Posts

H&K 2017: The Claire-Louise Leyland interview

Claire-Louise Leyland is a Camden councillor for Belsize and for three years has been leader of the Conservative opposition on Camden council. She is also the Conservative candidate for Hampstead & Kilburn in the upcoming general election.

Hampstead and Kilburn is one of the Tories’ top target seats – one of the few in London on that list. In both 2010 and 2015, Labour managed to retain the seat by narrow margins. In two short years Tulip Siddiq has established her name and profile among H&K voters but with the Conservatives riding high in the polls nationally, will Claire-Louise Leyland be the candidate to finally take the seat? And if she does, what sort of MP will she be?

Like her fellow candidates she lives locally (Primrose Hill), but  was born and grew up in South Africa, although her father hails from Lancashire. She returned to the UK in 1998. Even though her father lived and worked in South Africa as a ex-pat, Claire-Louise says that “he was still very passionate about the Queen, England and Margaret Thatcher – plus he was a strong Liverpool supporter” crediting him with her interest in politics. On her mother’s side her great uncle was an MP (in South Africa).

Claire-Louise Leyland, stood as the ppc in West Tyrone in 2015. Will stand as ppc for H&K in 2017 Image: Ulster Herald.

Claire-Louise Leyland, stood as the ppc in West Tyrone in 2015. Will stand as ppc for H&K in 2017 Image: Ulster Herald.

In the 2015 election, she stood for the Tories in West Tyrone. It’s a Sinn Fein stronghold and the Conservatives don’t traditionally fare well in Northern Ireland. No great surprise then that she came eighth out of nine candidates with less than 200 votes, but it was of course a valuable experience. Claire-Louise also felt it was important the Conservatives stood so voters had a national choice, to help move away from any sectarian mindsets. It’s an unusual rationale, but stems from her experience growing up under apartheid in South Africa and from her work for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD).

With the WFD she has worked in Bosnia (seven times), Georgia and Moldova. “They send out people to strengthen democratic organisations, such as women’s groups,” she explains. She has also worked as a voluntary therapist with children in South Africa and on the Syrian borders helping those with PTSD.  Her work focuses on art therapy and as well as being a practising therapist she also runs a masters programme training art therapists.  It’s an atypical  background for a Conservative candidate.

In the referendum, Claire-Louise campaigned for Remain, though has now aligned herself with the Conservative party policy on Brexit, when she could have taken a softer approach.  Why?

“It was a very difficult choice in the referendum,” she say. “I knew I was going to vote for Remain which is why I campaigned for them. I respect the fact that everyone across the country had the opportunity to think about the issues and make a choice and we need to respect the democratic institutions… there was an enormous amount of information summing up both sides of the issue in the mainstream press. So people had the information to make the decision… A choice was made, a decision was reached and if there were flaws in the system all we can do at this point is learn from them for the future, but we have to accept the decision that was reached.”

Of course, Hampstead & Kilburn is clearly Remain country, so inevitably not everyone she meets in her campaigning agrees with her. Her ward of Belsize has 1,400 resident EU citizens. “I’m meeting people whose lives are in limbo and who have a sense they are not in control of their future. Having grown up in South Africa in a state of emergency it was something I have experienced”. So her message to EU nationals is that she’s aware of the uncertainty around their future and believes this is an issue that needs to be decided at the start of negotiations.

When asked about how Remain voters will vote in this election, she played the Jeremy Corbyn card; saying that whatever the reason behind their referendum vote – personal, business or European idealism – “they are all concerned about having Jeremy Corbyn leading our country in the Brexit negotiations. We have to make a decision about who will lead our country.”

One positive sign for the future is that Claire-Louise has noticed that people are showing a greater interest in politics since the referendum. She thinks that not everyone is taking on the challenge of how you use your time and energy to engage with the issues. Her experiences in eastern Europe showed how alien the idea of having agency within their community was to some people – she cites an example of people complaining about litter but never picking it up, or even realising they could; which clearly resonates in Camden.

“In this country you think everyone knows they have a voice and can get engaged. When I moved here it never occurred to me that people wouldn’t feel able to shape their country, but I have worked in Hackney and there are kids who don’t recognise this.”

During this short election campaign, Claire-Louise has talked much about her “plan” for Hampstead & Kilburn, but has not elaborated much further. The Conservative manifesto was just being been published when we spoke, and she said that then she would set out a clearer message about what that would look like for the constituency. She does say the usual sort of things about residents having someone who will listen to them, talk with them, hold Camden and Brent councils to account as well as the Mayor of London. She talks about ensuring that education, housing, policing and other services are delivering the right results for our community, transport and infrastructure. To be honest, it’s still not clear what her “plan” is, but now that the manifesto has been published, she will be able to clarify, hopefully at Tuesday’s hustings!

“I believe there should be real scrutiny and evidence-based decision making and that local people’s needs should be at the heart of thinking. What I don’t want to see is the Labour Mayor of London and two Labour councils using our area to rebuild the Labour party. As a community we can’t have our needs put second to a part of the Labour party”.

Claire-Louise Leyland campaigning (on the edge) of West Hampstead

Claire-Louise Leyland campaigning in (or on the edge of) West Hampstead

She talks extensively about local government, and suggests that while Camden Labour blames local cuts on central government funding cuts, in fact there was “an extraordinary amount of duplication of services and inefficiency, a lack of clear evaluation and lack of accountability,” when she was elected in 2010. “My understanding of what the government was trying to do was to make the system of [local] government more accountable, more efficient and better integrated.” She says that overall, she thinks “local government is a much tighter, much better system. I think it is a pathfinder for the how the NHS can adapt to change.”

Aside from Brexit, what other issues are coming up on the doorstep?

“Waste and recycling, but also schools funding. London schools are now the best across the country. I have been working in schools across London since 2001 so I see that they have high levels of need and that needs sufficient funding.” Notably, Labour controls more than twice as many London boroughs – which are responsible for education provision but not funding – as the Conservatives. The Conservatives have pledged that no school will have its budget cut and the total budget will rise by £4 billion over the next parliament.

In West Hampstead specifically, Claire-Louise cites concern about the level of overcrowding at the Underground and Overground stations, and also says community safety is being raised. “We really need to take care with the Pathfinder model, i.e., the integration of Camden and Islington police forces doesn’t leave the outer edges of the boroughs worse off”.

Overall, she seems to fall fairly squarely behind her leader by adopting a relatively interventionist approach for the state. “The system functions well in many ways but where it does not then it is right for the Government to intervene.” Council tax is a good example – with the rate being based on 1991 property values. “Once Brexit negotiations have put us in a secure position, it will be time to tackle issues such as a revaluation. That will an opportunity to refine the system”.

If, in the early hours of June 9th, Claire-Louise is our next MP, what can we expect from her? “I’m interested in being a constituency MP. I’ve come into this because this is the area I want to serve. You don’t have to be in Government as there are many other ways you can influence outcomes. You can sit on APPGs [All-Party Parliamentary Groups] and do all sorts of work at committee stage. Every layer of the system is just as important – I like to do the bit I’m doing to the best of my ability”.

Of course, had the election come after the proposed boundary commission changes (which could still happen), then Barnet’s Mike Freer would likely have been the candidate. Should Claire-Louise and Mike both win this time around, who then would stand for a new seat? “Honestly? I don’t know”, she said, looking slightly sheepish. “That’s politics!” she agreed.

Finally (and without using the words “strong and stable”), why should someone vote for Claire-Louise Leyland? “Because I am incredibly committed to our area, proven that I can get results for our community and I will work hard on your behalf”.

Claire-Louise Leyland chosen as Tory candidate for Hampstead & Kilburn

The local Conservative party held its constituency selection meeting last night in the Dennington Park Road synagogue hall – a special general meeting called at short notice after Theresa May’s surprise election announcement. Hampstead & Kilburn is a key target seat for them.

The local party had sent a shortlist to Central Office which initially included local party leader Claire-Louise Leyland, rising star Henry Newman – a wannabe Highgate councillor – and existing Camden councillor Siobhan Baillie. However, it seems that Siobhan either declined to stand or was dropped and when the list returned from Conservative central office it included a new name: London Assembly member Kemi Badenoch.

Tory selection meeting about to start. Image: @richardosley

Tory selection meeting about to start. Image: @richardosley

During the meeting, each candidate made a five minute personal statment, then answered the same four questions; on Brexit, the constituency being a marginal, changes to education funding and HS2. This was followed by 20 minutes of questions from the floor. Of the 700 local members, 142 turned out.

Kemi Badenoch was up first. She is the deputy-leader of the GLA Conservatives and on the GLA since 2015; her Tory credentials extend to having a husband who is a Conservative councillor. She had only found out she was on the shortlist at 11.30 yesterday morning and hadn’t even had time to go home to Wimbledon and change. Given the short notice and lack of “home advantage”, she put up a creditable performance.

Next came Claire-Louise Leyland, a familiar face to the audience as leader, since 2014, of the Camden Conservative group. She grew up in South Africa (but says her dad is as Lancashire as stick of Blackpool rock). She works as a professional art therapist and counsellor, and has spent seven years as a Conservative councillor. She campaigned for Remain last year. She had the advantage of knowing many people in the room – indeed even the room itself – as her first venture into politics was as a council candidate for the ward of West Hampstead.

The final candidate was rising bin-selfie star Henry Newman. Henry is director of Open Europe, having been a special advisor at the Justice Department for Michael Gove and at the Cabinet office. He’s only had limited media experience but was a polished performer.

As well as the four standard questions other issues that came up were the pensions triple lock, Brexit (again), the rights of EU residents, the “yellow peril” posed by the Lib Dems, Tulip, housing and inter-generational fairness.

After the first count no candidate had got a clear majority – apparently the vote was fairly evenly spread but third placed candidate Kemi dropped out.

Claire-Louise Leyland, stood as the ppc in West Tyrone in 2015. Will stand as ppc for H&K in 2017 Image: Ulster Herald.

Claire-Louise Leyland, stood as the ppc in West Tyrone in 2015. Will be ppc for H&K in 2017. Image: Ulster Herald.

In the second round of voting, Claire-Louise Leyland won to become the prospective parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn. In her short winners speech she said it was a privilege to have been selected.

Will she be the candidate to see Hampstead & Kilburn turn Conservative on June 9th? Labour’s Tulip Siddiq and the Lib Dems’ Kirsty Allan will be hoping not

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?

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.

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

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.””

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.

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.