and has already started shrinking for our three wards from 39% of all children, in 2010 to 32% in 2011 and 24% in 2012.

Thirdly, the benefit from the opening of the popular UCL Academy is highly localised, and offers little to address the problem in the most under-supplied parts of the borough.

Finally, the GLA formula has been shown to fail when a new school is built and is supported by the whole community. It is fair to assume that the GLA formula will also be less effective at times of dramatic, rather than gradual population growth.

Camden have told us that there is a strong possibility that some of our children would be able to get a place at some of the state schools in the east of the borough. They don’t seem to realise that parents want to know their child can get into a school, not just have an increasing possibility of doing so. What we really want is a local school where a cohort of children from the local primaries move on to secondary together. What we have now is a scattering of our primary children all over London and a breaking up of the strong community bonds that have formed.

The Travis Perkins building
Since our campaign for a school started, Camden has been falling over itself to sell off the most obvious site for placing a secondary school.

The Travis Perkins building has commercial leases running until December 2016 yet Camden will be taking bids for the freehold up until 19th September 2013.

This site would be ideal because it:

  • is at the heart of the gap in schools
  • is council owned
  • is big enough
  • has plenty of social housing nearby
  • has neighbouring public open space including a sports court
  • is by the railway sidings reducing the objections in the planning process
  • already has a large building that could be adapted.

We believe this shows that Camden’s real intentions are to obstruct any thoughts of new schooling on purely ideological grounds.

We are trying to create a school for the whole community in a part of London that has always been neglected for schooling. We are working hard to identify the best educational partners to will help us to achieve this vision. In the meantime, you can help by telling parents of school-aged children that we need their support. We need parents to give us their emails so we can contact them, once we have a concrete plan, to ask if they would send their child to the new school. You can do that here.
NW6 School Campaign team

* * *

Camden council

Cllr. Angela Mason

There has been a lot of discussion in the area and in the pages of the Ham and High about whether a new secondary school is needed in the north west of the borough. I know what an important issue this is and I have been increasingly concerned that the true position is being lost amongst the welter of publicity. It is particularly important that parents have the right information in arriving at the choices open to them as part of the 2014 secondary school admissions process, the closing date for which is 31 October.

As I understand the position, a group of parents from NW6 is concerned about securing places in a local secondary school. They are concerned that they will be forced either to go out of borough or to leave the area. They do not believe that Camden’s school place planning takes into account housing development in Camden or neighbouring boroughs. They also believe that historically a high proportion of children from NW6 have attended private schools and that this may decrease in the future with insufficient provision within Camden’s maintained schools to accommodate them.

School place planning projections
It is important to start with what the Council is required to do in law. We must ensure that there are sufficient school places in the area. For secondary education, the area is defined as the borough of Camden. We fulfil this duty by comparing the availability of places in our schools with the need for places expressed by parental preference. Parents, for a whole host of reasons, choose to send their children to different schools, some in Camden, some in other boroughs and some to private schools.

We use data provided by the Greater London Assembly (GLA) team that collates information across London to arrive at projections of the need for school places in each London borough. The basis of these projections is the past patterns of admission to schools, based on the preferences for schools that parents have shown. We take this information and check it with our own local data. The sources of information include all known housing developments within Camden, so the additional growth that the campaigners talk about is taken into account in our projections.

Our neighbouring boroughs go through the same process and are also making plans for dealing with population growth in their own areas.

What the analysis shows is that will be sufficient school places in the borough until 2022/23, including the NW6 area. Our detailed analysis is set out in our annual school place planning report.

It is important to stress what the place planning projections and the Council’s duty don’t do. We can’t provide for unlimited choice. Indeed we are not allowed in law to propose schools where there is no need for a school. If we did, there would be schools with large numbers of vacancies and this would not be a good use of public money, particularly in the current climate.

Review of admissions’ information
We have also looked at information about admissions in response to the concern from parents about getting a place in a Camden school.

To set the scene, wherever you live, you may apply for a place at a state school in any London borough or other area. Parents can name up to six schools that should be listed in preference order on the application form.

It should be noted that the definition of the NW6 area used by the campaign changes, dependent on data/information available. The campaign has used two definitions: first, those Camden residents with an NW6 postcode (parts of Fortune Green, Kilburn, Swiss Cottage and West Hampstead wards) and second an NW6 ‘proxy’ based on Fortune Green, Kilburn, and West Hampstead wards in their entirety i.e. not Swiss Cottage.

It is not disputed that only a proportion of NW6 Camden residents are offered a Camden secondary school. Using three wards above as a proxy, 63%, 54% and 45% for 2012/13, 2011/12 and 2010/11 respectively of applicants from these wards are offered a place in a Camden school. These figures reflect the fact that many NW6 residents put out of borough schools as a higher preference than a Camden school. If they obtain their higher preference place in the out of borough school they are not then considered for their lower preference Camden school.

A number of parents opt for nearby schools in Westminster, particularly Quintin Kynaston which is on the border and St. Augustines CofE Secondary and St Georges RC school.

Analysis of Year 7 applications from NW6 residents shows that a high percentage have been offered one of their top three preference schools whether inside or outside the borough. For 2012/13, 56% of NW6 applicants received their 1st preference school and 84% received one of their top three preferences by September 2012 with comparative figures for all Camden resident applicants (59% and 81% respectively).

It is not true to say, as the campaign suggests, that NW6 residents don’t obtain Camden places because of a shortage. In the latest admissions round for September 2013, 103 of the 190 Camden residents from NW6 (using NW6 postcode) have been offered places at a number of Camden schools, based on parental preference. However, of the total of 190, all 68 applicants from Fortune Green and West Hampstead wards could have been accommodated at Hampstead School as they are closer to the school than many of those non-Camden residents being offered a place. Furthermore, the majority (if not all) of the 122 NW6 applicants from Kilburn and Swiss Cottage could have been accommodated at one of the five non-denominational schools in the north of the borough, including the UCL academy.

If parents had made a local Camden school a higher preference, the likelihood is that they would have been successful in obtaining a place in a Camden school. My job as Cabinet Member is to work with schools to get the message out there of the really good education in Camden’s existing schools so that more NW6 parents choose to send their children to Camden schools, where we have enough places to provide an excellent education for them.
Angela Mason

JonathanSimpson

Previously, on Camden Council

Camden is one of the more progressive councils when it comes to transparency, with webcasts of council chamber meetings and a tolerant attitude to visitors in the gallery taking photos or filming on their phones.

However, even Camden has some way to go when it comes to capturing viewers’ imagination. It needs to look at Whitehorse in the Yukon. The territorial capital has just 10% of Camden’s population (though covers an area 20 times larger) but has a trailer for its council meetings that’s (almost) worthy of The Wire.

Mayor of Camden, or a still from the Sopranos?

MaajidNawaz

Tulip and Maajid to stand for Hampstead & Kilburn

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.

Recyclingleaflet

All in it together

It, in this case, is your blue bag, green box or green wheelie bin (very soon). Yes, it’s recycling news. Or perhaps that should be news about recycling!

New bins, new collection days and new recycling rules – it’s all change for West Hampstead’s eco-warriors as of the start of next week. You should have received a flyer through your door about this. What it doesn’t tell you – but I do below – is where it all ends up.

The old system of green box for mixed recyclables, a brown box for food waste and a blue bag for paper and card has come to an end (although in some streets it would appear it’s never been operational).

@WHampstead NEVER seen a blue bag on @MillLaneNW6— Daniel W (@damawa42) June 29, 2013

Over the next couple of weeks, Camden will be delivering green wheelie bins of various sizes to those of you who requested one from the form sent out earlier this year. You no longer need to separate paper & card from all the other recycling. Only food and garden waste will continue to be processed separately, everything else can be lumped together. Easy. All the details of the changes are here.

click for large version of what you can/can’t recycle now

It’s all been a bit of a headache for the council, however, as people pointed out that there simply wasn’t room outside their properties for another set of bins. Not everyone can be as parsimonious with their waste as local Carol Thomas, who was in the Ham & High this week claiming she only threw away a margarine tub’s worth of rubbish a week.

If we could all replicate Carol then we wouldn’t need the dustbins, but that’s not realistic for most people so instead we’ll have to manage with more containers. Camden has recognised this and will collect recycling from any of your existing bags and boxes if you don’t want a bin. Across the borough, only 8.7% of households chose not to receive a bin. Refuse collectors (or “bin men” if you’re me) won’t take away recycling boxes when they deliver the bins, but wheelie bins and/or boxes can be removed over the following weeks – just contact Camden to request this.

Next year, the council will be aligning recycling and street cleaning so that streets will be  cleaned in the 24 hours followed recycling and waste collection.

But where does it all go?
If you’re interested in where all your recycling ends up then I can tell you: Bywaters‘ enormous 9.2 acre recycling plant in the Lea Valley in east London. I went for a tour a few months ago – anyone can join these tours, just contact ku.vo1492934602g.ned1492934602mac@n1492934602edmac1492934602neerg1492934602.

I recommend it if you’re interested. The tour is noisy and dirty, but Bywaters’ guide was happy to answer any questions, and was upfront about the conditions their workers have to deal with and their low pay, as well as what happens to the bundles of sorted material. What I found interesting was how volatile the global market for recycled material is – one week they can be shipping material to China, the next week to Amsterdam depending on the price.

The future of the Kilburn High Road

Last week there was a joint Brent/Camden public meeting to discuss how to revitalise the Kilburn High Road. Some might argue that it’s not lacking in vitality now, but there’s also a sense that with so many fast food outlets and shabby looking shops it’s time to rethink the KHR.

Eugene went along to the meeting at the famous State building to see what ideas were being tossed around.

“I remember coming home from school one summer and looking at an article from the Evening Standard that called Kilburn High Road “The Dirtiest Road in London”. To me, the KHR seemed bustling but also a genuine community – no cleaner or dirtier than any other road. It was busy and traffic snarled and, yes, that would annoy me but you’d always move beyond that. To me, the character of the road was where people start their journey in London before moving to the suburbs. Certainly my parents did that at one point. So I took an interest in what was discussed here.

Cllr Katz’s view as the meeting fills up

The panel consisted of Cllr Mary Arnold (Brent), Cllr Mike Katz (Camden), Mike Haines from the Local Government Association with responsibity for economy and transport, covering high streets, and Caroline Lynch, a local resident.

Each panellist set out their views on the future of the road.

Mary Arnold highlighted that the biggest new threat seems to be the opening up payday loan shops and too many betting shops. Brent is working with Camden to campaign against the gambling outlets. She talked about implementing a unified police team with Camden and would like a town team lead by residents, which is what they have in Harlesden. She also called for a planning commission on development in Kilburn Square and wants to set up a new business website that needs volunteers to set up.

Mike Katz said he wanted “prosperous, varied KHR”. Although this was hardly controversial. He emphasised that there was no reason why Brent and Camden councils cannot work together on this. He also brought up the payday loan outlets – there are now 12 on the High Road. It is difficult for councils to stop them mushrooming so encouragement needs to be given in supporting credit unions.

Caroline Lynch had some similar perspectives. She also talked about the number of loan shops and chicken outlets. She also mentioned the growing number of mobile phone shops, which, she argued, are encouraging lower budget shops in the KHR. Businesses are complaining about high rent levels and according to a survey she’d carried out, businesses also want Kilburn’s transport links to be exploited so that people get off the buses or trains and spend some money. Caroline also raised the issue of empty shops.

The floor was handed over to the audience who.

There was a question about having a Business Improvement District (apparently citing an example from Toronto). The LGA’s Mike Haines stated that such BIDs need more money and work best if small and large businesses work together with the council.

Someone pointed out that some rents were actually falling due to the recession. There was also a suggestion of “localism classes” to take on the payday lenders [Ed: I have no idea what this means].

There were also complaints that there were not enough live music venues on the High Road”

This last point must be one of the odder gripes given that there actually is quite a bit of live music in Kilburn still. I hope whoever asked that question went to The Luminaire as often as possible before it was forced to close.

Local Lib Dem worthy James King has used the meeting to launch a new website (and what might be seen as a thinly veiled manifesto for a run at the Lib Dem candidacy for Hampstead & Kilburn). At the meeting he suggested an exhibition on the High Road about the Irish immigration to the area.
There is in fact a slightly odd Kilburn business website, although if it wants to be taken seriously it would do well to be up-to-date enough to not cite The Luminaire, which closed more than a year ago, as one of the must-visit venues on the High Road.

Brent Council live tweeted the meeting, and I’ve included a selection of their tweets and a few others below. It was very unclear what the next steps are from this, but at least it shows a willingess for the two boroughs to cooperate. Lets hope willingness translates into action.

Glenda eviscerates Thatcherism

One of the most frequent complaints about Hampstead & Kilburn MP Glenda Jackson levelled by her West Hampstead constituents is that she’s invisible. Clearly not everyone agrees, but for a relatively high-profile person it’s fair to say she’s not as much in the public eye as one might expect.

She of course will argue that she’s too busy working for those constituents who need her to be bothered with press releases and photo shoots. Once in a while, however, she still knows how to make waves.

At yesterday’s session in the House of Commons, Glenda ignored convention and while other MPs from both sides of the house praised Margaret Thatcher to a greater or lesser degree, Glenda stood up and proceeded to give Thatcherism a damn good kicking, referring to the state of education in particular in our constituency when she first became an MP in 1992.

Most of the way through her speech she referred to Thatcherism more than Thatcher. Then, in case anyone was under the illusion that she was hiding behind semantics, she finished off by arguing that the idea that Thatcher had broken the mould for female politicians was a nonsense. She dismissed the achievement, pointing out firstly that during the war women had “not just run the government, they’d run the country”, before concluding that these women “would not have recognised their definition of womanliness as being incorporated – of being an iconic model – in Margaret Thatcher. To pay tribute to the first prime minister deputed of female gender, ok. But a woman? Not on my terms”

Twitter naturally exploded with praise and loathing in fairly equal measure. Some might suggest that we decry bland politicians today and then decry those with the courage to speak their mind. Some might also suggest that – whatever the topic – it’s a shame we have seen so few performances like this from Glenda Jackson in the 21 years she’s been in Westminster.

Thankful the people of #HandK don’t have to stand Glenda Jackson much longer. Her lie-filled, hate-filled rant at Thatcher was disgraceful.
— Oliver Cooper (@OliverCooper) April 10, 2013

If only Glenda Jackson spoke more in the Commons. A great speech, brilliantly and fearlessly delivered.
— Simon (@simonk133) April 10, 2013

@whampstead Glenda Jackson made me feel proud(er) to live in West Hampstead
— Ken Kills (@kenkills) April 10, 2013

KHR: Two councils, one street

One of the challenges that Kilburn has is that is straddles two boroughs: Camden on the east and Brent on the west. Attempts to breathe fresh life into the area, and specifically Kilburn High Road itself are therefore always at risk of falling between the cracks of bureaucracy.

There have been various attempts to have cross-borough groups focus on the High Road, be they police or community-focused. There’s another one kicking off this month with a meeting that combines Camden’s Area Action Group meeting for the ward, and Brent’s “Brent Connects” meeting.

“Brent and Camden Council leaders have committed to reinvigorate the Kilburn Partnership which aims to revitalise the High Rd. Cllr Mo Butt and Cllr Sarah Hayward are supporting plans which will be discussed at the next Brent Connects meeting – a joint forum for local residents from Brent and Camden to be held at the iconic Gaumont Kilburn State, courtesy of Ruach Ministries, on April 17th at 7pm.

Put this date in your diary and come along to discuss the plans and ideas with a panel representing Brent and Camden residents and the Local Government Association (LGA) Economy and Transport.

Plans include improving pedestrian safety and reducing congestion on the High Rd and increasing the footfall by diversifying and introducing new business opportunities through meanwhile or pop-up shops. Ideas for improving access to fair credit and financial support for residents and traders are also topical in Kilburn.” (Kilburn Rose)

If you live in Kilburn, whichever side of the High Road, why not go along and contribute your thoughts and hear what other initiatives are being proposed. The speakers include:

  • Caroline Lynch, Kilburn Resident
  • Cllr James Denselow, Brent Council
  • Cllr Mike Katz, Camden Council
  • Cllr Mary Arnold, Brent Council
  • Mike Haines, Local Government Association (LGA)
Kilburn High Road (date unknown), via Julia Powell

simon_marcus

Tory candidate explains police station position

I received an e-mail yesterday from Hampstead ward councillor and Conservative PPC Simon Marcus about the closure of West Hampstead and Hampstead police stations. Simon, you’ll recall, when asked in an interview with the Ham & High about the area losing its police stations, said, “I think what people want is to see someone in that situation who is getting a result, and, as you know, what I’m trying to do in this difficult situation is get a result. People do not want empty promises and big ideals.”

Cllr Simon Marcus

Whether the difficult situation refers to the budget crisis facing central and local government, or the fact that it’s a Conservative mayor that’s driving through the cuts to emergency services wasn’t clear.

Simon continued, “What I’m fighting for is to replace those police stations with a base.”

In light of all this, here’s the mail I – and presumably many of you – received yesterday

Dear residents,

I am writing a report to be sent to Mayor Boris Johnson in response to the proposed closures of Hampstead and West Hampstead Police Stations.

As part of this report I need evidence to show how important it is that a police base is retained on these sites.

Many residents have mentioned that they no longer report crime in some circumstances. This may be because local police stations are sometimes closed, or for other reasons. However it is really important to gather evidence in order to measure the extent of unreported crime and its nature as this problem could become even more serious if we loose [sic] a police base in the area.

I would be extremely grateful if you could fill out this quick survey. To open and complete the survey, click on the following link http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/BMDPRNC

It will take less than a minute or two and may help us keep a police presence in Hampstead!

Thank you,

Cllr Simon Marcus
Hampstead Town Ward
London Borough of Camden

It wasn’t obvious to me from this whether Simon wants to retain a police base in the existing station, or replace the stations with a base somewhere else. The answer, it turns out, lies somewhere between the two.

“I just don’t think we can save these police stations,” he said. “If the buildings are sold they must only go to a developer that will put in a smaller new police base on the sites at no cost to the taxpayer. In Hampstead, this could be a Safer Neighbourhoods base as well as a community centre. In West Hampstead, it might sit alongside a childcare centre.”

There is of course already a Safer Neighbourhood base in West Hampstead. Why that couldn’t be used as a (part time) front counter for the area remains unclear. Simon agreed that finding the simple solutions and taking them to City Hall was necessary. “We’ve got to go to them,” he said.

In the interim period between closing the police stations and these new developments opening up, which Simon admits could be a couple of years, he says that he’s already been discussing with Camden the possibility of using existing council premises to house temporary police counters.

In the meantime, he’s keen to gather evidence from locals on the levels of unreported crime to underpin the report he wants to deliver to Boris. He vehemently holds the line that his survey is not political and that he’s simply collecting the facts.

Simon’s going to face a conundrum, however. If the evidence shows that crime is under reported when there are police stations, that implies a) the presence of a front counter has nothing to do with crime reporting rates, or b) the front counter service is already inadequate. Yet having admitted that the closure of the stations is inevitable, this leaves Simon in a tricky spot.

There’s also a crucial question missing from the survey: “If you have reported crime in the past year how did you report it?”. Even if the survey shows that everyone is reporting all the crime, then unless we know how it’s being reported there’s not a lot we can do with that knowledge. If 100% of crime is reported via the telephone – to take the extreme scenario – then there’s very little need for any form of front counter. It doesn’t matter what percentage of people say they’ve been a victim of crime and reported it, it’s impossible to derive a meaningful implication for front counter service.

None of which should take away from the fact that it’s a good idea to collect some facts. I get the sense the closure in Hampstead is far more emotive than it is in West Hampstead. When the issue came up at last week’s Area Action Group there wasn’t as much grumbling as one might imagine – the fate of the police horses seemed to give more cause for concern (their destiny is yet to be decided). If the police station was an attractive listed building in the heart of West Hampstead, perhaps locals would have a different view.

Emily Frith: “It’s a dream job”

As speculation continued about Emily Frith’s sudden decision to stand down as Lib Dem PPC for Hampstead & Kilburn, I thought perhaps someone ought to ask her a few questions. So, via e-mail, I did.

WHL: When were you offered this new government job?
Emily Frith: It was the weekend after the hustings [19th/20th January] I was asked to apply, having previously worked for the party on health policy

WHL: And when did you decide to take the job?
EF: Last Wednesday [February 13th]. I wanted to make sure I had spoken to the key people in the Lib Dems locally and to my current employers before making an announcement public.

WHL: What exactly is the position you’ve taken?
EF: A special adviser in Health and DWP [Department for Work and Pensions] issues.

WHL: What was your motivation?
EF: I’ve always wanted to do this job – it’s a dream job.

WHL: Do you see yourself standing as a PPC in the future?
EF: Absolutely – my experience in Hampstead & Kilburn made me realise I definitely want to do this in the future.

WHL: To what extent did the scale of the battle in H&K have a bearing on your decision to step down?
EF: None at all. The seat is extremely close and a key London seat for the party. They are a brilliant team of local activists and I was looking forward to moving up and joining the campaign.

Emily starts her new position on Monday. I wish her all the best. If she wants to stand as a PPC again, I suspect it’s unlikely to be in Hampstead & Kilburn.

Shouting into an empty room: Emily’s gone

No great surprise that the other parties made hay over Emily Frith’s decision to stand down as Liberal Democrat PPC for Hampstead & Kilburn.

It reflects badly on her, and is a headache and a half for the local party (not for the first time).

Conservative councillor Gio Spinella argued on Twitter that a Tory-style primary would have weeded out the half-hearted. Hard to see how – if anything, a primary approach is typically more about style and rhetoric than substance. Spinella admitted that the three Tory candidates had been through a vetting procedure beforehand at which such questions were asked.

Cllr Gio Spinella

When I pointed out the natural implication of his argument

@camdentories that implies the local LDs are so incompetent that they can’t spot a weak link? Do you think that?
— West Hampstead (@WHampstead) February 19, 2013

he stopped short of an outright yes, but

@camdentories I think their candidate quit after a month for another job. I think that answers your question…
— Giovanni Spinella (@GioSpinella) February 19, 2013

Keith Moffitt, local councillor, chair of the Camden Liberal Democrats, and chairman of the PPC selection committee, said that “commitment” was indeed one of the areas that all the shortlisted candidates were grilled on.

Apparently (and frankly, unsurprisingly), it wasn’t the case that she accepted the nomination knowing that there was another option in her back pocket. Instead, Emily was approached at a weekend for newly nominated PPCs and effectively recruited by a minister to become a Special Advisor working, I’m led to understand, across health and pensions.

It’s very reasonable to criticise a minister for recruiting a PPC, knowing how disruptive that would be locally. It’s also very reasonable to criticise Emily herself for committing to the constituency and then bailing out. Surely if this had been a safe Lib Dem seat (are there any of those left?) then her decision would have been different. On the other hand, she has a family and everyone – even a politician – has to think about providing for their children. Being a PPC doesn’t bring any financial reward and it’s a long process. Nevertheless, that’s something you know before you sign up and I would imagine her short-lived tenure as PPC will leave a bad taste in many local Lib Dems’ mouths. Don’t expect her to stand here again.

There will be a pause before the nomination process starts again. Expect to see some more familiar names in the fray – the party has quite a large pool of experienced campaigners from which to draw. Both existing and former councillors could well be in the hat. Could Russell Eagling follow in the footsteps of his partner Ed Fordham who placed third in 2010? Might James King, ardent Lib Dem campaigner and former Kilburn councillor, have a tilt? Janet Grauberg and David Abrahams – also former Kilburn councillors might be tempted. The faithful might be very wary of taking another candidate parachuted in from outside the area.

Meanwhile, as I suggested in yesterday’s post, it would be good to see the Conservatives taking advantage of their rivals discomfort not by ramming it down their throats but rather by hogging the pulpit for as long as they can to tell the voters of Hampstead & Kilburn why they should overturn that 42 vote deficit that kept Chris Philp out of Westminster in 2010.

[update: http://www.westhampsteadlife.com/2013/02/emily-frith-its-dream-job-0056.html]

Another story rumbles on in the background to all this. Nigel Rumble has been a member of all three main politicial parties. At the moment he’s a Labour card holder. He’s been dropping not very subtle hints on Twitter that he’d be an excellent candidate – no-one seems to be talking about him for the Labour nomination and if it’s an all-women shortlist then he’d be ruled out anyway. So, will Nigel be the first independent candidate to throw his hat in the ring?

Unlike the LibDem PPC looking for a quick “safe house”. I have a principle main home in H&K and am part of this wonderful vibrant community!
— Nigel Rumble (@nigelrumble) February 19, 2013

What H&K needs will be an “independent” candidate who engages with the local people of the constituency not for party CV profile building !
— Nigel Rumble (@nigelrumble) January 21, 2013

Emily Frith stands down as Lib Dem PPC

I met Emily Frith last Monday at the local Area Action Group. She seemed rather nice, if perhaps a little timid. I am assured that she can turn on the steely politician-speak when needed.

Emily, centre stage, when she won the nomination

Were she to have had any chance of playing a meaningful role in the next general election then she’d certainly need to find that inner steel. As the Lib Dem PPC for Hampstead & Kilburn she was going to face an uphill battle. But now we’ll never know if she had what it takes as she’s had to relinquish the role as would-be MP just a month and three days after being nominated.

She released a statement this afternoon:

“It is with regret that I have to let you know that I am standing down as the Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn just a few weeks after I had the honour of being selected by Liberal Democrat members in the constituency.

This has come about because I have been offered a job in government in which I will be working to give the Liberal Democrats a stronger voice within the Coalition in key areas where I have expertise. However, as this job is politically restricted I will not be allowed to continue as a parliamentary candidate.

I am very sorry to be leaving the campaign at this stage, as I have enjoyed working with Hampstead and Kilburn’s excellent team of campaigners backed by the strong membership I have enjoyed getting to know in recent months.”

It’s a shame that she wasn’t able to be more specific about the job she’s taking on “in key areas where I have expertise”. One wonders what it says about her belief deep down of her chances of winning this seat. Remember that although the Lib Dems came third in 2010 here, Hampstead & Kilburn was the closest three-way seat in the country but at the moment pundits are calling the next election here a two-horse race.

Now the Lib Dems have to go through the selection process all over again – apparently it’s not as simple as just choosing the person who came second in their ballot. Cllr Keith Moffitt, who leads the Lib Dems in Camden said, 

“Obviously our members and supporters in Hampstead & Kilburn will be disappointed as Emily had impressed during the selection and was already working hard with local campaigners… We will be looking to advertise for a new Prospective Parliamentary Candidate shortly.”

One would think that the Lib Dems need to put up someone that already has a power base in the constituency if they are to have any hope of taking this seat.

Meanwhile, Conservative PPC Simon Marcus will be thinking that the start to his campaign couldn’t be going any better – as things stand he has no Labour or Liberal Democrat candidate to campaign against. This would be a great opportunity for him to set out his stall before the party apparatus falls into the negative campaigning that – whatever the protestations of candidates and party workers – seems to be an inevitable part of electioneering.

[update: http://www.westhampsteadlife.com/2013/02/shouting-into-empty-room-emilys-gone-0055.html]
[update: http://www.westhampsteadlife.com/2013/02/emily-frith-its-dream-job-0056.html]

Simon Marcus elected as PPC for Hampstead & Kilburn

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.””

Emily Frith is Lib Dem’s H&K candidate

Last night, the local Liberal Democrats nominated Emily Frith as their candidate for the Hampstead & Kilburn seat at the next general election.

Frith is the first candidate from the main three parties to be named. The Conservatives will be choosing from a shortlist of three at the end of the month, while Labour are being much cagier and it may not be until the summer that we find out who will be the third name in the ring.

What do we know of Emily Frith. According to one of her two Twitter accounts (@EmilyFrith and @EmilyFrithHandK) she’s a “Blackheath mum”. As Richard Osley has already pointed out, this gives us the (outside) possibility of two consecutive Blackheath residents as MP – Glenda Jackson also lives there. I know lots of you feel strongly about such things.

The more politically focused account, describes her as “a comms advisor working for two national charities. I have over 10 years’ campaigning experience, for charities, community groups & the Liberal Democrats.” Her LinkedIn profile tells us that she’s had experience with the Prison Reform Trust, Driver Youth Trust (a charity for children with literacy problems), as well as for the Lib Dems themselves.

On her own website, emilyfrith.net, the Cambridge graduate explains why she wants to be an MP.

“I’ve seen the job of an MP first-hand, and I think its one of the best jobs you can have. Yes its busy, yes the hours are silly and you are doing at least two jobs – being present in your constituency and campaigning on its behalf in parliament, but the rewards are immense.

I want to be a really good backbench MP. Someone who helps individual families with their housing problems or campaigns on issues like transport or access to local schools. Yes I know casework can be frustrating, when progress is slow and the demands are high, but to actually succeed in changing someone’s life in such a fundamental way is a privilege.

I want to stand up for the issues I care about, which tend to be the kind of Cinderella services which are too often neglected by mainstream political debate – prison reform, children in care, mental health services and homelessness. I think that the intractable seeming nature of some of these problems is really down to a lack of political will to solve them. I want to be a voice for those people whose voices are so often ignored.”

So far, so fairly predictable.

Hampstead & Kilburn is a very high profile constituency, even more so after the incredibly close race in 2010 that saw her colleague Ed Fordham place third, just 841 votes behind Labour’s Glenda Jackson. Emily has a big task on her hands if she is to overcome the antipathy towards Lib Dems nationally and climb ahead of the two other parties. At least, while campaigning on Sunday, she saw at first hand some of the unique challenges of H&K:

“Spotted two celebrities at different times of the morning– James Corden and Matt Smith. This is such a glamorous constituency.”

Before she was selected as the candidate, Emily wrote that she would “Design a strategy to engage diverse groups such as young commuters, families and people from different backgrounds with key messages and different communication tools, e.g., Twitter and Facebook”. Now that she’s been chosen, does this mean we’re about to endure a social media onslaught? Glenda won without much recourse to social media, but Ed – by far the most active online of the three – no doubt garnered some votes because of his tweeting. Aside from the two Twitter accounts, there’s also a Facebook page already.

Based on this trawl of her online presence, Emily seems to be an enthusiastic candidate with a strong record of creating campaigns but it’s not immediately clear what many of these campaigns have achieved. This may just be a communication issue, but she does describe herself as a communications professional.

No doubt we’ll get to know more about her in the coming months – we’re still more than two years away from the election. At least we can be fairly sure that if she should surprise the early pundits and become the next MP for Hampstead & Kilburn, she’s unlikely to disappear off to the jungle. Here’s what she tweeted about Nadine Dorries’ recent escapade:

“Being on telly and eating insects is not a good enough reason for having a month off work. What does #nadine think she’s being paid to do?”

Drop in on Glenda Jackson for advice

Hampstead & Kilburn MP Glenda Jackson holds advice surgeries in the constituency several times a month. If you’ve got anything you want to ask her or want help with, you can just turn up. She’s less able to help with recycling or local planning – those are issues to raise with your local councillors; but topics such as benefits or immigration issues, she’s the person to go to.

And for those of you who complain you never see her in the area, here’s your chance. It’s interesting that she doesn’t hold any of these surgeries in Hampstead itself. Which is either because she believes that the people of Hampstead need less help than those of Kilburn, or perhaps because the prospect of listening to the well-heeled of NW3 complain about their #firstworldproblems would be enough to drive anyone mad.

Anyway, all the dates and locations are below (click image for larger version).

Are West Hampstead entrepreneurs being short-changed?

Is Camden council doing enough to help new businesses in West Hampstead? Local Lib Dem councillor Gillian Risso-Gill thinks not, and had a hefty swipe at the council in a letter to the Ham & High this week to say just that:

“Empty retail and business units have been allowed to stay empty for years, enquiries are rebuffed, premises are not marketed and then put up for auction.”

I have heard stories like this from local businesses – indeed there was one last month that happened on Twitter:

Cllr Risso-Gill also writes: “There is a woeful lack of available business premises in the area and units and sites are still being allowed to change from commercial to residential use.” This is also true, although one prominent example, Handrail House on Maygrove Road, has apparently been empty for some time as the landlord simply can’t find businesses to occupy it. From a residents’ perspective, it is important to remember that the local economy is not just about shops and restaurants, but business services and (light) industry too. What are the conditions they need to operate profitably?

Gillian Risso-Gill at the opening of the first Farmers’ Market

Many of you will be aware that Rock Mens’ Salon has moved from its premises in the death-row strip of shops from 187-199 West End Lane. John, the owner, was able to move fast and take the Broadhurst Gardens site that had been the Millennium Café. Yet he was also able to strike a deal with Network Rail, which still owns those premises, and open the new coffee shop Wired thereby taking advantage of the empty space. Yet, the car hire premises next door remain empty and the leases on all the units there expire in the spring. It is far from clear that building work on that site will start then however, so will the sites remain empty? Cllr Risso-Gill again:

I have asked the council for help to secure temporary tenants in the retail units currently being vacated on the 187-199 West End Lane site, to prevent the area becoming blighted prior to development, but resources are not available.

Of course, Camden’s resources are stretched under the current budgetary regime, yet there is an argument that lack of attention here is depriving the council of revenue from business rates. Lib Dem Risso-Gill finishes her letter with a direct attack on the Labour-led council:

We have a Labour administration that cannot be bothered to manage its assets to generate income and… takes the easy option of mothballing and then selling off every available site [while] the local business community and entrepreneurial spirit that could boost the local economy and create jobs, is being neglected.

Camden’s finance chief Cllr Theo Blackwell responded on Twitter:

What do you think? Should this be a priority at a time when public services are being cut back? Is the money that would come from renting out small premises sufficient to justify the extra cost?

Boris puts kybosh on tube station lift

Navigating between the three West Hampstead stations is already challenging, with narrow pavements, crowds of people and at least one road to cross whichever change you’re making.

Now imagine that you’re not so good at walking – or can’t walk at all. That minor hassle becomes a major hassle. Or would be if it was even worth attempting given the lack of step-free access to the platform.

The Thameslink station does now have proper step-free access (though god help you if there’s one of those pesky short-notice platform changes). The Overground station doesn’t have a lift at the moment, but will get one, perhaps in 2014, having successfully been awarded £1m by the Department for Transport.

Which leaves us with the Jubilee Line station – arguably the most useful of all for day-to-day travel in London.

No-go area for wheelchair users

Lib Dem London Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon recently asked the Mayor:

Do you agree that West Hampstead station, which sits on both the Jubilee and London Overground lines, is a good candidate for being made step free?

Boris provided a written reply (I doubt he wrote it himself, there isn’t a single classical reference in there), of which here is an abridged version:

Regrettably there is no funding to undertake works at the Tube station. Aside from the funding question, the Underground station would not be an easy location at which to install step-free facilities. This is because the small ticket hall sits on a road bridge above the tracks carrying the Jubilee, Metropolitan and Chiltern lines. The station is also surrounded by various separately owned properties and there is no space for a lift.

Customers in the West Hampstead area who require a step-free route to central London or need to access the Tube network can use Thameslink services to a number of stations in zone 1 including King’s Cross St Pancras, Farringdon, Blackfriars and London Bridge, all of which are now fully accessible.

Local resident and wheelchair user Shannon Murray certainly doesn’t mince her words in response:

Regrettably they don’t have the funding to undertake the works, well regrettably I don’t have the ability to undertake walking. I can’t use Boris bikes nor can I use the buses or navigate most pavements independently. It’s easy for politicians and decision makers to distance themselves from the implications of access issues because they don’t really impact their lives.

It is a valid point that there are engineering challenges with the Jubilee Line station and these would push the costs of installing a lift even higher. But it is beyond the wit of man to find some innovative solution to this challenge? I fear that step-free access across the Underground network will never become a reality but, at a major interchange like West Hampstead, dismissing the idea so readily feels like a missed opportunity.

Mill Lane must get creative to attract visitors

There’s a new momentum on Mill Lane. This motley collection of independent shops has tried before to unite behind some self-promotion but these efforts have largely come to nothing. Now, the West Hampstead street that’s often seen as West End Lane’s poor relation has some impetus behind it thanks partly to the arrival of Monsters of Art and the youthful enthusiasm of co-owner Abby Wells.

Several of the businesses on Mill Lane held a preliminary meeting this month to discuss how to boost the street’s profile. Since then, Abby has met with Kate Goodman from Camden Council (Kate ran the place shaping initiative that many of you will remember from earlier in the year), and more of the businesses have piled in with ideas.

What’s the problem?
Mill Lane has a few related challenges to overcome: it suffers from relatively low footfall; the popular businesses are spread out along the street so there’s no focal point; it has one of the highest vacancy rates in the borough (18% in June 2010); and many people, especially those new to the area or passing through, simply don’t know that there are shops down there. Glance down the road from Fortune Green Road and you would be forgiven for thinking it was a predominantly residential street. Yet, as the star prize at whampgather proved, there are enough businesses on the street to create an amazing hamper of goodies. From The Tiffin Tin to The Alliance, Mill Lane has plenty of gems.

Isn’t this the council’s job?
Camden’s West Hampstead placeshaping document, published earlier this year, recognises the pressures facing Mill Lane and sets out ways in which the council could help. It explains that the council cannot fund direct business support, and that its role now is to act “as an enabler to small businesses through signposting them to national and regional growth support organisations.” This also includes pointing retailers to information and providing support to trader groups.

There are some specific actions in the placeshaping plan that refer to Mill Lane.

  • Facilitate engagement with local landowners and landlords to consider how the private sector can help to support a thriving shopping area and reduce the vacancy rate in Mill Lane.
  • Investigate opportunities to carry out further public realm improvement works to the northern part of the town centre and Mill Lane.
  • Lobby TfL to include Mill Lane neighbourhood centre shops on the Legible London signs, to help increase footfall to the area.

This may sound a bit like throwing a life jacket into the ocean, but it’s better than nothing and if it helps the businesses coalesce into one group that can form a consensus on what would most benefit the area then that alone is a big step in the right direction.

The relatively new West Hampstead Business Association could have a role here. However, a separate Mill Lane group that collaborated with the WHBA might be more effective than the WHBA acting as an umbrella group for all local businesses, given the different needs of West End Lane and Mill Lane.

The latest draft of the Neighbourhood Development plan also singles out Mill Lane as in need of its own section. Specifically, it suggests the following six policies should be applied to developments in Mill Lane:

  • A presumption in favour of preserving the look of shop-fronts.
  • A presumption in favour of rejecting proposals to convert retail space into residential use.
  • Encourage a more diverse range of shops and businesses.
  • Improve pavements, signage and traffic calming; remove street clutter.
  • Co-ordinate the developments on the north side of Mill Lane where they back onto properties on
  • Hillfield Road.
  • An urgent need to level the pavements on the north side of Mill Lane.

All this tell us that the problems of Mill Lane are widely recognised. But at a time of limited (read: non-existent) public resources to help tackle them, the onus falls on the existing businesses to overcome these obstacles. Which brings us back to the latest wave of energy washing over the street.

At the November meeting there was broad agreement that public awareness of Mill Lane’s offering was too low, and that the lack of a cohesive feel to the retail units hindered the appeal of the street as a shopping destination. Beyond that, the more ambitious challenge was to do something economically viable with the empty shops

Raising awareness
The immediate solution proposed was to get the council to implement better signage (which would partly fall under the Legible London signage action above), at the West End Lane end of Mill Lane, on West End Green, and outside West Hampstead tube station. Since that meeting, Kate Goodman has said that extra signage to the north of West End Lane will be installed, but played down the idea that there’d be tube station signage too.

The idea of preparing a small brochure to hand out has also been raised, although it’s not clear who would fund this. Camden have broadly supported this idea though, and may be able to help with some of the distribution logistics. Prod from Mill Lane Barbers, whose enthusiasm is also hard to beat, has suggested a caricature poster capturing the essence of the Lane and the businesses on it as well.

One idea that’s likely to prove popular is a late-night Christmas shopping event. It may even be possible to get some footprints laid on the pavement to draw people in from West End Green. Those businesses at the West Hampstead Christmas Market on December 8th could also help promote the street more generally, and there’s talk of having a board at the market showing the press coverage that some of them have received over the past couple of years.

One Lane
The shops also saw that Christmas would be a good opportunity to work on the look and feel of Mill Lane and try and make it a more unified shopping district. Something as simple as having the same Christmas lights in as many of the shops as possible could achieve this – these could be officially switched on at the Christmas shopping event.

An idea that I particularly like is that businesses up and down Mill Lane ‘donate’ parts of their property, (e.g., a back door, shutter, or any outdoor area), to professional artists who will then jointly produce a piece of street art. This concept has worked brilliantly in Middlesex Street E1. It has the potential both to improve the look of Mill Lane and attract visitors.

Breathing life into empty premises
Maximising the use of the empty (or almost empty) shops on the street with pop-up projects (galleries, retail space etc.) was a popular idea. This would help animate Mill Lane, and provide more of a continuous stretch of retail operations along the street. One idea was to collaborate with artists who might rent units for a short period for gallery and/or workshop space. Kate Goodman was in favour of the pop-up shop idea, and apparently there are nine empty shops on Mill Lane that could possibly by used. She is going to find out who owns/manages these properties and forward on their details – a good example of where the council can support these initiatives.

Both the pop-up idea and the street art idea certainly tie in with my own belief that Mill Lane would be well served by becoming an explicit artisan/art quarter. In the immediate term, the local business owners recognised that coordinating so many things popping up is a lot of work and perhaps would be too time consuming for them to tackle (after all they do still have their own businesses to run). A stop-gap measure would be to use the shop fronts as art installations, or hang something in empty shop windows.

Mill Lane needs a bit of love, so why not have a wander along there this weekend and refresh your memory as to what’s available. From carpets to cupcakes, you might be surprised at the shops and services you find.

Fortune Green stays in Hampstead & Kilburn

It always sounded improbable. How could Fortune Green ward disappear off into the clutches of a Barnet-dominated parliamentary constituency, leaving behind its southern neighbours? There was lobbying from all three parties; there was wailing; I heard a rumour that some Liberal Democrats actually gnashed their teeth. The end result: the Boundary Commission’s revised proposals have kyboshed the idea.

The Commission proposed a Hampstead and Kilburn constituency, comprising two Brent wards and eight Camden wards, that would be similar, but not identical, to the existing Hampstead and Kilburn constituency. The Commission did not include the Camden ward of Fortune Green in this constituency, but rather in a Finchley and Golders Green constituency. It also did not include the Camden ward of Belsize, which it proposed should be included in the Camden and Regent’s Park constituency. Both these wards are in the existing Hampstead and Kilburn constituency.

In light of the many representations, such as from Camden Borough Council, that the Commission’s proposals in relation to both Fortune Green and Belsize wards would break existing ties, we have decided that these wards should be in a Hampstead and Kilburn constituency. To satisfy the electorate range, we have decided that two other Camden wards, Gospel Oak and Kentish Town, which the Commission included in its Hampstead and Kilburn constituency, should instead be included in a Camden Town and Regent’s Park constituency. Our proposed Hampstead and Kilburn constituency (which is the same as that proposed by the Conservative Party) comprises wards from two boroughs, as in the Commission’s proposals. Since this constituency would be largely similar to the existing constituency, we have decided that the name should be retained.

In the near term this is all a bit of an irrelevance, but it may not be in the longer term. We all know that the Lib Dems said they wouldn’t back the Conservatives over changes to constituency boundaries as the Tories failed to move forward on an elected House of Lords. In practice, this means that any changes have a Lib Dem’s chance in Tower Hamlets of getting through before the next election. Nevertheless, the revised proposals from the Boundary Commission may carry some weight should the Conservatives win an outright majority next time around (Labour’s already said it would scrap the proposals).

The revised proposal returns Fortune Green to its rightful home as part of Hampstead & Kilburn. There are other changes to the 2011 plans, but the upshot compared to the situation as it stands today is simple: H&K gains Highgate but loses Brondesbury Park. Everything else is as you were. You can view all the revisions across London on this gigantic map.

To recap:
Existing wards in H&K:  Belsize, Fortune Green, Frognal and Fitzjohns, Hampstead Town, Kilburn, Swiss Cottage, West Hampstead, Brondesbury Park, Kilburn, Queens Park

Proposed revision: Belsize, Fortune Green, Frognal and Fitzjohns, Hampstead Town, Highgate, Kilburn, Swiss Cottage, West Hampstead, Kilburn Park, Queens Park

Here’s the 2011 proposal from the Boundary Commission
Here’s the 2012 revision

As I say, this will not happen before the next election (at the very earliest), so it’s a bit premature to start predicting the political ramifications of any such changes.

Choosing West Hampstead’s unheralded gems

Camden council is trying to determine what elements of the built environment make the borough distinctive. These will form a “local list”, defined as “a collection of the features of Camden’s local areas that are valued by the local community and that help give Camden its distinctive identity… These features make a place special for local people, they carry history, traditions, stories and memories into the present day and add depth of meaning to a modern place.”

The council is keen to point out that we’re not necessarily talking about the obvious:

“Often it is the commonplace things around us that give this character, but they may be overlooked because of their very ordinariness. Pubs, shops, places of meeting, places of worship, benches, statues: subtle or idiosyncratic elements; all contribute to the particular character of a place. These things make a place special for local people, and help it to express a ‘personality’ that carries history, traditions, stories and memories into the present day and adds depth of meaning to a modern place.”

However, before deciding what will be on this “local list”, Camden is consulting resident on what the selection criteria should be. This is what any nominations will be judged against – so if you’re interested in this whole idea, then now is a good time to get involved. This is part of a broader government initiative that encourages councils to set out a positive strategy for the conservation and enjoyment of the historic environment.

The draft selection criteria, which are below, have been drawn up in line with English Heritage’s guidance. But Camden wants to know whether the criteria meet the aim of being broad enough to allow for the recognition of a wide range of buildings features and places, but also specific enough so that it allows for rigorous and consistent assessment of any nominated assets.

“Assets” that are accepted onto the list will be parts of the environment that are not already designated, so no listed buildings for example, but which still contribute to a sense of place, local distinctiveness and civic pride. These are known as “non-designated heritage assets”. Sexy.

A non-designated heritage asset may be a

  • building,
  • monument,
  • site,
  • place,
  • area or a landscape
  • street furniture or other structures such as boundary markers, post boxes, memorials, lamp posts, and statues.

It can be important for a whole range of reasons which may include the location of a historical event or being home to an important local artist, a particularly good quality example of a recognised architectural tradition, or it may have strong cultural significance for certain parts of the local community (either now or in the past).

Around half of the borough is already protected by conservation area designation, but the rest of the borough is less well understood in terms of the significance or quality of buildings that may have local architectural, historic or townscape importance. The focus of this local list will therefore be primarily on those areas not covered by conservation area designation, but we will not rule out the inclusion of buildings of local importance within conservation areas if these are nominated.

West Hampstead has two large conservation areas already. South Hampstead is roughly bordered by West End Lane, Belsize Road, Finchley Road and the tube tracks. West End Green conservation area includes the northern half of West End Lane up towards Fortune Green. This still leaves large swathes of our area undesignated.

Have a read of the draft selection criteria below, and if you have any comments you can submit them via the consultation form. I’ll let you know when it’s time to nominate the “non-designated heritage assets” themselves, but start having a think about what makes our bit of Camden distinctive.

Draft selection criteria

To be considered for inclusion on the Local List nominations should satisfy at least two of the following criteria:

Architectural significance/interest this includes assets that
a) are good examples of a style of building that is particular to the local area, and/or
b) are good surviving examples of an historic architectural style, and/or
c) are good examples of the work of a notable local or national builder, architect, engineer or designer and/or
d) are good examples of a particular technological innovation or craftsmanship in building type, material or technique.

Historical significance this includes assets that
a) represent a significant period in the area’s history, and/or
b) are associated with a locally important historic figure, and/or
c) are associated with notable local historic events

Townscape Value this includes assets which play a key part in supporting the distinctive character of the local area, either as a landmark of by being examples of prevailing good quality built form of the area.

Social value this includes assets that have local community, cultural, religious, political educational or economic significance.

In addition, nominations to the list should retain the majority of the original features that contribute to their significance.

Parking’s no joke

When I was a small boy, my grandparents’ favourite joke involved a sign outside a public toilet in a car park that said “Have you paid and displayed”. Oh how we laughed. Well, I laughed the first time, aged about six. After that I laughed politely, then just smiled, and eventually took to walking off in disgust.

I don’t own a car, and therefore the question of paying and displaying is not one that vexes me personally very often. However, for many people it’s a big issue – whether it’s paying for a residents permit or paying to park for 30 minutes so you can pop to the shops, parking is an emotive issue in these parts.

We’ve touched on it before, after Wet Fish Café owner Andre openly mused as to whether the lack of visitor parking was the single biggest problem facing local businesses.

Now is your chance to do something about it.

Camden is in the middle of its parking review focusing on the size of residents’ parking zones (careful there Grandpa), parking zone hours, and pay & display parking hours. If you have views on how your local zones will operate in future, please fill in the online questionnaire or contact ku.vo1492934602g.ned1492934602mac@w1492934602eiver1492934602.gnik1492934602rap1492934602 or 020 7974 4639 to get a paper version.

The consultation runs until 18th June and is an “open” consultation; i.e., there are no specific proposals, the council wants to collect residents’ views. Any proposed changes would then be subject to further consultation.

The West Hampstead Business Association has some quite strong views, and its chairman, David Matthews (from estate agent Dutch & Dutch) has given me permission to reprint the letter he sent Camden on behalf of the organisation.

Dear Sirs,
I write on behalf of the West Hampstead Business Association, a recently formed group set up to support and promote all businesses within the West Hampstead area. Local residents and businesses alike are making every effort to improve West Hampstead by doing all they can to create a pleasant environment and encourage good quality shops and amenities in the area. All of our members sight parking as the biggest obstacle to growing their businesses and achieving these objectives.
The most prevalent concerns of our members are:
  1. The limited number of available Pay & Display parking spaces for visitors in and around West End Lane and Mill Lane
  2. Shared Use bays being rarely available for visitors
  3. The poor provision of Loading Bays for retail units on West End Lane and Mill Lane
Attached is a petition with over 200 signatures highlighting the concern of both business operators and customers.
Clearly for Pay & Display parking to benefit local businesses they need to be in close proximity to West End Lane and Mill Lane and not shared use as these bays are very rarely available to visitors. We feel the following should therefore be implemented:
  • The loss of 8+ Pay & Display bays to form the new First Capital Connect Station should be provided elsewhere and in close proximity to West End Lane.
  • The ‘Shared Use Bays’ in Sandwell Crescent and Dennington Park Road should be ‘Pay & Display’ only as they are very rarely available to visitors.
  • Between 10am and 3pm various parts of West End Lane could accommodate additional Pay & Display parking. Clearly at peak times it needs to be clear.
  • There is currently an overprovision of Shared Use and Pay & Display bays in Alvanley Gardens. If some of these bays became ‘Permit Parking’ there would be no net loss for local residents.
We look forward to hearing that West Hampstead businesses have your support.
David Matthews
Chairman
West Hampstead Business Association

Lib Dems take a battering in West Hampstead

London Elects released the results of the mayoral and assembly elections by ward yesterday. A bit of number crunching later and here are the percentage of votes and change from 2008 for the four local Camden wards (West Hampstead, Fortune Green, Kilburn and Swiss Cottage).

What can we deduce from the data? Well, nothing that we didn’t know already in the sense that the Lib Dems (who have six local councillors – three each in Fortune Green and West Hampstead) took a hammering as they did across the city and across the country.

It is reasonable to take the London-wide assembly member vote as the fairest reflection of party support as it is relatively devoid of the personality politics that beset both the mayoral race and the Barnet & Camden constituency race.

The Lib Dems polled better locally than they did across the city as a whole, taking 10.8% of the vote compared to 6.8% across London. However, if we look at the drop from 2008, the picture is very different. Across London in 2008 the party polled 11.4%, while locally it managed 17.8%. So the percentage point drop locally from 2008 to 2012 was 7 percentage points (or 60.6%), while the percentage point drop London-wide from 2008 to 2012 was 4.6 percentage points (or 59.6%). So even where the Lib Dems are relatively strong, their support was actually worse in this election. This is not surprising, after all it is Lib Dem voters who will feel most aggrieved at their party’s record in coalition.

In most other regards, the local voting patterns were not so different from those across the city: Boris was more popular than his party, while Ken was less popular despite being from this part of London.

The next council elections are still two years away, and the longer-standing Lib Dem councillors in Fortune Green and West Hampstead may feel that their personal stock will still be high enough to secure their seats even if the party continues to struggle nationally at the ballot box. Whether all three seats in both wards will stay yellow, however, must surely be in some doubt.

Boris in, Brian out

The votes from both Barnet & Camden and Brent & Harrow constituencies were counted at Alexandra Palace on Friday. Sadly it seemed no-one mentioned that to the construction crews working on the historic building. The result was a power cut early in the day, which held up counting. Then, at the end of the day, a couple of ballot boxes from Brent turned up containing damaged papers and these had to be counted by hand. It was already clear by this stage that incumbent mayor Boris Johnson was going to beat Ken Livingstone, but Brent is die-hard Ken country, so there was always that slimmest of slim chances. After all, at the Hampstead & Kilburn vote in 2010, it was boxes arriving from Brent that gave Glenda the late and very very narrow victory.

In the end, although Ken got 6,500 more second preference votes than Boris in Brent & Harrow, BoJo’s overall winning margin across London was fairly comfortable.

We don’t have the ward breakdown yet for Barnet and Camden, so I can’t tell you how West Hampstead’s vote compared to that in 2008, but across the two borough here are the results

A couple of notable stats: Barnet & Camden gave more 2nd preference votes to the Green Party’s Jenny Jones than to any other candidate, and voters here also gave Boris less than 400 more second preferences than independent Siobhan Benita. Nevertheless, Boris was more popular in Barnet & Camden than he was across London as a whole. So, a good night for the Conservatives? Not entirely.

As was widely reported, Barnet & Camden’s London Assembly vote was between Conservative Brian Coleman and Labour’s Andrew Dismore. There was a strong campaign to oust Coleman, and indeed his sizeable majority was completely reversed as Labour saw a 14 percentage point swing in their favour as Coleman’s vote fell away.

The CNJ’s Richard Osley was at Alexandra Palace but neither he nor any other journalist could get an interview with Coleman, who arrived for the count but vanished before giving a speech.

Farewell Brian.

The election stats from 2008

For the final part of my pre-election coverage, here’s a breakdown of how West Hampstead and the wider Barnet & Camden constituency voted last time around for the mayor, our local Assembly Member, and for the London-wide assembly member.

First up – the four Camden wards that make up West Hampstead (sorry Brent folk, but you can access all the data).

What does this show us? Well, a fairly strong Labour showing, even in Swiss Cottage, which came down in favour of Boris overall. Despite the Lib Dems’ popularity here as councillors, Paddick’s performance was pretty poor and roughly in line with the London-wide result.

Across Barnet & Camden, you can see the full breakdown on three separate sheets. The Conservatives took all three ballots fairly comfortably – showing the relative weight Barnet has over Camden in this inner/outer London constituency

What are we voting for?

Tomorrow is election day in London, but what are we voting for and how do we vote? I’ve had a few queries about this, especially from people new to London for whom this is their first City Hall election, so here’s a handy guide. If you want to know more about the candidates or their policies, then read my guide to the Mayoral election, and the Barnet & Camden Assembly Member election.

Here’s how it works

Mayor of London
This is the pink ballot paper.

The Mayor of London is elected by supplementary vote. This means you can vote for two candidates in order of preference:

  • Vote for your first choice candidate by marking a cross (X) in the first choice column
  • Vote for your second choice candidate by marking a cross (X) in the second choice column
  • You must mark a first choice, you can choose not to mark a second candidate
  • If you mark only a second choice your vote will not be counted
  • If you give the same candidate your first and second choice, only your first choice will be counted

If a candidate receives more than 50% of all the first choice votes they are elected immediately. If this does not happen (which it won’t), the top two candidates with the most first choice votes go through to a second round. All the ballot papers where another candidate was first choice are then reassessed to tally up second preferences. Second choice votes for either of the top two candidates are added to the totals for those two candidates from the first round. The candidate with the highest combined total of first and second choice votes will be elected as Mayor of London.

What does this mean in practice? Most pundits call this as a two-horse race between Ken & Boris, so if you want to vote tactically, consider that if you vote for either of those two as first preference then your second vote is unlikely to matter. If you want to vote for another candidate first, then voting for either Ken or Boris second probably makes sense. The Green Party, for example, would prefer you to vote Green first, and Labour second. Or, vote for who you’d actually like to see as Mayor – surprises do occur, and this sort of voting sends a clear message to City Hall as to what people’s concerns are.

In 2008, every single ward in London voted either Boris or Ken first, but almost all of them voted Brian Paddick as second preference. As he wasn’t in the top two however, this counted for nothing. The maps below, along with other cuts of the voting data, are from The Guardian.

A fairly clear inner/outer London divide

“And it was all yellow”: 2nd preference votes in 2008

London Assembly – Constituency members
The London Assembly consists of 14 constituency members who represent different areas of London, and 11 London-wide members. In West Hampstead, we are in the Barnet & Camden constituency, those of you the other side of Kilburn High Road are in Brent & Harrow.

This is the yellow ballot paper

The constituency election is first past the post. Simply put a cross against the name of the candidate you’d like to represent you in the London Assembly.

London Assembly – London-wide members
This is the orange ballot paper

The 11 London-wide Assembly Members are elected using a form of proportional representation. 

  • You can cast one vote for the party or independent candidate that you would like to have a London-wide Member seat on the Assembly. 

You can see the full list of parties here. You don’t vote for a specific candidate within each party. Each party will have its own internal list – lets say that Labour wins three London-wide seats, then the top three names on Labour’s list will be elected. You can see on the list I’ve linked to that the first names under the main parties are established London politicians like Nicky Gavron and Caroline Pidgeon.

Votes from across London for the London-wide Assembly Members are added together. The 11 seats are then allocated based upon a mathematical formula (the Modified d’Hondt Formula since you asked). This takes into account the total votes cast in the London-wide ballot together with the number of Constituency London Assembly Member seats that each political party has already won. It is a bit complicated to explain, but basically 11 rounds of calculations take place to fill the 11 London-wide Assembly Member seats, and the party or independent candidate with the highest result at each round is allocated the seat. Seats won by parties are allocated to party candidates in the order they appear on the relevant party’s list of candidates.

What does this mean in practice? It’s pretty straightforward really – vote for the party you’d like to see have as many seats as possible in the Assembly. You might, for example, want to see Boris as mayor but think that having more Green Assembly Members would be a good balance. Or perhaps you think Brian Paddick’s crime policies make him the ideal mayor, but a strong Labour presence in the Assembly might help address some of the other social problems facing the city.

There’s loads more information on all this at the London Elects site.

Polling stations in Camden are open from 7am to 10pm. if you can’t find your polling card, you can find your polling station by postcode. Note that your polling station may not be the one physically nearest to you, as they’re broken down by ward and sub-ward.

Barnet and Camden: the end of the road for Brian Coleman?

As well as electing the next Mayor of London this Thursday, we also get to vote for who represents us on the London Assembly. There are 14 constituency Assembly Members and 11 London-wide members elected based on proportional representation.

In West Hampstead, our constituency is Barnet and Camden, and that means we have to choose between incumbent Brian Coleman (Con), Andrew Dismore (Lab), Chris Richards (LD), Audrey Poppy (Green – with a name like that, had to be), and Michael Corby (UKIP – or “Fresh Choice for London” as they’ve somehow managed to get themselves billed in the official London Elects brochure).

Do we care about who speaks for us at City Hall? Assembly members don’t have a great deal of power, you can read the official line as to the role of the Assembly. The thrust of it is to hold the mayor to account, campaign on various issues, and potentially get involved in large-scale planning issues. One might argue it’s not that important, although one could imagine that if the Assembly was dominated by the same party as the Mayor’s, then there might be a little less scrutiny.

As for the candidates, well, it’s fair to say that Brian Coleman is a controversial figure. I’m not going to list the litany of criticisms that he’s faced – the very fact that there’s a website called “101 Reasons to Sack Brian Coleman“, gives you an indication of his unpopularity in certain circles. From racking up extortionate taxi bills at the taxpayers’ expense, to dismissing perfectly legitimate questions out of hand, this is one elected official who doesn’t kow tow to his voters.

Coleman (left) aiming lower than erstwhile H&K candidate Chris Philp

He’s spotted in West Hampstead from time to time, chatting up small business owners or generally waving the blue flag around election time, but he’s really a Barnet politician (and erstwhile Mayor of the borough). He famously dislikes bloggers. During the general election one Tory aide asked me in front of him whether I’d like to interview him. We answered in unison; him with a pithy “I don’t do bloggers”, and me with a marginally more polite “No thanks, he’s not that interesting to our readers at the moment”.

He objected to both the 187-199 West End Lane development and the Abbey Area development proposals before they went to City Hall but clearly his objections carried little weight as both were passed without amendment. I asked (at very short notice) two of Camden’s Conservative councillors to tweet me a reason to vote for Coleman. Gio Spinella’s reply: “[he has] a proven track-record of sound and firm management with London’s Fire Brigades and one undeniable virtue: with Brian Coleman you will always know where you stand. He won’t equivocate or pander.” Which is probably about as diplomatic as you can get.

Coleman has been in trouble with Barnet council three times this year already. “The council’s standards committee upheld complaints from two members of the public that he had been disrespectful in a series of email exchanges, including one in which he said a lobbyist would have been a member of the fascist Blackshirts 70 years ago,” reported the Barnet & Whetstone Times. Then on April 4th, he is alleged to have called a resident a “twat” and told them to “clear off” during a cabinet meeting open to the public. This wasn’t in response to some abuse, it was in response to a question on the closure of Friern Barnet Library.

I try quite hard to be non-partisan on this blog, but I find it very hard to endorse any politician who appears to have such disdain for his constituents. Or as respected London political commentator Dave Hill puts it, “Coleman personifies vividly a comedic suburban affrontedness rarely found outside of television sitcoms. The spectacle of someone completely in the grip of his own, inexhaustible indignation provides an unexpected intellectual satisfaction.”

Andrew Dismore is a former MP (for Hendon, 1997 to 2010). He’s thought to have a real chance of beating Coleman, especially if Labour’s support in Camden holds up and enough Tory voters decide that they’d rather elect someone who didn’t call the fire brigade union members “thick” (one of Coleman’s three public jobs is as Chair of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority).

Dismore’s experience in Westminster puts him in good stead for the Assembly. While an MP, he chaired the London group of Labour MPs, and was a strong advocate for decent affordable homes – a critical requirement for London both now and in the future.

It’s true that Dismore had his spending come under scrutiny during the MP expenses scandal although he was subsequently cleared by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. Nevertheless, he is almost certainly the only credible competitor to Coleman, and he certainly talks the talk:

“My reputation as a councillor and as an MP was of someone who worked hard for his constituents, and I will do the same as your assembly member. I will be visible, active and engaged. I will not be like the present Conservative incumbent AM, who in the three years since he was last elected, has not written once to the police to raise Safer Neighbourhood Team staffing and deployment issues, nor to Transport for London to raise the Northern Line upgrade, the strategic bus network, or cycling issues, nor to senior Camden council officers about anything at all.”

What of the other candidates? Lib Dem Chris Richards may be Bromley-born, but he’s a Camden boy now, so those of us in the southern reaches of the enormous Barnet & Camden constituency might feel he has more to offer although he lacks the political experience and gravitas of Coleman or Dismore. I can’t find anything about the Greens’ Audrey Poppy except that she came 4th in the 2005 general election in Chipping Barnet. UKIP’s Michael Corby wanted to be the party’s mayoral candidate, and he sets out his stall in this video. The Barnet Eye has an interesting take on the role UKIP could have played in this election: given Coleman’s unpopularity with some voters, UKIP might have expected to pick up votes here, which would have helped them secure seats in the Assembly based on the proportional representation formula. However, Corby has been the “invisible man” in this election.

Coleman does appear, for the first time, to be running scared. Last Friday he apparently went round local shops in High Barnet that had put up anti-Coleman posters and bullied shopkeepers into removing them. One shopowner said, ““He was going mad and shouting. He was right in my face and wouldn’t leave when I asked him. He was intimidating.”

When you go to vote for the mayor on Thursday, don’t automatically tick the London Assembly box that corresponds to your general party affiliation. Have a think about the role of Assembly Members, which is more consultative than executive, and about the type of person you believe should represent you.

London Elects: Groundhog Day?

This Thursday you’ll have the chance to vote for the next Mayor of London. I expect most of you know this.

You will also have the chance to vote for the next London Assembly member representing the constituency of Barnet and Camden. I expect quite a lot of you didn’t know that.

Lets get the mayor out of the way first and deal with the Assembly election in the next post. This is largely a rehash of the last mayoral election, with Boris Johnson (Con), Ken Livingstone (Lab), and Brian Paddick (LD) all standing again. It’s the first time Jenny Jones (Green) has run for mayor, but she was deputy mayor under Ken Livingstone in 2003/4.

Boris, Ken, Brian and Jenny

Why should the 2012 result be any different from 2008? Well, Boris has had four years in office, so to some extent this is a referendum on how well he’s done. Ken meanwhile beat Oona King to the Labour nomination, but having been Mayor for two terms already does the electorate feel he’s had his time to shine? Paddick – who only polled 9.6% first preference votes in 2008 – can’t help but be tainted by the Lib Dem’s fall in popularity since the coalition agreement. Jenny Jones, who has been a London Assembly member since 2000, could be a surprise package this time around, but few pundits are predicting anything other than a straight two-way fight between Boris and Ken. There are other candidates: the inevitable UKIP, BNP and independents, but none have even a distant shot at taking City Hall.

The campaign has been pretty negative so far – a lot of energy is being expended on why you shouldn’t vote for the other candidate – whether it’s because Ken channeled money into a private company to (legally) reduce his tax bill , or whether it’s because Boris supports flights of fancy such as cable cars across the Thames, while being accused of failing to tackle knife crime.

All the negative campaigning makes it hard to get excited about the election at all frankly. What are the key issues in West Hampstead, and what do the main candidates have to say about them? I met Brian Paddick a few weeks ago to get his perspective, which is very heavily skewed to the issue of policing and crime (he’s a former Asst. Commissioner of the Met in case you’ve never heard him speak). In advance, I asked my twitter followers for their main concerns: crime did figure, as did housing, and to some extent transport – and these are really the key concerns across the city I think. The mayor doesn’t have a lot of say over the broader economy or the NHS for example.

Lets take a look at the key policies on these areas.

Policing
This has been one of the biggest bones of contention between Boris and Ken – has Boris cut police numbers or hasn’t he? According to The Guardian,

“Johnson’s campaign is correct in claiming that police officer numbers have risen over his term, albeit only by 2.4% if you take the baseline to be the March 2008, closest to when he was elected in May. But Labour is right that since 2009, the last year that Livingstone budgeted for, numbers have fallen overall by 1.17%.” 

Read the full analysis to decide for yourself whether there’s a left-leaning Guardian bias there. I don’t see it personally.

Boris: “[I will] deliver a massive boost to Safer Neighbourhood Teams, with an additional 2,000 police, including adding up to three police officers, to every team. Each team will also get three Special Constables to further boost police presence in our neighbourhoods.” Read more at http://www.backboris2012.com/crime.

Ken: “If I am elected, I will reverse [Boris’s] cuts. And I will reinstate sergeants to all 600 Safer Neighbourhood Teams, more of which will be beefed up to a minimum of nine officers.” He makes policing one of his “top two” priorities alongside cutting fares. Read more at http://www.kenlivingstone.com/police.

Brian: “We will guarantee 33,500 police in the Met by protecting local neighbourhood teams from the current Mayor’s cuts and putting more police on the streets in communities most at risk from gun and knife crime.” He also advocates the so-called “Paddick patrols”, consisting of “community groups such as residents and tenants associations patrolling in groups to prevent crime and be the ‘eyes and ears’ of the police.” Read more in Paddick’s full manifesto at http://www.brianpaddick.com/london_2012_manifesto.pdf.

Jenny: “We will put more officers on the beat focused on important areas such as road safety, not unnecessary surveillance. We will rebuild trust in the police, especially amongst the young.” (crime is the fifth on her list of five-point plan for London). Read  more at http://www.jennyforlondon.org/fresh-ideas/.

On crime, perhaps only Paddick stands out as having distinctive ideas. He told me that he thinks there are too many specialist officers now and numbers need to be rebalanced in favour of normal front line police. I suggested he was a single issue politician, which he rejected, claiming it was easy to stereotype candidates and he had gone to Oxford and had an MBA and a commercial career before the Met. Nevertheless, when I asked him why I should vote for him, his answer revolved entirely around his crimefighting credentials and crime and police leads his manifesto.

Housing 
The new mayor will have substantial new powers over housing in the capital. It may not be an issue of immediate concern for many Londoners, but for those for whom it’s critical, or for people who understand its long-term relevance for the well-being of the city, the candidates’ housing policies should be of major import. For an overview of the big three candidates’ policies, I’d suggest watching this BBC London interview, but what can we learn from the manifestos?

Boris: It’s notable thought that housing doesn’t crop up at all in Boris’s manifesto. In fact it appears he doesn’t have any new policies at all, which given the new powers and budget seems extremely strange.

Ken: “My focus will be first, to drive down costs and drive up standards across all housing tenures including those who rent from private landlords, those who rent from social landlords and those who own, or are buying, their own homes. As a priority, I will help reduce the price and improve standards of private rented accommodation by establishing a not-for-profit lettings agency that saves tenants and landlords money by avoiding rip-off estate agents’ fees, and creating a Tenants’ Charter that sets minimum standards for rented accommodation. No-one should have to spend more than a third of their earnings on rent and we will develop the case for a London Living Rent.

“Second, I will address the long-term housing crisis we simply have to build more new homes and they need to be affordable to ordinary Londoners to rent or buy. That means making maximum use of land controlled by the Mayor for housing development, and enforcing tough planning regulations so that private developments reflect the needs of all Londoners.” Read more in Ken’s full manifesto.

Brian: “We plan to build 360,000 homes over a decade and will create a new ‘living rent’ standard, so that Londoners’ rent costs should aspire to be no more than one-third of their take home pay. We will work with all London boroughs to restart council home-building and aim for half of all new homes built in London being in the Social and Intermediate sectors by supporting boroughs with the best legal advice to negotiate tough agreements with developers. A London Housing Company would act as a vehicle to assemble public land and match it with private investment, and offer smaller housing associations the ability to raise loan capital through a London Housing Bond. We will create an extra 40,000 homes in the spaces above shops and bring 50,000 currently empty homes back into use.” Read more in Brian’s full manifesto.

Jenny: “Our 10-point plan manifesto pledges to build at least 15,000 new homes a year, and refurbish over a million to help reduce energy bills. We have also committed to reduce rents and provide greater security for private tenants through five-year contracts and the establishment of an ethical lettings agency. We also pledge to help families by making sure 40% of new homes are family-sized, help cooperatives build more homes by establishing a London Mutual Housing Company and helping to set-up Community Land Trusts, end rough sleeping and ensure no one has to spend more than one night on the streets by centralising money for homelessness services in London, campaign against government attacks on housing, campaign for reform, including land value taxation and a ban on foreign investors.” Read more in Jenny’s housing manifesto.

I asked Brian Paddick about planning, as he had commented in passing on the 187-199 West End Lane development. He said that he would ensure that “development density doesn’t adversely affect an area, and he would seek to preserve the nature of local area.” I’m not sure what that means in practice really, but he added that “one of the most important aspects of West Hampstead is its character.”

Transport
For many Londoners this is a huge issue, and one of the few areas where the Mayor has real power as TfL falls squarely under the Mayor’s remit. There are clear distinctions here between the four candidates.Fare structures are always a headline issue. Boris pleges only to “ensure transparency and honesty over fares policy”. Ken simply says he’ll cut fares by October or resign. Under Brian fares will be restructured (and the one-hour bus ticket is surely a good idea that all the candidates should introduce bringing London in line with most major cities), and under Jenny they are guaranteed not to exceed inflation.

Boris: (quoted from his manifesto but stripped of rhetoric) “I will cut delays on the Tube by a further 30% by harnessing new technology and introducing new working practices to ensure problems are fixed urgently. I will reverse the last Labour Government’s decision to stop Londoners getting their Freedom Pass at 60. I will pave the way to the first driverless (although not unmanned) trains within a decade by accelerating a programme to introduce automation on the Tube. I will also ensure that TfL never orders a new train for London Underground with an old fashioned driver cab. I will argue our case for a minimum turnout rule which will prevent union leaders calling strikes with a minority of supporters. I will support the extension of the Docklands Light Railway to Bromley.”

“I will launch a Congestion Busting Plan, including funding for immediate improvements to London’s worst congestion hotspots. I will use the income from Lane Rental, which will tackle road works, to ease the congestion they cause. And I will enact the first comprehensive review of the road network for a generation, with detailed plans to end London’s worst congestion points – seeking improvements for drivers, bus passengers and cyclists. I will also expand our hugely successful Cycle Hire scheme to many new parts of Greater London.” Read more in Boris’s transport manifesto.

Ken: I will cut fares by 7% this year and freeze them throughout 2013. Oyster single bus fares will be reduced from £1.35 to £1.20. From 2014 fares will not rise above inflation.” Here’s the maths that shows how he’ll pay for it. He argues that over his 4-year term, the average Londoner would be £1,000 better off under his fare scheme compared with what would happen if Boris was in charge.

He continues, “I will provide bus services that reflect passengers’ demands for easier travel in the suburbs; offer new ways for bus users to report problems by phone, text and smartphone, and display them online along with TfL’s responses; deal with the roadworks and accidents that cause the majority of bus delays; work with borough councils to identify the main congestion points and bring forward bus priority measures to speed up bus passengers’ journeys; bring forward plans to make all bus stops accessible – there is no point having ramps on all buses if they can’t be used at some bus-stops; improve training for bus drivers to provide passengers with a more comfortable journey – particularly ensuring all older passengers are seated before the bus moves off; and save tens of millions of pounds by cancelling the Tory Mayor’s ‘new bus for London’.”

He also pledges to “work tirelessly with transport bosses to ensure that passengers come first and the Tube upgrade programme is carried out with the minimum of disruption to people’s busy lives; bear down on Monday morning over-runs; and deliver Tube improvements more quickly by ensuring that TfL spends the capital funds allocated to it. I will also ensure that more of the Tube is made accessible to everyone, from people struggling with luggage, to older and disabled Londoners.” Finally, Ken would introduce a one-day 2-6 ZoneSaver card.

On the roads, “I will cut congestion through SMART parking [using apps to find parking spaces]; focus on roadworks; and enable more Londoners to have access to car clubs.” He also has details on his cycling strategy, with a stated focus on road safety – a hot topic right now. For more, read Ken’s full manifesto

Brian: On fares, “Our package of fare reductions will concentrate help where it is most needed: Early Bird discounts for Tube, TfL rail and DLR travellers using the network before 7.30am; a One Hour bus ticket allowing people to hop-on and hop-off buses as you can on the Tube and rail – paying only one single fare; a part-timers’ Travelcard using Oyster technology, so people regularly travelling three days a week can get
the sort of discounts provided by the weekly travelcards; One Day outer London Travelcard. We will review all the fare zones across London so passengers are not disadvantaged. We will end the scandal of Oyster overcharging, and where it does occur, make it far quicker and easier to get a refund. 

“We will speed up work to increase capacity through ‘block closures’ [on tube lines – i.e., closing sections of lines for a couple of weeks, rather than doing weekend work] and bring forward schemes for ultra light rail, tram and additional buses in badly served areas and on overcrowded routes. We will create a London Transport Bond to raise additional investment funds, open to ordinary Londoners, so they get a good return on their savings as well.

“We will give holders of Oystercards a real say in how their network is run just as big companies have to answer to their shareholders, by using existing contact details to consult through email and phone-in votes. We will make a ‘Big Switch’ so all London’s buses and taxis, and most commercial vans run on electricity by 2020, to cut running costs and clear up polluted air, with a clean air zone for central London such as cities like Berlin enjoy. We will pedestrianise parts of central London – from Trafalgar Square to Oxford Street – and run a ‘summer streets’ scheme, like New York.” Read more in Brian’s full manifesto.

Boris, Ken and Brian all want to take control of suburban rail services.

Jenny: I will guarantee fare rises do not exceed inflation and provide greater investment to improve services and reduce overcrowding, raise money for public transport, reduce congestion and improve air quality through a ‘pay-as-you-go driving’ scheme to replace the arbitrary congestion charge. I will clean up London’s buses, converting the entire fleet to low emission hybrid, hydrogen or electric models by 2016. I will introduce 20mph speed limits on all roads where people live, work and shop, and create more pedestrianised areas to create safer and more pleasant streets for those on foot or bike. I will help more Londoners cycle by providing clear, dedicated, safe spaces for cyclists on main roads and dramatically increase training for children.

Cycling is a major – indeed separate – policy for Jenny. You can read much more about it at http://www.jennyforlondon.org/fresh-ideas/londoncycling/. Ken, Brian and Jenny all refer to the cycling culture in The Netherlands as a blueprint for London.

Conclusions
Who to vote for? Have a read of the manifestos, and see what you think. The candidates have plenty to say about other topics, I’ve just highlighted three of the biggest topics. Clearly, the mayor is also a figurehead role, so someone who you feel represents you and this great city may be more important than party affiliation. It feels like a sadly uninspiring line-up this time around. As I waited to meet Brian Paddick in a Primrose Hill café, none other than playwright Alan Bennett walked in. It’s a shame someone of his stature isn’t standing.

Boundary review: securing H&K for Labour?

[this article has been updated several times]

The Boundary Commission’s inital proposals to change electoral constituencies were published a day in advance it seemed by political blogger Guido Fawkes. Today they are online on the Commission’s own website.

There are a lot of changes across London, including to our own Hampstead & Kilburn constituency. If you recall, the seat was won by Labour’s Glenda Jackson in 2010 by a whisker from Conservative Chris Philp, and Lib Deb Ed Fordham wasn’t much further behind. H&K was the closest three-way seat in the country.

Inevitably, therefore, any changes to the constituency are likely to affect the next election. There was talk earlier in the year that the seat would lose its Brent ward, and pick up two of the Westminster North wards, which would swing it clearly in favour of the Tories.

However, the commission’s review suggests something entirely different.

We would keep Kilburn and Queens Park in Brent, but add Gospel Oak, Kentish Town and Highgate that were part of Frank Dobson’s Holborn & St Pancras constituency. This means losing some wards. Oddest of all, Fortune Green would become the only Camden ward in the otherwise Barnet-dominated seat of Finchley & Golders Green. Belsize meanwhile becomes part of a new Camden & Regents Park constituency with four north-eastern Westminster wards and the rest of Camden.

Context
Lets remember first of all that these are just proposals. Why are they happening? The government asked the commission to reduce the number of constituencies in England by 29 to 502, and every constituency had to have a population between 72,810 and 80,473. This is a major change to preview boundary reviews. These sought to try and balance the number of voters in each seat, but it was not a legal imperative. At the moment in England, electorate numbers per seat range from 55,000 to 111,000.

The proposals are up for discussion as the Commission’s report explains at great lengths. If you want to attend a public meeting about it, then there are two for our whole region (North-West London) will be held at Brent Town Hall in Wembley on Thursday October 20th and Friday October 21st

Implications
What does this mean for the constituency of Hampstead & Kilburn? It’s almost impossible to tell, but it’s definitely not great news for Chris Philp, who is surely looking for a safer seat than one that keeps two Brent wards and loses Belsize.

Gospel Oak – home of Alastair Campbell – seems to be fairly strong Labour; Highgate elected two Labour and one Green councillor last time around – so not immediately obvious that it would be an easy task for a Tory candidate to win over voters there; Kentish Town meanwhile appears resolutely Labour.

In other words, the changes would seem to suit Labour more than any other party at least in H&K. Glenda has announced she won’t run again, so if the proposals are adopted will this be seen as a moderately safe seat for someone to snap up? Fiona Millar – Campbell’s wife and free school advocate Toby Young’s worst nightmare – has said she won’t stand. But we’re almost certainly still two to three years out from the next election.

Indeed, changes elsewhere in the country could leave high profile Labour MPs without a seat and H&K might be one to move to. Most notably Ed Balls and Hilary Benn may have to decide who stays and who goes as their West Yorkshire constituencies are redrawn around them. Closer to home, London MP Tessa Jowell’s seat of Dulwich & West Norwood could be split into three constituencies if the proposals are implemented,

For other parts of Camden, the picture is very different. Frank Dobson’s safe Holborn & St Pancras looks much more marginal as Camden & Regents Park as it picks up Belsize and some Westminster wards and loses Highgate (which returns to the fold of the old Hampstead & Highgate constitutency that Glenda represented for so long before H&K). This might explain this tweet from Labour councillor and former Mayor of Camden, Jonathan Simpson: “The review is a bit bonkers, can’t let this happen”.

And what about Fortune Green? Well, the seat it’s joining changed hands from Labour to Conservative at the last election, and could be fairly close again. In the council votes, the Tory candidates were just ahead of their Labour rivals, but both were well behind the Lib Dems. Oddly, therefore, Fortune Green’s 7,000 voters could still have some impact in the vote, but to be the only ward from Camden in a seat dominated by Barnet does feel strange (if you look at how far south-west Fortune Green ward covers – right down to Maygrove Rd – this feels strange. Don’t expect too many canvassers down there)

I’ve left in the info on how to have your say in the abridged version of the document below, which has details for most West Hampstead Life readers I think.
Abridged Boundary Commission Proposals Sep132011

AV hustings in West Hampstead provoke fiery debate

On Wednesday this week, Father Andrew Cain at St Mary’s church hosted Camden’s only hustings debate on the upcoming referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) system.

In favour of AV were local councillor Andrew Marshall – going against his Conservative party line – and Times journalist David Aaronovitch. On the No side sat former Hampstead & Kilburn Conservative PPC Chris Philp and Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden Siobhain McDonagh.

Around 100 people filled the pews at St Mary’s and it was gratifying to see a healthy number of younger people participating. The Ham & High’s editor Geoff Martin presided over proceedings.

David Aaronovitch kicked the debate off explaining that he initially hadn’t felt that strongly about what he described as “a mild reform” until he’d seen the arguments rolled out by the No campaign. He reeled off some figures that ostensibly made the point that while First Past The Post (FTPT) had worked well when there were only two main parties and turnouts were high, it was less suited to today’s lower turnout/multi-party world.

Aaronovitch: “mild reform”

Chris stood up to deliver his speech – still unable to shed that slight hectoring tone that some found offputting during his election campaign. Apart from attempting a very dodgy Yorkshire accent at one stage – the less said about that the better – he set out to suggest that people simply weren’t interested in voting reform and that the whole issue had come about purely as a condition of the coalition agreement. He trotted out the argument that AV would make hung parliaments more likely and argued that this would remove the public’s right to select the government and hand it to the Lib Dems. He made lots of references to the BNP, although didn’t articulate clearly [at least to me] how AV would benefit them – he seemed more concerned to say that he didn’t have any interest in receiving the second vote of a BNP voter and didn’t believe it was right that such voters had more influence over the result.

Philp: “I don’t want the second vote of a BNP voter”

Andrew opened his Yes speech suggesting that in an age of enormous amounts of data, it was ironic that we asked so little about people’s opinions every 4–5 years. “FPTP assumes people are very indifferent to the merits of other candidates.” Although he agreed that people on the doorstep hadn’t talked actively about voting reform, plenty had asked him how they should vote tactically. He also argued that if there were more hung parliaments, that was up to the electorate and if parties wanted to avoid that then they had to do more to get the necessary votes. He also reminded the audience that AV is already used in other elections in the UK – for example in Welsh and Scottish elections and – as has been mentioned a lot – in the leadership elections for both the main parties. Countering Chris’s arguments about FPTP being used in the US, he quipped that Al Gore knew all too well that FPTP didn’t always work.

Marshall: Parties must work harder to get votes

Siobhain McDonagh arrived late and thus hadn’t heard much of what either Yes campaigner had said. She began with a dubious joke about coming from south London before launching into a clearly well-rehearsed speech. She argued that FPTP was simple and traditional with a story about seeing people in her constituency who’d fled persecution “and in their eyes I see a respect for our system.” She also argued that AV would mean giving up the right to influence parties’ manifesto for the “direction of travel” they would follow. I didn’t really follow the logic of this to be honest. She then launched into a savage attack on the Lib Dems over, for example, tuition fees, saying that they “deserve a kicking.”. This did not go down well with the audience who started heckling loudly with cries of “stick to the topic”.

McDonagh: “Lib Dems deserve a kicking”

The floor was now open to questions, of which there were many. There was a lot of arguing between Chris and David over the interpretation of statistics, for example on the number of hung parliaments. Lib Dem PPC Ed Fordham popped up from behind a flower display to ask about the use of AV in other UK elections and allowed Chris to get in a neatly worked jibe about Ed Miliband being the “least offensive” candidate for the Labour leadership.

David claimed that saying that people voting for smaller parties had an “extra vote” was ludicrous, using the French presidential election as his example (the French system is very similar to AV but there is a time gap between making your first choice and second choice as the lowest scoring candidates are knocked out). He undermined Siobhain’s point that FPTP was a British tradition by pointing out the use of AV in Wales and Scotland. One might also argue that plenty of other voting “traditions” have been altered as times change.

The atmosphere in the church was getting more and more fractious, especially as one guy started shouting almost everytime any of the panel spoke. It got to the stage where David was treating him as a stand-up would an annoying heckler and frankly he should have been thrown out.

An unsuccessful Labour PPC from Yorkshire asked how the FPTP campaign would answer voters who thought there was “no point” turning out in very safe seats. He argued that voter apathy was in many cases “realistic apathy” rather than a lack of interest in politics. Chris pointed out that the very safe seats were won by 50% majorities anyway and therefore AV wouldn’t make a difference.

Inevitably someone in the audience opened with “I promise this will be a short question,” before launching into a long statement. Then David took real issue with what he described as a “pious” attitude from Chris who had been saying that all he wanted was for people to vote for the person they wanted to win. Echoing the thoughts, I suspect, of almost everyone in this constituency who lived through the vociferous arguments of all the three parties that only two of them could possibly win. The result: the closest three-way vote in the country.

There was much talk of the fact that Australia uses the AV system – with people reading both positive and negative outcomes from the country’s lengthy experience with it. An erudite Australian stood up and gave his verdict on it – which was wholeheartedly positive and ended up getting the biggest cheer of the night.

The whole audience was getting more lively – my favourite heckle coming as one man stood up and gave a long speech saying he feared AV would put us on the “slippery slope to PR”. “Oh dear,” said an older woman a few rows back – her voice dripping with amused sarcasm. Andrew responded that given the slow pace of electoral reform it must be a very shallow slope. Siobhain, who had let Chris handle most of the answers to the audience, finally chipped in with a comment about the very low turnout she expected for this referendum and Chris finally scored an emphatic point against David who had accused the No campaign of “whipping up apathy”, citing the three months he had dedicated to this.

One audience member challenged Siobhain’s point about simplicity, suggesting that it was odd to champion simplicity for something as important as electing the government, and wondered whether AV would ignite young people’s interest in politics. Chris argued that more dynamic politicians would do that.

The session finally wrapped up – there was no attempt to take a vote and no-one was prepared to admit that the hustings had changed their mind, but it was good to see a healthy turnout and a distinct lack of apathy among these voters.

It will be interesting to see how the Hampstead & Kilburn vote on May 5th compares to the London and national vote given the constituency’s unusual position as a genuinely tight 3-way, where AV might have ended up in any of the three main candidates taking the seat.

West Hampstead & Fortune Green Area Forum report

Monday night saw the latest area forum for the combined wards of West Hampstead and Fortune Green. Maygrove Road resident Matt went along to find out more:
About 75 people braved a chilly February evening to attend this month’s area forum. Through some geographical anomaly Maygrove Road counts as Fortune Green, so this was a good opportunity for me to meet my councillors and find a little about what’s going on in the local area.
Keith Moffitt introduced five of the six councillors for the two wards (Gillian Risso-Gill is on holiday in Antarctica!) before handing the floor to Theo Blackwell, council cabinet member for resources (i.e., Finance), for the first 45 minutes or so.
Theo’s brief cannot be an easy one in the current climate. His role was to outline where and how Camden would need to cut services in order to balance the books. Whilst the figures are sobering, Theo was keen to point out Camden had historically provided “over and above” what is required by law. This will hopefully mean that, even after the cuts, we get more from our council than some of our neighbours.
Theo first explained where the money comes from. I was surprised to learn only 11% of Camden’s income comes from council tax, with a massive 70% coming from central government in one form or another. It’s this central funding that’s being heavily cut in the coming years. Over three years there is a budget gap of £80-100 million. To put that in perspective, this could be plugged by a rise in council tax – a rise of 35%.
This is obviously not going to happen, so the alternative is spending cuts. Camden thinks efficiency savings can cover about half of the deficit. This includes around 1,000 council jobs, which puts a bit more of a human face on the word ‘efficiency’. A few more pennies can be raised by increased fees. Motorists have already been bled pretty dry, but things such as planning applications for large houses or removal of washing machines will start to cost a little more.
It’s at this point when the cuts will really start to bite, and this was where the attendees started to make their voices heard. There was some good debate on the balance between preventative and reactive services: cut £10,000 on home visits to the elderly and you might spend £20,000 on extra A&E admissions.
The take home point was that Camden is consulting on the spending cuts and it’s important to contribute to the debate. The older age demographic at the meeting made me wonder if younger adults will lose out in this debate. Age Concern reps spoke several times at the meeting and are clearly well-organised at getting their points across. Do the 20- and 30-somethings have anything similar? Anyway, if you have some views, get on the website.
The £80-100m is just the spending gap for Camden’s operating costs. Capital spending is a bit of a car crash too. Camden lost out to the tune of £200m with the scrapping of Building Schools for the Future (BSF) funding for new schools projects. Whilst Camden owns about £3.4bn of property, most of this is housing stock. The Council is reviewing how some property assets can be utilised to release funds for new capital schemes.
We then heard a little about what Keith Moffitt calls the ‘jigsaw’. This is a range of building and infrastructure projects around Mill Lane and Emmanuel School. Much of this was over my head (coming from the other side of the ward), but what was clear is just how complicated these interconnected projects are. Problems with one affect all the others, so it’s important that our councillors take an overview of the whole area, particularly as it seems that a different council officer is responsible for each individual project.
Next, a planning officer gave a presentation on the Blackburn Road development. In short, nine floors, residential accommodation for 347 students (University of Westminster), and six business units (probably workshops). Much was made of the safeguards for the area (such as no car-parking for the students), but many were worried about the impact of construction works on an already congested road that is a vital thoroughfare for pedestrians down to the O2. The developer is paying c£500,000 in “Section 106 monies” (which will be spent by the council on offsetting the impact of the development), but the student accommodation will bring in nothing in council tax revenue. However, perhaps it will provide a useful shot in the arm to the shops on West End Lane. As long as the students don’t overcrowd the Lower Ground Bar…
Flick Rea then talked about the library consultation, which had launched earlier in the day. Camden is looking for £2 million in savings, which means either closing libraries, or reducing opening hours across the board by up to 50%. Flick felt the consultation was unimaginative and did not even consider things such as library sharing across boroughs (Kilburn library for example sits on the boundary of Camden, Brent and Westminster boroughs). There was widespread horror that the council had paid a private contractor £25,000 to draw up a simple consultation document. I’d have done it myself for £10k!
Finally we heard from the chair of Friends of Fortune Green. Since the Sager building (think Tesco Express and Gym Group) went up, the residents have got together to make sure their voice is heard, but also to improve their local community. Some modest National Lottery grants, together with some free labour from Community Payback has meant that lots of painting and planting has been happening on the green. They are currently looking at improving the play areas to keep things interesting for the over-5s. Bravo.
Whether the council listens to us on all the current consultations remains to be seen. But it is at least consulting on lots of things at the moment. Please do make your views known, if only so that we can have a good moan on Twitter if we’re all ignored!

Area group postscript : Burn, baby, burn

After the Area Group meeting had disbanded, West Hampstead Lib Dem councillor Nancy Jirira approached me to make what were distinctly party-political points.
“The Labour party in Camden,” she said “needs to be managing more efficiently, rather than just focusing on ‘cuts cuts cuts'”. She accused Labour – now in control of Camden council – of a lack of imagination, and argued that the proposed cuts were “officer-led” decisions rather than being developed by political debate. 
“There could be much more business process re-engineering,” she argued (that’s ‘doing things better’ to you and me), based on her experiences of working for a local PCT. She couldn’t tell me what proportion of the £80 million in cuts could be delivered through efficiency savings vs. cuts to services/programmes. 
She also thought that Labour, as the opposition party nationally, should be holding the government to account, even though her own party is in government. In fact, she came come across as disillusioned and disappointed with Labour as a whole. Which is no doubt how many in her own party feel about the path that their own leadership has taken them down.
She also said that it was crazy that schoolchildren were going on demos, and seemed to be blaming Labour for that too. I pointed out that most of the anger about changes to education funding was being directed towards Lib Dems over the broken promise on tuition fees. 
In what may be a representative position of Lib Dem councillors across the country* she was clearly extremely sympathetic to the protestors. “They can burn Nick Clegg’s effigy if they want,” she said, which is an odd thing to say about the leader of your own party. 
Do other Camden Lib Dems hold similar (if less publicly expressed) views? Will all six West Hampstead and Fortune Green councillors run under the Lib Dem banner again? Might some with a strong personal reputation be better placed running as independents given that the Lib Dems could get hammered the next time we go to the voting booth?
*wild speculation – probably

West Hampstead & Fortune Green area action group

On a cold Monday evening, Liberal Democrat councillor Keith Moffitt (West Hampstead) kicked off the first combined area action group meeting. This is the successor to the local area forums. All six of the local councillors were present (all Lib Dems).

The audience – around 80 people, the vast majority being older members of the community – settled down as Keith mentioned that they had publicised the event on Twitter and on the two local blogs. He asked if anyone except me had come because they had seen it promoted online. No-one had.

A man behind me said sotto voce “Twitter is one of the most ridiculous pointless things I’ve ever heard of”. I wondered whether he’d ever even seen it. Keith introduced me, which I wasn’t quite expecting, but I sensed only mild curiosity rather than active interest.

There was a really quick rundown of projects funded by the £10,000 per ward improvement fund (inevitably that isn’t being offered again). These included two new benches (Agememnon Rd/Ulysses Rd and top of Fortune Green Rd); a “give-and take” event at Emmanuel School in March; new dog/litter bins and hanging baskets on Mill Lane.

One project – improvements to the paved area around the library – has yet to happen, but it is still being planned. A plan to use Mill Lane Bridge as a community art project had to be shelved due to health & safety concerns apparently.

Thameslink station
The session kicked off with a team from the Thameslink programme bringing us up to speed on the developments at West Hampstead Thameslink station. They had a powerpoint presentation that no-one could read, which was ill-thought out. The headline news is that the platforms will be ready for the longer 12-carriage trains by December 2011, but the new trains won’t be fully installed until 2015.

The plans for the station on Iverson Road have had to be adapted to bring it within budget. The changes are largely in materials although it’s clear that the initial plans were on the ambitious side. The station is also due for completion in December 2011.

As you all know, the pavement is being substantially widened on the north side of Iverson Road. The existing embankment is being built up and paved, and this should alleviate some of the congestion between the stations.

The design of the wall running from West End Lane to the station has been adjusted – and will now be a flat wall rather than with “profiled bricks”. There’s been an invisible change to some water flow issue and the zinc roof is becoming aluminium, so will look different from above but not from ground level (makes you wonder why they went for zinc in the first place).

Finally, the sedum roof (i.e. the one covered in greenery) is being replaced by a separate larger area of grass at ground level.

All the construction materials will now be delivered trackside and not by road, so there shouldn’t be road congestion. The timetable is also designed to ensure that work takes place on weekdays during working hours.

There were plenty of audience questions, and rather a lot of talking at cross-purposes. Someone pointed out that with all the street clutter outside Starbucks, Costa etc., this was still a pinch point. Keith explained there would be a sizeable project in 2011 to widen West End Lane pavements, and that tackling this issue would be part of the January phase of that (the plan is for work to be done up the west side of WEL and then back down the east side. Expect more traffic disruption for most of next year then).

There was another question about how a car club has procured more spaces than it had apparently bid for, which went unanswered, and one woman appeared disproportionately angry that the pavement had been widened on both side of the street without consultation. Keith said he thought this might just have been a lack of clarity on the diagrams, to which she replied rather ominously, “Lets hope for your sake it is”.

There was a more measured question about lighting. Network Rail explained that there will be strip downlighting all along the wall between West End Lane and the station, and the footbridge will also be lit. This should minimize glare for residents, while ensuring enough light for safety.

The existing station on the north side of the bridge will close, and there will be ticket barriers under a weatherproof shelter there that will be manned (or left open). There will also be ticket machines.

Strangely, despite the longer platforms, there is no provision for extra platform signage. Given the frequent platform changes and running delays on the service, the information boards are of course very useful, but clearly they won’t be visible from further along. Roger Perkins, the communications manager for the Thameslink Programme, said he would look into this and that there may be some other sources of funding available. It seems crazy to extend platforms and not think about extra signage.

Roger then explained the service improvements. As was announced last week (and mentioned on my weekly round-up) the Thameslink programme survived the spending review but the completion date has been pushed back from 2016 to 2018. This drew inevitable groans.

The new trains won’t appear until 2015 (although there will be a few longer trains in service from the end of 2011 using leased carriages) but even then very few if any will stop at West Hampstead. Priority for the extra capacity will go to the fast commuter trains from Bedford that are fast from St Albans. Most of the trains that stop at West Hampstead head down to the Wimbledoon loop, where many of the stations can’t be extended.

It began to dawn on everyone that we’re enduring quite a lot of disruption for not much immediate benefit. Eventually of course, more longer trains will be rolled out and services that do not go down to Wimbledon will use them. The major benefit to locals will be that there will be new routes opening up beyond the Bedford-Brighton/Sutton services, but these routes are yet to be decided.

Roger also said that 5,000 seats had already been added to rush hour trains – but again, not necessarily to services stopping at West Hampstead.

Appropriately, Keith now announced that we were now running 20 minutes late.

Policing
Seargeant Dave Timms of the West Hampstead Safer Neighbourhood Team spoke very briefly and wanted some input/feedback on how best the SNTs might be deployed. As he explained, they were suffering from funding restrictions like everyone else so they are very open to hearing how the public would like them to operate and whether the current organisation (where they are strictly ward-based) was appropriate. You can contact the team here.

Shopping
New West Hampstead councillor Gillian Risso-Gill then discussed the issue of shops on West End Lane and Mill Lane. This is a emotive issue, as we know from the response to the “Changing Streetscape” blog from August.

She argued that West End Lane was faring relatively well in the aftermath of the recession, with very few units remaining empty for long. Glo of course being an exception and Mill Lane showing a more mixed picture. She argued that Tesco can live alongside independent shops and helps increase footfall. This met with a mixed reaction from the crowd.

Apparently, no-one other than Sainsbury’s had expressed any interest in the Best-One site. She also said that Penguin – the vintage boutique opposite the Overground station – is closing due to retirement rather than for financial reasons.

The main thrust of her talk was that we should look at other avenues for smaller retailers, such as markets. There was notable vocal support for a farmers market, although the issue of where it would be is tricky. The Christmas market, which is very clearly a retail opportunity and not a ‘festival’, will be on West End Green, but this is probably not big enough for a full-scale farmers market.

Someone asked what happened to the market that used to be at the O2 car park, which has moved to Eton Avenue (perhaps not realising that the car park solution was in fact temporary and the market was originally in Swiss Cottage).

A woman who works at West End Lane Books argued that the lack of parking was a big problem and stopped people from coming to West End Lane. This wasn’t especially well received by the councillors. Surely, if we’re trying to get local people to local shops then they can walk or use buses? It’s very hard to see much being done to increase parking in the area.

A more sophisticated issue is that of rates and rents and planning use. One local businessman said he knew of two chain restaurants that were actively looking to move into the area, but wouldn’t say which.

He also said he’d heard a rumour that M&S was going to take the Pizza Express site. This is an extension of the rumour a while back that Sainsbury’s was going to take that site, which a Pizza Express spokesperson categorically refuted when I put it to them earlier in the year. I am not convinced that site would work for M&S, but we shall see.

“Multiples” (as chains are called in the business) do of course bring footfall, but they can also afford to pay top whack in terms of rents, which raises the baseline level on the street, squeezing out smaller players. The audience member cited examples where rents had rocketed from £28,000 to £43,000 with change of use and suggested that the planning department could do more to control these changes of use.

Someone suggested whether Camden could turn a unit into a sort of permanent pop-up shop, allowing rotating use of the space. The idea was well received, but Keith pointed out that the council doesn’t own any units on West End Lane. Whether they could enquire/put pressure on landlords of empty units when they are available remains to be seen.

Not surprisingly, the issue of Tesco (and soon Sainsbury’s) delivery lorries came up. Fortune Green councillor Flick Rea explained that the Tesco on her patch had been expected to use a delivery point at the back of the building but it turned out the lorries couldn’t access this service area because it was too low. She is looking at getting a delivery bay built into the street as there is room there.

The West End Lane Tesco remains a problem as the company sees the constant parking fines as simply part of the cost of doing business.

A man from Fawley Road asked what he admitted was a NIMBY question about where Sainsbury’s delivery lorries would park. Flick said that she hoped it would be possible to have a conversation with Sainsbury’s about this, as they were more socially amenable than Tesco.

Budget cuts
The final topic of the evening was the budget cuts in Camden. By the time you read this, these will have been debated in the council chamber, and at this stage the programme of cuts is light on detail. Keith pointed out before the discussion started that legally this couldn’t be a party-political discussion as it is funded by the council*.

Given that much of this was hypothetical I shall keep this section short and wait until the budget plans have been approved for a longer discussion of how cuts will affect West Hampstead.

The nub of the issue is that Camden needs to cut £80 to £100 million of its budget, which is approximately 10%. Councils of course have statutory commitments and discretionary roles. Camden historically has been a council that has prided itself on going the extra mile but inevitably some of these discretionary services would have to be cut or provided by the voluntary or private sectors.

Keith also pointed out that there would be job cuts: 1,000 positions would go although many would happen through early retirement or posts not being filled rather than redundancies. However, plenty of jobs are on the line.

Libraries are one service that always receives a lot of publicity. It seems inevitable that some Camden libraries will close. Keith seemed reasonably confident that West Hampstead would not be one of them. However, whether it can remain in its current state is not clear. It is expensive to run (behind me a voice whispered authoritatively that it costs £290,000 a year to run WH library of which half is staff costs).

There was some confusion as to whether the mobile library service had already been cut or not. A tweet the following day from Camden suggested that it hadn’t been cancelled just yet and Alan Templeton from the Camden Public Libraries User Group (CPLUG) seemed to think that nothing had been definitively decided. However, he also believed that council officers had already decided which libraries were for the chop, suggesting Belsize, Chalk Farm and Highgate as the most likely casualties. He argued that no library was safe however, and locals should definitely adopt a “use it or lose it” attitude.

Other conversations discussed community centres and children’s services/play services. Keith mentioned the rebuilding/expansion of Emmanuel School, which has been discussed at length already. The issue of whether the possible new primary school on Liddell Road is the best location was also mentioned but not discussed.

And that was that. Not everyone had stayed to the end, and most scarpered off into the dark cold night as soon as the meeting was brought to a close. Surprisingly, no-one asked anything about the proposed student accommodation, although Keith mentioned it and there was a handout about it.

*unlike the conversation after the meeting drew to a close.

Jonathan Simpson: Camden’s Musical Mayor

I enter the Mayor’s parlour on a wet Saturday afternoon clutching an espresso from St Pancras. The mayoral ermine is on display, along with an incongruous golden football boot in a cabinet that also contained silver cake slices masquerading as trowels (for ceremonial brick laying you understand), punch bowls and goodness knows what else. But how does the man who has to wear the robes feel all this mayoral bling fits his rock’n’roll image?
Camden Mayor, Jonathan Simpson, 36, doesn’t immediately strike me as someone who is going to be over-excited by the regalia of office. When I meet him, he’s wearing a suit as casually as one can, and is certainly not weighed down by the chains of office.
The Mayor has been a councillor since 2002, initially representing Fortune Green for the Lib Dems. In May 2005, he controversially defected to Labour over the Lib Dems’ Asbo policies and was subsequently elected to represent King’s Cross in 2006, which he held in May this year. Away from public office, his private-sector career is in the area of regeneration. He has also served as a special constable in the Met and was a board member of the gay rights organisation Stonewall from 2000 to 2002.
Despite not being at first glance the clichéd image of a fusty ceremonial mayor, The Mayor tells me that every Wednesday he does indeed don the ermine for the weekly nationalisation ceremony. “It’s very humbling,” he says. “Sure, there are Americans who’ve lived here for 10 years but there are also people who’ve fled their home country to come to the UK.”
This is just one of the many roles the Mayor has in Camden. Unlike some London boroughs, such as Tower Hamlets and Hackney, Camden’s mayor is an ambassadorial position with no political or executive powers. The mayor also chairs council meetings, much in the way of the Speaker in the House of Commons. The mayor is nominated (and therefore de facto elected) by the majority party of the council and holds office for 12 months. With Labour in overall control of Camden council, there will be no rotation of the post between parties when it comes time for someone else to be elected next May.
Simpson takes the apolitical nature of his position extremely seriously. He politely declines to answer any overtly political questions, but also backs away from anything that might be only remotely construed as political. I ask what he sees as the biggest challenges facing Camden over the next few years, beyond the obvious financial constraints brought about by the cuts that is. Even this is clearly risky territory.
I get the sense that as a relatively young mayor, he is determined not to let what seems to be a naturally open and conversational manner get the better of him. The most he’s prepared to say is that “anyone would have to be anxious about public services.” He won’t even be drawn into anything particularly quotable on how he feels about spending a year away from the cut and thrust of council debate.
Caution is perhaps the best approach for an office whose last occupant, Omar Faruque Ansari, was stripped of his responsibilities in January after being arrested on suspicion of benefit fraud.
When conversation turns to pushing the merits of Camden, Simpson is of course anything but reticent. With the incredible Gothic revival frontage of St Pancras looming large in the window behind him, it is easy to agree when he says, “We have some of the most amazing places in London outside of Westminster, and we’re much cooler than Westminster.” Camden is full of “bohemian, vibrant, young people”. It was this that first attracted the Mayor here when he was a student at UCL in the 1990s. “I came to Camden ‘cos it was fun. I absolutely loved the place.”
This perspective on the borough (formerly the three boroughs of Hampstead, Holborn and St Pancras) informed the Mayor’s decision to choose Camden’s musical heritage and its plethora of live music as his ‘mayoral theme’.
“More than a thousand people work in the live music industry in Camden and there are 61 live music venues.” The figures are well rehearsed, although almost certainly include those Kilburn High Road venues that fall on the Brent side of the road but that have willingly been adopted by Camden’s marketing machine. Of course The Roundhouse is one of the best known and loved of the live venues and The Roundhouse Trust, which helps kids get involved with the arts, is the mayor’s chosen charity for his term of office.
Simpson has also given his tenure as mayor a slightly edgier vibe by asking his good friend and BBC London radio presenter and self-proclaimed “chubby glamourpuss” Amy Lamé to be Lady Mayoress. He confesses that he thought she’d say no, but her American roots came to the fore and “she’s milking it.”
Simpson’s passion for music is evident. Did I know, he asks, that Morrissey’s guitarist Boz Boorer is planning to put on a regular rock’n’roll night at The Alliance on Mill Lane? I did not. The first one is November 27th.
He still manages to go to live gigs, even if the first part of the evening is usually in a work capacity. For someone who ceremonially comes after only the royal family and the Lord Lieutenant in the pecking order, it’s great to see him talk enthusiastically about electro-punk band Robots in Disguise, who performed for some excited kids and bemused parents at Holborn Library a couple of weeks ago.
Simpson confirms that his job is “absolutely astonishing”. “You can’t comprehend the amount of work it is. It’s certainly not just drinking tea and opening fêtes. I have done 340 events so far since being elected [in May], including opening the Kentish Town Baths and meeting the French ambassador.”
It strikes me as refreshing – and utterly appropriate for an inner London borough – to blend the historic paraphernalia of office with a younger, alternative outlook on the merits of the area. It would be a worthwhile legacy if subsequent mayors felt similarly able to find a theme that matched their own interests, rather than feeling pressured to focus on something more predictable.
Indeed, as I walked past the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras on my way back to West Hampstead, I found myself hoping that the next Mayor will also manage to marry the dignity of office with a bit of Camden joie de vivre.

Hampstead & Kilburn as it happened

The early indications when I arrived at the Hampstead & Kilburn count were that it was going to be close. It was too soon to tell quite how close.

180 counters split between H&K and Holborn & St Pancras first had to verify the ballot papers. This means checking that the number of votes in the ballot box is the same as the number of votes that is supposed to be in the ballot box. As they do this, dozens and dozens of party supporters, candidates, council candidates, campaign teams and number crunchers – hover over them like hawks trying to keep track of how their candidates are tallying up. It looks complicated (and slightly intimidating). Pages of tallies are then fed to the geeks who presumably make extrapolations, predictions and prognostications, which seem completely pointless given that the actual result is only a matter of hours away.

There were some inevitable problems with the redrawn boundaries. Some ballot boxes had to come over from the Brent wards that now form part of the new constituency. Of course with two voting papers, people make mistakes and put parliamentary ballots into the council ballot box. These papers also had to be dispatched to Haverstock school and were one of the causes of the lengthy delay in the first count being finished.

During lulls in counting (for example while waiting for the Brent boxes), the rosette-wearing phalanxes descended into the refreshment area where the media was largely camped out along with some Camden staff. The groups coalesced into pockets of red, blue, yellow and green, all grouped around the TVs. Every time Labour held a seat a roar went up from the red corner. Whenever the Conseratives gained a seat a similarly man-sized cheer erupted. There weren’t very many cheers from the yellow camp.

Any sense that Ed Fordham might romp to victory in Hampstead & Kilburn, therby justifying the exceedingly short odds available on him, was clearly evaporating. “It’s very close” was the anxious utterance from all sides.

As the count neared its conclusion, the ballots for each candidate were bundled together in groups of 25, topped with an appropriately coloured piece of paper, and placed together in long rows. In even ‘quite close’ races, this makes it reasonably easy to see the state of play. Who’s got the longest set of bundles should be easy to judge by eye. Frank Dobson’s victory over Jo Shaw in the Holborn & St Pancras seat was evident well before anyone clambered on stage. In the H&K counting hall, however, the blue pile was opposite the red pile and they looked to be exactly the same length. The yellow pile was next to the blue pile and although it was hard to be sure, it did look marginally smaller. Confined to the media zone though it was hard to get a clear picture.

Tamsin Omond claimed she’d seen a pile of votes for her, relieved that she’d at least made double figures, but it seemed very clear that this was a three-horse race (who’d have thought?) and the other candidates were not going to figure in any meaningful way.

Talk of a recount had been floating around for some hours. Ed told me that he would leave any such decision to his agent, but that a gap of around 500 might be worth a second look. Chris – whose emotions normally seem to be held in check – had quite an animated conversation with me, expressing a lack of comprehension as to how on earth Glenda’s vote was holding up so well.

Some time later, as we all waited for news, he blasted through from the counting hall, urgently looking for somewhere private to talk to his wife. With a face like thunder, one might have expected the worst, but a glance at the votes suggested that he was right in the mix.

The final Brent votes arrived. It looked as if Ed Fordham was out of the race now, unless.., unless there was a significant number of these “loose” ballots. Chris was unlikely to pick up many votes from Brent, so could this be Ed’s chance to catch up. The report was that the pile of new ballots was slim, and thus so were Ed’s chances of living up to the pre-election hype. The faces of the yellow rosettes were struggling to muster smiles. We were down to two.

Sky’s journalist Orla Chennaoui, who had been hanging around with her camera crew since well before the count started, scooted over with an eavesdropped tip – just 50 seats split Chris and Glenda. A recount was inevitable. Tamsin came over with a printout of the actual figures. It really was tight, Glenda’s lead was closer to 70 than 50, and Ed Fordham was less than 1,000 behind Glenda too. The others were all a long way back with the Green’s Bea Campbell comfortably in fourth.

A 15 minute break was called before the recount, and we all took the opportunity to refuel. Then the counters filed back into the hall and off we went. It seemed that every counter was being scrutinised by two or three campaigners. Chris stalked around the outskirts, looking in at some counters. Everyone was exhausted, so who knows how they were able to concentrate.

Ed knew he was beaten, but found time for some supportive words for Tamsin who deep down must have hoped to do better than her 123 votes. “You ask the questions and there are only two answers”, he said philosophically. I guess you can’t go into politics if you’re not prepared for losing.

There was a small whoop and cheer from a corps of red rosettes. Game over? Chris walked past. “How are you feeling?”, “Yeah, I’m fine.” It seemed there would be no second recount.

The candidates took to the stage – well, some of them did. Gene Alcantara, the BNP’s Victoria Moore and, more surprisingly Bea Campbell didn’t appear. Personally I think that it’s a disservice to the people that bothered to vote for you not to turn up to the result. Glenda was grinning widely amid cheers.

The returning officer read out the votes starting with Alcantara’s 91 and finishing with Chris Philp’s 17,290. The crowds cheered “Glen-da, Glen-da”. She had won by 42 votes.

It was approaching 9am. Glenda stepped forward to give her thank yous. There was a defiance amid the usual winning humility. She singled out Chris, praising his clean campaign. No mention of Ed who had played more on her residency in Lewisham and lack of activity. The Lib Dems might have a different perspective on the Conservative campaign, after an intense spell of “Vote Fordham get Gordon” literature.

Glenda talked of her pride in being the first MP for the new constituency of Hampstead & Kilburn and reiterated that she’d work hard for all residents of this area. Elsewhere, there were mutterings that she’d somehow achieved this Houdini act on the back of a couple of leaflets and some hustings performances. Apparently a Tory press officer had admitted earlier that they had expected Ed to take the seat, but the forest of literature pushed through our doors and into our hands by the Lib Dems and the Tories had ultimately been for nothing.

Chris stepped forward and was very gracious in defeat, although didn’t congratulate Ed for his strong showing. Ed paid generous and warm tribute to Glenda,and thanked his campaign team amid cheers. Some people may even have had something in their eye. Ed – just 841 votes behind Glenda – said that the independent spirit would live on in NW London.

Nationally, it had been a night when the Conservatives good cheer was slightly muted and the Lib Dems had looked shocked from the moment the exit poll came out. Locally, it seemed that the scare tactics and jockeying for position as the true rivals to Labour had ended up splitting the anti-Labour vote. The night was now the day. It was over, and it belonged to Glenda Jackson.

National to local

As we watch David Cameron give his thank you speech having delivered a 22,000 majority in Witney, the situation in Hampstead & Kilburn is looking close and people are slightly tense.

There are a few issues with ballots that have wrongly ended up in Brent, there’s an issue with the constituency map up on the screen (it’s a Camden map that doesn’t show Kilburn, but is being fixed), but the main count has begun and it’s too close to call.

Have we all got caught up in a local bubble and missed the bigger national picture – the Liberal Democrat surge clearly hasn’t delivered anything meaningful across the country (although Nick Clegg may well still have a very important role to play). Does this mean that Ed Fordham’s campaign on the ground will have been for nothing? It’s going to be close and, as I just reminded Chris Philp, the Conservative candidate’s name is the last on the ballot and will be the last to be called – and thus the result won’t be known until that moment. The H&K 1-2-3 could be a bit of a surprise.

Where are we again?

It’s 12.40am. The green room (which has purple tablecloths) is buzzy. Lots of rosettes everywhere – yellow, blue, red, green, and others. There’s a large TV showing the BBC coverage and another that seems to flit between ITV and Sky. I’m parked on a table with @camdenvotes and two young (with a small “y”) Conservatives (with a big “C”), who are doing important things with pieces of paper.

The counting rooms are busy and noisy, the tables surrounded by party members and candidates verifying the counters’ activities. To the uninitiated (me) it seems a bit chaotic, but clearly it’s a well-oiled machine. At least I hope so.

So far have spotted only three parliamentary candidates – Chris Philp, Magnus Nielsen and Natalie Bennett (the Holborn & St Pancras Green candidate). There may be others from H&SP of course. Keith Moffitt, leader of the council, told me that the concentration required now is like “doing your finals having run a marathon”.

Decision time in Hampstead & Kilburn

So, here we are at last. Election day in Hampstead & Kilburn.

It’s been fun covering the campaign in my own small way over the past few weeks, but very soon all the bickering, sniping, politicking and – dear god – leafleting will be over.

I have tried to remain impartial. Indeed, I only finally made my mind up a few days ago as to who would get my vote. I’ve never been a floating voter before – it was rather disconcerting. Some of you will have an idea of my intentions. Many may have the wrong idea, and hopefully some of you have no idea at all. It doesn’t matter anyway.

Whether you are casting your vote for Gene, Beatrix, Ed, Glenda, Victoria, Magnus, Tamsin or Chris, do please vote. It matters. We are in a tight seat in a tight national election. I personally believe that in this constituency, tactical voting is too hard to judge.

I am voting for what I believe in. I urge you to do the same.

Tamsin Omond “met a woman on the High Road”

After my first interview with Tamsin Omond before the election kicked off, we agreed we’d speak closer to voting day to see whether her ideas had resonated with Hampstead and Kilburn constituents, whether she had a cliché’s chance in hell of becoming an MP, and whether that confident manner would be battered and bruised by electioneering.

“I think it’s going really well. About midway into the campaign we realised that whatever our ambitions had been, it was best to keep them small and beautiful.”

Day after day of door knocking, flyering and general canvassing have certainly tempered Tamsin’s ambition. “Whether we get 20, 40 or 2,000 votes I think we’ll be chuffed,” she argues initially. Probe a little deeper though and there’s a less flippant answer. “I’m not going to predict that I’ll win but I do need some votes. We would like a mandate to continue to build over the next four years, but to do that we need to get some votes, so anything between 200 and 1,000.

Tamsin urges anyone who might have been thinking of voting for her to do so, or if people are disgruntled with the others, then vote for her. She continues to argue forcefully that she’s not denting the other parties’ votes at all.

“I met a woman on the High Road,” she says (not spotting the leaders’ debate rhetoric), “who was shouting , ‘How dare you stand here, you’re going to split the left’. But I found it really easy to say that none of those votes naturally belong to Glenda or anyone else.”

Tamsin has focused her campaign largely on Kilburn, with some door knocking in West Hampstead and Queens Park. She has canvassed at all the tube stations but otherwise ignored Hampstead where the houses are further apart, there’s only one person in during the day, and they “like to have long conversations, before telling you they’re voting Liberal Democrat.”

In Kilburn, immigration is the overwhelming issue – she’s the only candidate I’ve spoken to who says this – although it is usually related to housing, drugs or benefits issues. She expresses real concern over the popularity of the far right but says that when she talks to these voters, it’s often a matter of explaining why some of these problems have arisen and having the discussion. These are not intransigent people.

Assuming she doesn’t win the seat, what next? She is determined to build on the platform she has created here, and excitedly tells me that six council candidates across the country have said they will defect to The Commons if elected. She also needs to focus on fundraising if she is to mount a more serious challenge in four or five years time.

And for those undecided voters, or those who have never voted before. Why should they put a cross next to Omond on the ballot paper. “Because I’ll be the most enthusiastic conversation starter they’ve ever known.”

It’s a tight race here in H&K, and many people will be casting their vote for the main three parties. But if the idea of something different appeals, or if you are disillusioned with the whole system, head down to the polling station and consider giving Tamsin your vote to help her build something more credible next time round.

Ed Fordham is “in it to win it” in Hampstead and Kilburn

Ed Fordham is sporting his golden Liberal Democrat rosette when we meet at the café that overlooks the swimming pool at Swiss Cottage Leisure Centre. They’ve run out of his normal almond croissants and he has to change to a chocolate one. “Is that a bad sign?” he asks. “Fordham in fourth-place shock!” He has no plans to finish fourth although is exceedingly diffident when I presume he will predict a Lib Dem win in Hampstead and Kilburn. “No no no, not at all. All the coverage is flattering, but if you believe the coverage you’re sunk.”

Ed has certainly had plenty of media exposure, but is also the most active of all the candidates on social media sites, especially Twitter. “I’ve got people helping on the campaign who I’ve contacted through Twitter.” His Twitter relationships have also allowed him to personalise some of the thousand or so letters he signs a day, with hand-written short messages on the envelopes.

The intense level of engagement is one of the biggest changes in this campaign from the others he has contested (the 2005 general election for Hampstead & Highgate and the 2006 local election for Hampstead ward). “I’ve knocked on tens of thousands of more doors and tried to make it more personal. I’ve also been to low-profile groups, such as an alcohol abuse centre in Brent, in order to get under the skin of the constituency.”

As for the issues on the doorstep, Ed says that international issues crop up regularly as of course does transport. The economy is a backdrop, but people’s questions are usually very specific on issues such as corporation tax rather than on the deficit. “The other issue is that people are stunned you’ve knocked on their door and the reaction is usually ‘you’re the first person who’s bothered’, although sometimes you know that’s not true because you remember their doorbell.” Ed’s normally relaxed manner occasionally gives way to this pride in remembering detail – of people’s doorbells, dogs, addresses. One cannot accuse him of not knowing the “manor”, although whether people need an MP who can recollect the type of flooring in their hall is unclear. And “manor”? Is that not a bit ‘East End mafia’ for H&K? Ed laughs, “I prefer David Beckham swank.”

I raise Glenda’s concern that a Lib Dem or Tory win here would leave the vulnerable neglected. Ed responded by citing the lack of any “positive intervention” in the south Kilburn housing estate for the past 18 years (although this presumably includes the last five years when his colleague Sarah Teather was MP for that area). “People underestimate how much power and influence an MP can bring to bear, and if you decided to act proactively you could achieve a lot for the people in that area.”

The Conservatives have made much of Ed’s quote on the NW6 blog that he wouldn’t work with them in a coalition government. Of course that interview took place before Nick Clegg began suggesting that he might be prepared to work with David Cameron. Ed stands by what he said in terms of his personal position, but of course recognises that his own views are irrelevant should a Tory/LibDem coalition be on the cards.

This is just one issue that has caused spats between the blues and the yellows. I suggest that all the main candidates seem to get on well, with the exception of Ed and Chris. “It’s fair to say I get on very well with Tamsin and Bea and Glenda,” replies Ed. “I just find the Conservative campaign slightly disingenuous based on all the various claims of who’s said what, who might not have said what, and how that’s been interpreted.”

The question of who’s really in with a chance of winning of course crops up. Cheekily, Ed slips in one of his many rhetorical questions “Could it have been a three-way race? Absolutely. But as soon as the Tory surge stopped, not on the ground – Chris is still rushing everywhere, the thirty-somethings of West Hampstead suddenly weren’t talking about Cameron.” He thinks that the Lib Dem vote has hardened, and is convinced that Labour is in the race but as for Chris Philp’s chances, “I think the Tories could get the shock of their lives. “

Ed claims that he hasn’t been getting ahead of himself, and hasn’t thought about what his first actions will be if he wins. Then he proceeds to tell me in some detail what he’ll do if he wins. He wants to bring together everyone who has an impact on people who live in social housing, from council housing officers to GPs. He also wants to call a meeting of every significant religious figure in the constituency to “get the conversation going,” and to encourage greater understanding not just between religious groups but between the different parts of this diverse seat.

As for national politics, Ed – like Chris – voices an interest in education among other things, but says he thinks you end up taking what you are offered. For the first four years, howeve, he just wants to be a local MP.

And if he doesn’t win? While Chris jogs over Hampstead Heath, Ed will be tidying his flat (not Chris’s flat – I think that’s very unlikely), but is unsure after that. “There are quite a few books I’d like to write,” he says. “And Mogadishu looks pretty exciting”.

It’s time to go – he’s off to the Ham & High offices next door to be photographed voting early. But there’s time for the final question. Why should we vote for Ed Fordham on May 6? “Because you’ve made a positive decision to do that, rather than made a negative decision about the other parties.”

Chris Philp on the record

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.

Can Gordon save Glenda? The PM comes to Kilburn

Sadly, I missed all the excitement of Gordon Brown’s hardcore day of touring London seats, including our very own Hampstead & Kilburn. Disappointed to have been unable to cover this for you, I’ve asked the very partial (but also the very present) Mike Katz, local Labour activist and council candidate for Camden’s Kilburn ward to write a few words. Also read Richard Osley’s account here.

“I’m sure the North London Tavern on Kilburn High Road has had its share of excitement, but today must have been a cut above the norm.

Dozens of Labour party supporters, local press and TV crews crammed into the pub’s upstairs room to hear the rallying cry for the last week of the election campaign from Hampstead & Kilburn’s Labour candidate Glenda Jackson, and the Prime Minister.

Gordon Brown was in great form, especially for a man who has just spent the last month on the road, and a bullish mood saying he was going to ‘fight every single moment of the day until Thursday’ to make people aware of the threat to jobs and the economy if the Tories take power. Glenda was full of passion too, talking about the importance of realising the potential of “our greatest natural resource – our people”.

Much of the news coverage focused on what happened afterwards. Some local Lib Dems turned up to heckle, so most of us bounded outside to ensure they didn’t have the last word. There was some largely good-natured badinage and a bit of jostling but nothing too serious.

Given our enthusiasm, and the fact that we were trying to stay on the pavement to avoid the traffic, we all ended up crowding round the door on Christchurch Avenue making it more or less impassable – so it’s no big surprise that Mr & Mrs Brown had to use an unorthodox exit (through the cellar, I believe). I didn’t actually see them come out, just heard a big cheer and the crowd instantly moving off afterwards. All that was left was to crowd round a BBC reporter and chant ‘Glenda, Glenda’ to make sure no-one was left unsure of the hearty Labour support in Kilburn.

Some people do this every day in the election campaign. It was fun, but once was enough. I prefer a gentle stroll from door-to-door myself.”

Boris Johnson is back

Just three short months after his last visit to West Hampstead, Mayor of London Boris Johnson was back in West Hampstead with a gaggle of local Conservatives around him including of course Chris Philp. Boris wandered up West End Lane, before ducking into The Wet Fish Café much to owner André‘s surprise (although they didn’t buy a coffee).
Boris and Chris then emerged to applause from the Tory supporters

And then made their way over to The Alice House, where various locals, party faithful, journalists and #whampers were waiting. Robert Webb turned up too, but studiously (and sensibly) ignored all the hullabaloo and had a smoothie tucked quietly out of the way.

There followed the obligatory entertaining, rabble-rousing speech from Boris about how we had to choose between Conservatives or a hung parliament; how West Hampstead (as opposed to Hampstead & Kilburn) was a “hinge of fate”. “He who holds West Hampstead holds London,” said Boris, hyperbole flowing as usual. He spoke of the fears of a hung parliament and the potential for Brown and Clegg to be “dickering and bickering”. To emphasise each point, Boris seemed to hit Chris in the chest. Which can’t have been pleasant.

Ashford MP Damian Green was also on hand and gave a slightly less verbally dextrous speech about erosion of civil liberties while Boris and Chris had a coffee.
There was some Q&A, although when the panel are on first name terms with the audience, one wonders quite how impromptu some of the questions were. There were few challenging questions, although Boris did tackle briefly the issue of funding for Crossrail.
Boris then did a few interviews with some weary looking journalists, who seem to know that there’s little chance of getting anything meaningful out of him, while I was introduced (for the second time) to Brian Coleman and asked if I wanted to interview him. I didn’t, which is just as well as he told me that “I don’t do bloggers.”
Tamsin Omond turned up, some blue cupcakes with pictures of David Cameron turned up, and slowly people began to disperse and eventually Boris too was on his way.
 

Glenda Jackson: The Interview

It’s Tuesday morning in Labour’s rather basic campaign office on the Kilburn High Road. Glenda is discussing campaign strategy amid piles of envelopes waiting to be delivered. A large Hampstead & Highgate peace banner hangs from the ceiling. I wonder how Kilburnites feel about that as I wait.

Over a coffee in the back room, Glenda Jackson sets out her prediction for the election. “A Labour government, with a much reduced but workable majority. But there’s a long time between now and next Thursday and many things can happen.” She’s right. The next day, Gordon Brown has his run-in in Rochdale.

Of course, Labour’s MP for Hampstead & Highgate for the past 18 years is unlikely to predict anything other than a win for her party. As for her own position, she is “perfectly prepared” to accept that this is a three-way race. This marks a change from some weeks ago when she was in the only-the-Conservatives-or-Labour-can-win-here camp. But denying the Lib Dem’s surge nationally, or Ed Fordham’s strong candidacy locally would now seem disingenuous.

Competition aside, how does this campaign differ from previous years? “There is a huge buzz on the street. People know it’s a very serious election and are taking it very seriously. On the specific local issues, the overwhelming issue in this constituency is the lack of affordable social rented housing. And there’s the perennial issue of planning. People here are very concerned about maintaining open spaces. You do see the benefits of government thinking – not only acknowledging the importance of open spaces as breathing spaces, but also as places where children can play in safety and as part of improving health.”

Perennial issues are one thing, but how is the double Oscar winner being received herself? “I’m pleasantly surprised at the reaction to me and the Labour party. There have been attacks on me personally by my opponents, which has never happened before, on the issue of me never doing any work.” The Liberal Democrats have branded Glenda “the least active MP in London” on the basis of her mentions in Hansard, where she compares unfavourably with Brent East’s Sarah Teather in particular.

She has defended her position at hustings and, after expressing outrage at the accusation, reiterates her point here. “I don’t need to stand in the rain,” she says, referring to Ed’s oft-used line about his lobbying of TfL over the Jubilee Line closures. “I can pick up the phone. There is a difference between achieving and doing a press release”.

I suggest that perhaps it’s an issue of visibility. “I can only go on what I do,” she says, frustrated, “and if it isn’t particularly visible, well there’s nothing I can do about that. A lot of the stuff I do in the constituency, such as visiting schools or mental health daycare centres, although I think it’s important I don’t think it’s necessarily newsworthy.”

She admits to finding it a bit disconcerting when the image is more important than someone’s actual presence. I suggest that visibility and broader engagement through modern tools such as YouTube and Twitter might be one way to counter people’s impression that she is not active. “I have a Facebook and a web,” she replies before (unneccessarily some might suggest) pointing out that she’s IT illiterate. It seems the benefits of modern political communication methods have not won her over although after the interview she asks more about Twitter.

She raises herself another criticism levelled at her by opponents: her decision not to live in the constituency. She argues that London constituencies are interdependent anyway, that she frequently spends every day of the week in the area, and that constituents’ concerns extend beyond the boundaries.

The final issue that has been a thorn in her side this campaign is her age. She is 73, and one journalist was brave (foolish?) enough to suggest that – should she win – she’d be a walking by-election. Her response then is her response now. “I found it absolutely outrageous given that we’ve just passed an Equality Bill and I thought we were doing away with these kind of ‘-isms’. She says she was reselected for the constituency three years ago and has never thought of changing her mind although this would be her final term were she to win.

So, what leads her to think that an outright Labout majority is possible when the polls suggest otherwise? “My reading on the street is that the underpinning for this election is the economy, and this delicate recovery has to be looked after. And the other thing I’m getting is that people don’t regard this as a broken Britain. The greatest natural national resource this country has is its people and their imagination, creativity and adaptability. There is this sense that when this country is in tough times we pull together. We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again.”

She is also an ardent supporter of Gordon Brown, and claims that she encounters similar support for him on the doorstep. “Honesty is a big word that comes up”. She also says people comment on Brown’s solidity and how Cameron and Clegg seem like little boys in comparison. “You think about Mr Cameron going to Europe and negotiating for us, with the people he’s lined up with… it’s crazy.” Her lack of conviction in Cameron is palpable.

“I know Gordon extremely well, and I’m absolutely stunned at the endless litany of abuse he gets. You couldn’t be more authentic than Gordon Brown. He is passionately committed to this country, to the Labour Party and to its founding principles of equality, opportunity, and social justice. I’ve had serious arguments with Gordon, not least on 42 days [the proposed time suspected terrorists could be held without charge], which I voted against, but he doesn’t bear grudges and he values debate.”

The bookmakers have her as third favourite in Hampstead & Kilburn. If she loses, what does she fear will happen? “It would be the neglect of the most vulnerable. We’ve already seen [with the LibDem/Conservative Camden council coalition] costs increasing for pensioners, the removal of 24/7 care in sheltered housing, funding slashed for youth services. They’re protesting they wouldn’t take away the Freedom Pass, but I have my doubts.”

Referring back to the issue of affordable social housing, Glenda cites the situation in Hammersmith & Fulham. “I believe the chair of the council [Stephen Greenhalgh] is the Conservatives’ housing guru. They are deliberately destroying social housing because they don’t want mixed communities, they want to ‘sweat the asset’, which is the expensive land.” More broadly she argues that we would lose a fifth of our SureStart centres and “in a nutshell, it would certainly be those who most need government support who would lose it. That’s the Big Society idea, what it really means is charities and the voluntary sector and if you don’t meet their criteria, tough.”

The passion in her voice rises. “To turn back what we’ve managed to achieve after those two home grown recessions of the Conservatives… the schools in this constituency have been genuinely transformed from when I was first elected. And to think that we would have millions of British people on the dust heap…” her voice trails off in quiet anger. “The Conservatives may protest they have changed but they haven’t.”

Her commitment is evident and her drive undimmed judging from the glint in her eyes when she is fired up. Whether it is enough to get her the votes she needs is far from obvious. So why, in a sentence, should anyone put a cross next to her name. “I always become a shrinking violet when I’m asked these questions,” she replies, causing a look of mild disbelief to cross my face. “Contrary to popular opinion, it’s the constituents more than the constituency that dictate the work of an MP. That’s why it’s so humbling.” She actually says a lot more. It certainly isn’t a one-sentence answer as she talks about political movements, voting against her own party, and the relationship between an MP and constituents.

I ask her again to complete the “I should vote for Glenda Jackson because…” sentence. She utters a slight sigh, implying that slogans and soundbites hold no interest for her. “What you see is what you get. You know what my political affiliations are, and my commitment to these people in this constituency is absolute. They take priority.”

Should she lose, what next? She replies, deadpan, “I have a fantasy that I’d be a jobbing gardener.”

Will the people of Hampstead & Kilburn decide to send her on permanent gardening leave, or will this at times formidable, at times deeply personable and passionate woman be given one final opportunity to be our MP? You decide on May 6th.

Hampstead and Kilburn hustings report

Another Thursday, another election debate. But who needs Brown, Cameron and Clegg when you have five of the eight parliamentary candidates for Hampstead & Kilburn to listen to.

The London Jewish Cultural Centre played host to this Ham & High hustings and the room soon filled up. To capture the mood of hustings, read Sarah’s excellent report on Tuesday’s West Hampstead library hustings. Here I attempt to assess each candidate’s performance on the various questions, see whether there was an overall winner, and then look briefly at where we stand in this three-way marginal. It’s a long blog, if you want to skip to the verdict or to the specific topics (‘Clegg effect‘, Europe, the role of MPs, education, Brent Cross and Israel), then please do.

My views here are of course subjective, but are based on how I felt candidates performed and were received in the room, rather than on my views on their policies.

From left to right we had Conservative Chris Philp is his obligatory open-necked shirt, independent candidate Tamsin Omond with her shock of blond hair, Beatrix Campbell from the Green Party but wearing all black, incumbent Hampstead & Highgate MP Glenda Jackson wearing Labour Party red, and suited Ed Fordham, the only candidate sporting an old-school rosette, yellow in his case for the Liberal Democrats.

Each candidate was given a couple of minutes to introduce themselves.

Ed spoke in broad terms about the “sense of something else” in the air, and made the point strongly that our votes counted while mentioning electoral reform. Glenda went big picture too, saying that nothing less than the future of our country was at stake, and the decision was between moving forward or stasis. She plied the Labour line that the economy was the key issue while we are in this period of fragile recovery and dismissed any notion of voter apathy – even before last week’s opening TV debate.

Bea gave us her potted biography, citing her working-class roots and how the state education system, NHS and housing program had been at the heart of her life. She lost her thread in the middle and had the air of an undergrad tutor leading a seminar. She sounded much more old Labour than Green. Tamsin’s opening was the most polished of the candidates, if sounding a little rehearsed and speech-like rather than conversational. She confessed that after some experiences during this, her first campaign, she didn’t like being a politician before using her time to say that not voting wasn’t the worst thing that could happen, the worst thing was for politicians to fail to engage with constituents who then felt that the BNP was their only option.

Chris was last to go and opened with a cheap gag about Nick Clegg that was met with louder groans than laughs. He reinforced his local credentials both as resident and campaigner before being the only candidate to really mention party policy at this stage and to criticise Labour’s overspending during the boom years.

Winner: this was Tamsin’s round, despite drifting perilously close to a rally speech, she was the most eloquent and came across as the most passionate.

The first question from the chair was about the sustainability of the Nick Clegg effect.

Ed disarmingly said that it was so extreme that it didn’t feel real and argued that there was the election the electorate was thinking about and the election that the media was reporting on and they were not the same. Glenda said the impact was largely due Clegg’s previous anonymity and that we were “supposed to be an adult nation” who wouldn’t be affected by a media story.

Bea thought the Clegg effect wouldn’t be forgotten whatever the election outcome, referring to a “potent sense of collective self-discovery.” Whatever that meant. Tamsin got the first proper laugh of the evening by saying she was surprised at the post-debate reaction because she “didn’t think Clegg had been very good”, going on to praise Gordon Brown’s performance.

Chris didn’t really answer the question, instead saying that the election was a choice between “more interference” or a “new approach”. He also pointed out that all the candidates were sporting a “campaign tan” from being out on the sunny streets so much!

Winner: a tie between Ed and Glenda

At the previous Ham & High hustings, Tamsin had been in the audience and UKIP’s Magnus Nielsen had been on stage. The situation was reversed here, and Nielsen got to ask the first question, which was about Europe’s plan to carve us up into regions.

Glenda was very dismissive, citing the very raison d’être for the European project – namely to bind France and Germany in a peaceful relationship. Chris set out his pro free-trade stance although didn’t believe in forcing states to do things “against their will”, making a bizarre comparison to the former Yugoslavia. He of course argued in favour of a referendum on treaties but is in favour of EU membership.

Tamsin’s short answer was that “We’re in it so we should make the best of it”, while cautioning over relinquishing too much sovereignty. Bea gave us a history lesson, which concluded that the UK was better off as part of Europe. Ed talked about holding referenda on some big issues but not to unpick all that had gone before, and distinguished between the idea of “difference and division”.

Magnus then plugged his blog [link from UKIP site doesn’t work], and – having been prompted by Glenda to the amusement of all – his book [which I can’t find on Amazon, although he said it was available there].

Winner: Chris, despite his Yugoslavia reference

The first question from the floor was about MPs’ availability, the questioner suggesting that the constituency hadn’t had an accessible MP for 30 years.

Glenda, MP for 18 of those 30 years, was given first bite of the cherry. She said she was “shocked and stunned” at that assessment, and said she was available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. She argued that “the work of a MP is what constituents demand of me”. She became a bit irate and said she was hurt by the question. Ed talked about his local achievements as a campaigner, and how MPs had influence if not power.

Bea, who lives just over the border of the constituency, said she’d “like to answer the question in a slightly different way”, eliciting a heckle of “again?”. She had a dig at Tamsin’s desire to represent everyone and said that constituents didn’t need “looking after”. She also pointed out her activist background. Tamsin sought to clarify her position. “I will be your representative”, she explained before saying that she would be “the most energetic conversation starter you have ever known.” At this point Tamsin seemed ever so slightly like Bea Campbell’s mini-me.

Chris felt it necessary to mention his local wedding again, before telling us his nickname used to be Tigger. The question of who exactly had saved Hampstead police station came up, with Chris saying that Ed’s intervention had been irrelevant, whereas he himself had spoken to the decision makers. Glenda chimed in that the police stations had “never been under serious threat”, to looks of disbelief from Ed and Chris and boos from the audience.

A woman in the audience then put it to Glenda that if she lived in the consituency (she lives in Lewisham) she would have fought harder on issues such as the closure of the South End Green sub-post office.

Glenda put up a very robust defence both on that particular post office issue depsite cries of “Shame” from the audience, and on her place of residency. She argued that MPs outside London spend five days a week at Westminster so are hardly full-time residents of their constituency. The questioner felt very strongly that in today’s political world, MPs must be local. Glenda countered, citing the number of letters she receives about national and international issues.

Winner: no overall winner

The next topic was education, specifically the lack of primary school places in Camden.

Chris got another family values point in as he said he hoped to be experiencing these issues for himself soon, before reiterating that he was in favour of state education. He then brought up the Tory’s education policy of getting local groups to run schools.

Tamsin kicked off with the dry remark that mothers had so much free time on their hands that running schools would be easy, to applause from the audience. She then talked about community-based education, which didn’t actually sound that different from some of Chris’s ideas, and raised the idea of retired teachers coming back to help in schools. Bea rather neatly used Chris’s own words of “empowerment” and “liberating” to mock the Conservative proposals before setting out a vision for education that removed inequality of standards and meant that the local school was the best school.

Glenda tried to tackle the issue about Camden schools but focused on secondary education to begin with. Ed, who was shaking his head while Glenda spoke, then showed a very confident grasp of all the facts and figures of local schools and funding. He argued that it was time for a big conversation about education in north-west London. His understanding of the topic, and the challenges of balancing state and private education demand, especially in Hampstead, impressed the audience who gave the first proper applause of the evening. Ed, also managed to get in the word “assiduously”, to match Bea and Glenda who had used it earlier!

Winner: Ed by a mile

Another local question: should the new Brent Cross development go to a public enquiry, given the impact it would have on local high streets?

Bea: Yes, yes, yes. Tamsin: Yes. She then mentioned the West Hampstead loyalty card scheme that has been mooted for a while, suggesting it could be a cross-consituency card, so Kilburn shoppers could get benefits in Hampstead and vice-versa. Was hard to tell whether a horrified shudder spread across the room.

Chris thought that part of the proposal – namely the incinerator and tower – should go to an enquiry, but otherwise trusted Barnet council. He then got on to one of his favourite topics – business rates and taxation of small businesses. He referred to the closure of the Kilburn Bookshop, and became quite animated. The oratory worked and he got a big cheer for his anti-tax anti-regulation position.

Glenda said yes to the inquiry and then tried to fight back against Chris but was a little weak and Chris moved in for the kill saying small businesses had been “taxed to within an inch of their lives”. More cheers. Glenda was on the back foot, but Chris perhaps overplayed his hand with a weaker attack on Labour’s tax record, although the crowd still responded well.

Ed looked Chris in the eye and recalled the day under a Thatcher government when his father’s business was repossessed. The audience was in no mood for maudlin tales and heckles of “answer the question” and “a lot’s changed since then” rang forth. He argued that citing the Kilburn Bookshop is disingenuous as he knows the owner and business rate were not the main reason for closure. He then finally got round to the question and it turns out was involved in drafting the LibDem’s original objection. He went on to criticise both the Tory’s and Labour’s planning laws to a round of applause.

Winner: Chris

The final question of the evening was the one that had been talked about in the café beforehand. A woman asked an extremely well-phrased but direct question to Ed about the Liberal Democrat policy on Israel citing the mixed messages from the party. She mentioned Baroness Tonge, whose anti-Israeli comments eventually led Nick Clegg to sack her, but her continued presence in the House of Lords has angered many. The questioner also mentioned the disparity in message between LibDem leaflets in Holborn & St Pancras that clearly target the area’s Muslim community, and those delivered in Hampstead with some text in Hebrew and photos of Ed with members of the Knesset. The question drew applause.

There was no doubt this was the tough question of the night, and obviously one of particular interest for many of the audience given that this was being held in the Jewish Cultural Centre.

Ed began by stating the Lib Dem’s official policy, which he mentioned is broadly the same for all three main parties, namely a peaceful negotiated two-state solution. He then criticised Baroness Tonge very clearly. “Lose the whip”, someone called out. Ed explained that as a member of the House of Lords the whip couldn’t be removed, and Clegg had done all he could by sacking her. The audience wasn’t overly impressed. Ed continued saying that the LibDems had got themselves in a “difficult place with Israel”, perhaps partly as a result of their strong opposition to the Iraq war.

Ed explained why he had embarked on “political tourism” to Israel and Gaza, and met with members of the Knesset from all parties. The thrust of his point was that he personally recognised the importance of understanding the issue from all sides, and would do all he could to get the party on track. Although he mentioned that the constituency had almost equal numbers of Jews and Muslims, he didn’t address directly the issue of the mixed messages between this constituency and Holborn & St Pancras. He did however get some applause for his answer, and there was a feeling that at the very least these were issues he took seriously and had thought about.

Glenda reiterated Labour’s policy of a negotiated solution, although thought it looked unlikely before embarking on an articulate, passionate and emotional speech about the horror of the conflict that clearly came from the heart.

Bea possibly sensed trouble and chose to quote directly from the Green’s manifesto, which criticises Israel’s “campaign of collective punishment” against Gaza. She didn’t get very far before an angry voice shouted back “what about the Hamas rockets?”. After a moment of back and forth, Campbell declared that the man wasn’t prepared to listen so she should shut up. He agreed. Tamsin backed away from the issue and talked about local grassroots organizations “working things out”, citing a couple of groups in the Middle East that are trying to do that.

Chris, a “Conservative Friend of Israel” focused on the Lib Dems, pointing out that Clegg has said that Israel should be disarmed, that Jenny Tonge was made a peer after she had said some of the contentious things about Israel, and disagreeing that she couldn’t be removed from the Lords. He said the Lib Dems should be ashamed of trying to stir up community feeling. He then rather undermined that point saying that it seemed the Lib Dems “had a list of Jewish people. I can’t be alone in finding that a bit creepy”. There was a murmur in the crowd, and Chris was certainly alone on the stage as all the other candidates and the chair turned on him for that emotive comment. Ed responded, focusing again on his own perspective and getting a warm round of applause. The original questioner said she would hold him to his word.

Winner: Glenda for passion and oratory, but Ed for responding to criticism so well and handling the topic sensitively

Overall verdict: Ed and Chris both performed well. Glenda had her moments, but her inability to remember details was shown up next to Ed’s grasp of minutiae. Bea, although likeable, seemed too keen to have an intellectual debate (and heaven forbid there should be intellectuals in politics!). Tamsin, having got off to a great start, was always going to struggle on some of the specifics, and her mantra of starting conversations and solving everything locally perhaps wore a little thin towards the end. Ultimately, Ed shaved it over Chris whose only really strong performance came on the small business issue.

So, where do we stand in Hampstead & Kilburn with less than two weeks to go? Weighing up the balance between local issues, individual candidates and the national situation is extraordinarily difficult in this constituency.

Lets deal with the minor players first. Despite Tamsin’s fears that the BNP might gain traction with some voters, they don’t generally poll well here. UKIP might fare better if their candidate didn’t seem (as one of his rivals put it privately) “like a Shakesperean fool”. The unknown Gene Alcantara will do well to break the 100 vote barrier.

Intuitively, one feels the Greens should perform well here but, other than at hustings, Bea has been quiet locally and the party lacks the resources to do damage. She is also contesting a council seat and may have better luck there. Tamsin, fourth favourite with the bookmakers, is the unknown package. She’s been working hard to get people registered to vote, and anecdotally is receiving support, but her target group of voters may still not turn out on election day, whatever promises they give on the street. A sunny day and an enormous final push could see her getting a meaningful number of votes, and a fourth place finish ahead of the Green party would be impressive.

So, what about the big three?

It may be too easy to write Glenda off, Labour still has a strong base of support and hasn’t been as badly hurt as some might have expected. A rally for Labour nationally could still see her in with a shout on May 6, although the sense that she personally may have served her time is hard to escape. This presents a problem for the ABC (Anyone but Conservatives) crowd, as tactical voting is hard to judge. Mercifully, none of the main three candidates trotted out the “it’s a two horse race” line this time – lets hope that’s dead and buried now.

Chris will appeal to the diehard Tory voters, and will pick up floaters who like his get-up-and-go attitude. But as the Cameron campaign struggles to deliver the killer blows to a surprisingly resilient Gordon Brown, will Chris be able to count on enough of a general swing to the right to take the seat? His will be the last name called by the returning officer when the result is announced, and only then will the winner be known.

Ed is the bookie’s favourite just ahead of Chris, and has performed well in hustings. The Lib Dems are always strong on the ground with several forest-worths of material shoved through letterboxes every day. His “lives here and loves it” campaign makes him seem accessible and for those tired of Glenda but not ready to turn blue, he may turn out to be the obvious choice as it is hard to dislike him or doubt that he would work hard.

Whatever you do, get out there and vote.

West Hampstead Hustings – the who, the why and the WHAT?

Huge thanks to @Wild_Sarah for this excellent report on Tuesday night’s hustings.

It was standing room only at last night’s Hampstead & Kilburn hustings in West Hampstead library, and a feisty crowd for our six keen candidates to impress.

Cries of ‘Fix the mike’ and ‘Who are you? We can’t see you at the back,’ provided an opportunity for Labour MP Glenda Jackson to show off her Oscar-winning enunciation, though not all candidates fared as well.

‘When I was in Hyde Park I could be heard right back at the Serpentine on a sunny day,’ insisted UKIP’s Magnus Nielsen, resulting in a ‘Go back there!’ from a voice in the crowd.

Debate kicked off with a hyperlocal question about the planned closure of North West London College. Responding for the Green Party, Bea Campbell pronounced the decision ‘a damn shame’ – a sentiment shared by all candidates to varying degrees. They agreed that the three-year old building should be put to good use, even if it is not occupied by students, who have been packed off to Willesden according to Glenda.

Tie-less Tory Chris Philp criticised the ‘centralisation and bureaucracy’ of the current government, which results in money not reaching frontline services and Lib Dem Ed Fordham (resplendent in a gold rosette) declared further education a ‘Cinderella service’.

For UKIP, the trail of evil could be tracked back to Europe. ‘This country is mortgaged to the European Union,’ cried Magnus, not for the last time.

But it was Tamsin Omond of The Commons who won the first applause of the night, criticising the other candidates’ apparent defeatism.’ There is still time to protect this college,’ she asserted, explaining her party’s policy of local taxes, with 70 per cent reinvested in the community.

Question number two required candidates to reveal the issues on which they would defy the party whip: Ed said he could think of 162 things (without specifying any of them); Bea could find nothing to disagree with in the Green’s ‘small but perfectly formed’ manifesto, which unites the two big objectives of attaining social justice and a sustainable planet.

By contrast, plain-speaking Glenda revelled in her disobedient streak: ‘As somebody who has [voted against the whip] many times before, may I say that the first time is the worst’, she joked, before identifying Trident & ID cards as two issues she’d vote against.

Chris revealed that he’d spent ‘the whole year with his teeth fastened around Boris Johnson’s ankle’ to prevent the threatened local police station closures. Glenda pointed out that this was probably ‘too far away from Boris’ brain for him to feel it.’

An emotive question on assisted suicide divided opinion: Glenda would vote against it, to stand up for the vulnerable; Chris would vote in favour, standing up for individual choice & liberty. ‘I find myself agreeing with Chris,’ said Bea, as visibly astonished by her statement as Chris was.

Next came a quizzing on the One Big Issue each candidate would tackle to make a difference Right Now. Chris attempted to introduce four but was dissuaded by loud groans, opting for ‘the economy’ and describing our current level of debt as a ‘damning indictment on Labour’s stewardship.’ He pledged to get national spending under control and to lighten the burden of tax on families and businesses.

Climate change came top for both Ed and Bea, an issue equally close to environmental campaigner Tamsin’s heart, though her key aim is to transfer power to the people, engaging them in democracy.

Meanwhile, Glenda urged us all to ‘start trusting each other: it is fantasy to think that this country has fallen down a black hole called debt, never to emerge again,’ she barked. ‘Our greatest national and natural resource is you.’

When asked about the likelihood of further widespread redundancies, her reply (that she knew little about it, since she herself was ‘always sacked’) was rewarded with laughter, though her promise to ‘create more jobs’ sounded a bit vague.

Bea scolded: ‘I don’t thing it behoves the Tories to lecture about debt, ‘also wiping the smirk off Glenda’s face by adding that ‘New Labour has also endorsed the system.’

Chris spoke of his desire to champion small local businesses, reducing disincentives to employ new staff. For UKIP, the trail of evil could be tracked back to Europe.

Since the hustings was organised by West Hampstead Amenities and Transport (WHAT), it was only right to have a question on transport, which revealed mass fury over endless weekends of Jubilee line closures for ‘planned engineering work’; threatened northern line closures; and the ongoing Thameslink and Overground hell.

Ed was in his element, regaling the audience with tales of ‘embarrassing and preposterous’ conversations with TfL; damp protests in the rain outside its HQ in order to secure a meeting, not to mention undercover work in Lately’s, pumping the rail engineers for information.

Chris talked of his work to reduce the threat of Northern Line closures, although there was a distinct feeling in the room that the Hampsteadites’ needs had been met, whereas those of us ‘down the hill’ had been left to suffer the slings and arrows of the Jubilee line closures.

Ed’s assertion that ‘the Oyster card is the equivalent of a shareholder’s card,’ went down well, unlike Glenda’s apparent lack of action on her constituents’ behalf. ‘Where were you, Glenda,’ catcalled the crowd. ‘You live in Lewisham, for goodness’ sake.’

Tamsin voiced annoyance at the lack of public consultation and Bea at the years spent ‘detaching transport from direct public accountability.’

For UKIP, the trail of evil could be tracked back to Europe, though everyone else thought that Public Private Partnership might have much more to do with it.

A final question on health came at the eleventh hour (five minutes before the official 9.30pm end time), bringing up the thorny issue of cancer guarantees. Bea called for ‘a release from targets’, describing the ‘Tory rhetoric’ over its promise to fund new cancer drugs as ‘easy and glib’, an accusation refuted by Chris, of course.

For UKIP, the trail of evil could be tracked back to Europe.

Ed stressed that we shouldn’t have a ‘cheap, political squabble about the NHS’ a point with which most people agreed, not least because their tummies were rumbling and they wanted to go home.

Minutes later (though a full two hours from the start of the debate) and we were all on our way, safe in the knowledge that there is no danger of apathy striking in Hampstead & Kilburn but less sure who will triumph on 6 May.

Interview with Hampstead & Kilburn PPC Tamsin Omond

The words tumble out, punctuated by nervous giggles. Tamsin Omond, independent parliamentary candidate for Hampstead & Kilburn and mildly notorious climate change activist, drinks her cappuccino. She refers frequently to a notebook that clearly contains the campaign strategy for her one-woman party, The Commons.

She has a lot of things she wants to say, lots of ideas. She articulates some better than others. She is trying to explain what her candidacy brings to the election. “I want to go in there and be a different vision of what an MP is,” she says. “If people are drawn to that and feel it delivers stuff for them in their area that’s great. If it doesn’t work, then we’ve got to keep thinking about different ways to get people involved in politics.”

The notion that what she’s trying might not work crops up regularly. She uses the term “social experiment” several times. It makes it sound slightly sinister. Naturally she’d like the social experiment to become a political movement, but that depends on how many people get involved. Her campaign proper starts next week, when the doors of her office on Finchley Road open to the public.

Right now, there’s a sense that this is work-in-progress. Some ideas are fleshed out – expect to see lots of activity in the streets, stalls, vocal campaigning. Others need refinement. This is a campaign light on policy but big on promise. “Obviously we can’t come in with six weeks to go and say ‘we’ve got the answers to your transport issues’. What we can do is show that we’re engaging with the issues that matter to the constituency and get them involved in coming up with the answers.”

There’s a sense too that Tamsin’s political career (although she avows she is not a career politician) is a work in progress. She’s not slick. She says things she probably shouldn’t. She tries to be refreshingly honest and upfront about her lack of experience and naïveté, although is swift to point out that these allow her to come at problems from a fresh angle. That she wants to effect change is clear. What is less clear is how that might play out in practice. Her ideas revolve around consultation, participatory democracy, doing what the constituents want. All very laudable but horrendously time consuming. Especially as she’s planning to spend one day a week doing community service.

Perhaps the idea with the greatest resonance is participatory budgeting. Giving the community control over a large part of the local budget can be successful. She cites Brazilian city Porto Alegre, where the notion has grown and taken hold. Implementing it here would be challenging, but such ideas have to start somewhere.

She’s fuzzy though about how exactly these forms of participatory democracy could work. It seems to be a combination of online voting based around a “What’s Tamsin doing this week” blog, and garnering opinions through meetings. Would such meetings be well-attended? Would it be the few or the many participating in Tamsin’s vision of democracy? “No-one’s ever tried to open things up before,” she argues. “So many people are so disengaged with politics and don’t see anyone doing anything for them. If you can change that, and if you’re a champion of that change, and if you’re really fun then people can get engaged.”

The fact that Tamsin believes she is fun and “energetic” and “charismatic” seems important to her. Certainly it will help her engage the dissatisfied and the disenfranchised. But are the people of Hampstead & Kilburn ready for an MP who is fun? Or do they want an MP who can be taken seriously in Westminster, who can cooperate with the two boroughs that the constituency straddles, who can focus on the boring detail as well as have imaginative ways to raise awareness.

“It would be naïve to suggest that by voting for me you’re not voting for something different,” says Tamsin. She is at her most incisive when it comes to the question of why she’s going it alone and the problems of party politics. “I don’t want to slot into the groups that are dealing with the realities they’ve been dealing with for the last 10 years. I want to do somethng very new and if it works then brilliant.”

“It’s very different going to Westminster to be whipped by your constituents than to be whipped by your party.” It’s her best soundbite. “So, a vote for me is voting for a different kind of politics, but it’s got to be something that’s credible and can be realised.” Addressing the credibility issue may be her biggest challenge.

There has been debate around how her candidacy may split the left/green vote in the constituency making it easier for Tory Chris Philp to take the seat. “I do think politics should be about choice,” she says, although it’s clear that Chris would be her least-favoured option as an alternative winner. Tamsin argues that LibDem voters are not going to vote for her because their candidate Ed Fordham has a real chance of winning and they’re not going to jeopardize that. “The people who were going to vote Labour or Green are in the same box as the people who don’t vote. There isn’t much positive to vote for with Glenda, and with the Greens – I haven’t met this woman [she never once refers to Beatrix Campbell by name], but she’s essentially a paper candidate. When she does go to hustings she’s really smart, but she doesn’t do any day-to-day campaigning.”

Strong words from someone who also seems keen not to antagonise the Green Party. There were apparently informal discussions with Green MEP and party leader Caroline Lucas over the possibility of Tamsin running in Holborn & St Pancras on the Green ticket. But Tamsin argues that she wouldn’t be able to criticise the party political system from within it, and nor would it have been easy to change the Green Party. She also points out that the Greens are focusing all their energy on the four seats they have a chance of winning, and Hampstead & Kilburn is not one of them. “So, all this “I’m stealing the green vote’ here isn’t true.”

Ultimately, Tamsin recognises that her core base of voters are the young and the disaffected – those who have never voted before. “Our campaign and the six-week window is going to seem quite lightweight to the people who vote and always vote. We’re not going to appeal much to those 45 percent of people who are already politically engaged.” But she thinks there are 25,000 people under 30 who didn’t vote in the last election. If she can get all of them she’ll win. It’s a very big if.

Tamsin Omond launches Hampstead & Kilburn campaign

On Thursday evening, newly announced parliamentary candidate Tamsin Omond held a launch party for her campaign. Cub reporter @Moyasarner, who knows Tamsin, went along and reported back for West Hampstead Life.

“Some 40 people gathered in the Swiss Cottage Community Centre on Thursday night for the launch of an election campaign that aims to change the face of politics.

Tamsin Omond, 25, the new parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn, is being filmed, photographed, and interviewed. More twenty-somethings wearing black and white ‘Vote Tamsin’ badges and broad smiles welcome new arrivals. Three men in their sixties sit in silence at a table in the corner. One drums his fingers on the tabletop.

At 6.40, Tamsin takes centre stage. Founder of environmental activist group Climate Rush, she has been hailed in the press as an eco-poster girl. She is the leader of a new political party, The Commons, but she doesn’t look like a politician. With her shock of short blonde curls, her flat pumps and low slung black trousers, she looks cool. And she wants to make local politics cool too.

She promises an Obama-style campaign, using social media, which she mentions five times in her speech. She will use online tools to engage young people in a constituency where 61 percent of under-30s did not vote in the last election [Ed: she’s apparently revised this down to 40 percent now]. “If you encourage them to vote, then you have a landslide,” she says. She wants to build “a low carbon, community-led constituency,” where residents use mobile video booths to say what they want and where they want it.

The room then divides into five groups, each centred on a member of the campaign team. We discuss ideas for social media (again), outreach (with various community groups), canvassing (door-to-door visits to draught-proof houses), and events (fancy-dress parades down West End Lane). I suggest they start by following @WHampstead on Twitter. One gentleman suggests we hack into a mystery database containing the contact details and favourite meeting places of all the young people in the area. The rest of us exchange looks of alarm.

A person from each group stands to read the suggestions. Most are more practical and less criminal than Hacker Man’s. Praise be.

On my way out, I pass a queue of people signing up to help with the campaign. Good news for The Commons’ social media guru John Grant, who says: “If we engage large numbers of young people and connect them with politics, and get a conversation going about what democracy is really supposed to be, we’ve already won.”

West Hampstead comment: Mobilising one section of the electorate can be a winning strategy. Boris Johnson did it in the mayoral election by focusing almost exclusively on outer London boroughs, recognising that winning these would be enough to put him in office. Any measures that get young would-be voters engaged with politics are a good thing, but young people are only one part of the consituency and it will be interesting to see whether Tamsin makes efforts to engage with other demographic groups in her campaign.

New kid on the block: Tamsin Omond becomes a PPC

We have another candidate in the forthcoming election. Bona fide local Tamsin Omond is joining Glenda (Lab), Chris (Con), Ed (LD), and Bea (Green). Tamsin tells us on her website that we don’t know her. But actually we’ve probably seen her on TV. She keeps getting in trouble for doing activist things. Someone young and politically engaged. How refreshing. Absolutely. And she has some refreshing ideas. But are they the sort of ideas that we want from a would-be MP?

On reading her spiel I was whisked back to student union hustings. “I’m like you,” wide-eyed candidates would say, before jumping down from the stage to show oh-so-cleverly that they really wanted to connect with us. For all the good it then did us.

Tamsin’s website is full of this eager-to-please language. She’d get “everyone voting on what matters to them.” Worthy, but a big challenge. What she means is that on all issues (except environment/climate change where we have to tow her one-woman party line) she would defer to us the electorate on how she should vote. But this isn’t Switzerland where referenda are held all the time. We elect politicians to do this for us. It’s part of their job – albeit a part some do more actively than others. How will she ensure that the people telling her how to vote are representative of the broad constituency? The lower the turnout for any vote, the easier it is to be hijacked by special interest groups. And if her idea is to focus on online voting, how does that help those with limited or no access to the internet through lack of money or interest or understanding. A constituency is not just its young people it’s everyone.

She’d donate a third of her salary to “our communities’ future”. That’s more than £20,000, which is very generous but will have very limited impact. In 2009, each ward in Camden had £10,000 to spend as it wanted. Most ideas – even modest ones – for improving the area were simply too expensive. A council tax rise of £1 would have more effect.

Tamsin would also spend a day a week doing community service. Very commendable. Not sure how that would fit in with her other work as an MP – surgeries, voting in the House (after all, you can’t brand Glenda “lazy” and then not turn up to every vote possible, especially if you’ve asked your constituents to take their time to tell you how to vote). No doubt Tamsin does community work already, so I’m not sure why electing her an MP will make much difference here other than giving more publicity to some causes. Again, we can text or vote online for what community work we want her to do. Her aides would spend their time filtering through texts and e-mails rather than briefing her on policy issues.

Much of Tamsin’s warm rhetoric makes us feel comforted. She’s there for us. She’s not, she claims, a career politician (although standing for MP at 25 might suggest she’s just starting that career). She’s going to represent us and our community in Westminster. Yes, that’s what MPs do – for better or worse. One might argue that despite Glenda’s inactivity in Westminster she’s been a good local MP because she’s been receptive to local people’s needs and dealt with them. Several whampers have told me over the past six months that when they’ve had a problem Glenda has been incredibly supportive and helpful. As would Tamsin be no doubt, but the notion of an MP being close to the ground is nothing new.

There are other issues with her candidacy. Debates over how she will split the left/green vote have already begun and the view that a strong campaign will benefit the Tories has credibility. Particularly strange is her decision to run against a high-profile Green candidate; odder still when you see in her diary that tomorrow she’s off to Brighton to canvas on behalf of Green MEP Caroline Lucas.

So, in a nutshell, we have someone who is a good publicist promising to put £20,000 a year into a large community, giving up one day a week to do community work, and then asking us to vote on a regular basis on all manner of things, many of which we would have neither the time nor the inclination to research properly. There are lots of jobs she could apply for where she could work a four-day week to have one day for community work, and give away a chunk of her salary. I remain to be convinced that Member of Parliament is the most suitable – even if she is right on climate change and increasing voter turnout.

West Hampstead Digest No.10 Local news where you set the agenda

(Click here for one-page PDF version)
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow There’s been one big story all week. Twitter went a bit snow crazy at the first sign of flakes on Wednesday morning. Just after 9am the first reports of NW6 snow appeared although it was 20 minutes before West Hampstead had its first snowflakes. The localised nature of the snowfall meant that some were seeing snow while others were only reading about it. It was almost 10am before Digest confirmed a snowflake sighting. Of course snow evokes many different emotions. More snow fell on Thursday evening – this time more impressively triggering reports of flickering lights and a dodgy TV reception for whampers.There was some hope of a snow day on Friday, but ’twas not to be. Of course the puppy-dog excitement of snow soon turned to discussion and complaints about gritting roads and transport headaches. #whampsnowElectioneering begins in earnest
Emerge from West Hampstead tube station and you are confronted by a large billboard declaring Tory PPC Chris Philp‘s battling credentials. No sooner had Chris joined Twitter than his alter-ego @notchrisphilp popped up.Thoughts as to who was behind the @not.. account flew around but as yet no obvious candidate has appeared. #whampvote

Whampcarol success despite the cold
See the blog for full write-up of #whampcarol

Photo of the week
This treat from @emprom, of a snowball in Kilburn Sainsbury’s, captured everyone’s imagination.

West Hampstead Digest No.7 Local news where you set the agenda

(Click here for the one-page PDF version)

Accidents, Algerians and aggrieved locals… It must be #whamptravel

The challenges of getting to, from and around this part of London have once again dominated the local chat. Digest came out too early last week to catch the news of another traffic accident involving a bus on West End Lane.

Calls to change the traffic system came in, with suggestions of zebra crossings near Tesco’s. Perhaps, however, West Hampstead should be more cutting edge and take the approach that is gaining traction across Europe of Shared Space. The idea is to de-segregate road and pavement users. This might seem counter-intuitive but, where the idea has been implemented, the statistics show that there are fewer accidents because everyone (and especially drivers) tends to be more cautious. It is not a scheme that will work everywhere of course but perhaps West End Lane, which already has slowish traffic, could be a good testing ground. Already there is a campaign to bring the idea to Hampstead.

The other excitement of last weekend was that the Metropolitan Line made its inaugural stop at Willesden Green (which it will now do on weekends when Jubilee Line is shut ). Thanks to @PkerUNO for the photograph. Of course this weekend both lines were down. Plus ça change.

Wednesday evening was football evening, and demonstrated neatly the evolving nature of Kilburn’s population. Early on in the evening, Algeria beat Egypt to qualify for the World Cup, and immediately messages began to appear about honking horns on the Edgware Road and Kilburn High Road. A few hours later when Ireland were denied the chance of a penalty shootout by the hand of Thierry Henry, there was nothing but silence from the traditional Irish enclave, once affectionately known as County Kilburn.First Capital Connect is never far from the news at the moment. Its timetable continues to be a work of fiction as staff work to rule. It has got to the stage where questions are being asked in Parliament.

To add to FCC’s woes, there is now a late-stage minor revolt about the proposed new station on Iverson Road. @joe_sayegh spotted this article in the Ham & High about residents arguing that the plans will remove parking bays and destroy the embankment. There will be a meeting on Tuesday, but Digest’s readers were largely unsympathetic.

The plans are exempt from requiring planning permission, and the company will argue that it has made efforts to liaise with the local community using measures such as the drop-in meeting at the library a few weeks ago. Is this going to run and run? It seems a certainty that there will be a station on Iverson Road, but will residents manage to gain any further concessions? #whamptravel

Remembering the place of politics
Electioneering at public ceremonies of remembrance is frowned upon. Both Brown and Cameron have apologised for the photographers at Westminster Abbey to capture their appearances at what should be an apolitical event.

Old news for Camdenites. A council hoo-ha kicked up after Lib Dem PPC Jo Shaw was accused of muscling in on the borough’s Remembrance Sunday event and filming it. She issued a statement saying she would not be using the film for party political purposes and emphasizing her per-sonal connection to the armed forces.

Adding fuel to the fire, Lib Dem PPC (Hampstead & Kilburn) @edfordham posted footage of himself at an Armistice Day ceremony in West Hampstead on his You Tube channel. This incurred the ire of both Tory and Labour representatives alike.

Ed replied, but never explained what the facts to be checked were. See @RichardOsley’s blog for more.

Other news. @CamdenGP confirmed that H&K Green candidate Beatrix Campbell is on Twitter (albeit quietly). #whampvote

West Hampstead Digest No.2 Local news where you set the agenda

(for a one-page PDF version: click here)

“Whampgather” tweet-up makes the news The first ever whampgather took place on Monday 12th at The Alice House. An early glitch, when the staff were unaware that free drinks had been arranged, was soon rectified. There was a terrific turnout, despite tube and bus delays doing their best to slow people down. Sixteen people, the vast majority of whom had never met each other before, all chatted about their experiences of the area, and were able to draw all sorts of connections.

Having bombarded Stephen Fry with invitations, we were delighted when he finally saw one from @JudeStone and sent a reply.No awkward silences meant no time for the “Rename whampgather” competition, and the consensus was that we should stick to whampgather. Therefore, the draw to win an NW6 t-shirt from @ilovemypostcode took place on Tuesday – the winner seemed pleased.Whampgather excitement lingered late into the week as @SarahReardon worked some PR magic on the Camden New Journal. The article appeared in Thursday’s edition (although the paper is not readily available in West Hampstead) and online on Friday. The CNJ has said that it may even attend the next one. So, put on your best frocks and, again, doctors notes are the only acceptable excuses, although this one from @Choppsicle comes very close.

Music venues overlooked
Camden council listed 10 of the best live music venues in the borough but of local places, only The Good Ship made the cut. Readers had other ideas. There’s also professional music at The Railway, Lately, and even Pizza Express. Talking of which, @bubela had heard from local shopkeepers that West End Lane’s Pizza Express was going to be closed and turned into a Sainsbury’s. Digest contacted Pizza Express who categorically denied that the branch was closing, “West Hampstead is a really popular PizzaExpress,” according to spokesperson Alex Whitelaw.
On the campaign Twail
The general election has yet to be called, but unofficial electioneering has started. West Hampstead is in the new constituency of Hampstead & Kilburn and with redrawn boundaries, the Tories and LibDems are already arguing over which of them is the true challenger to Labour.
The three candidates are existing Hampstead & Highgate MP Glenda Jackson (Lab), Chris Philp (Con) and Ed Fordham (LibDem). Only Fordham is on Twitter, where he directs followers to blog entries about local architecture as well as to political material.
All three were at the Tricycle this week for hustings. Fordham posted extracts of the event – focused on his performance – on his YouTube channel, including a robust defence of Kilburn in the face of those who talk it down. Digest is more than happy to direct its readers to similar links from the other candidates. We will follow the progress of the main three parties up to the election, keep you up to date with the other candidates, and run some very unscientific polls to gauge your thoughts.
This will be the first general election where Twitter will play a part and, in the aftermath of Obama’s well-orchestrated online campaign, we can expect all the parties and candidates to up their digital game. #whampvote
Tube fares rise. What tube?
Another weekend of tube closures barely got a reaction from resigned locals. The midweek announcement of TfL price rises, in order to pay for improvement works, didn’t pass unnoticed however. #whamptravel
Photo of the week – Read closelyMaybe that was the spelling in King Alfred’s time. Thanks to @PkerUNO for spotting this West End Lane billboard.

Camden voting patterns

Thanks to Camden Council for sending me the % of votes for the recent European elections (so far they’ve only posted total votes). And also for sending the 2004 figures. Am posting the numbers for the key parties (>2% threshhold) below:

BNP 04 1,103, 2.21%
BNP 09 1,300 2.76%

Conservatives 04 10,717, 21.43%
Conservatives 09 10,400, 22.05%

Greens 04 7,156, 14.31%
Greens 09 8,040, 17.05%

Labour 04 12,892, 25.78%
Labour 09 11,167, 23.68%

Lib Dems 04 9,612, 19.22%
Lib Dems 09 10,180, 21.58%

Respect 04 3,185, 6.37%
Respect 09 did not stand

UKIP 04 3,658, 7.31%
UKIP 09 2,720, 5.77%

Turnout 04 36.82%
Turnout 09 34.23%