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The Road to West End Lane

Sadly, I couldn’t make the grand unveiling of the plaque to George Orwell last week, but mercifully (and appropriately), Danny from West End Lane Books could – and kindly penned a few words about it.

“I’ve got something in common with George Orwell it seems! I gleaned this priceless piece of dinner-party ammo the day that Kilburn Historic Plaque supremo Ed Fordham triumphantly brought Richard Blair to town to unveil a tribute to his father, the mighty George Orwell, on the Kilburn estate they briefly inhabited before being bombed out in WW2.

Nowadays, the building is called Kington House in Mortimer Crescent and Blair, not the slight, pale figure I imagined, but a broad avuncular man of old-school bank manager appearance, admitted he didn’t really recall it — unsurprisingly since he was an infant the last time he laid eyes on the place.

A good crowd had gathered to meet the man whose father has so enriched us all and confirmed that Orwell did indeed work on Animal Farm while living in our postcode.

After the unveiling of the plaque Blair and Fordham braved rush hour traffic to hotfoot it over to West End Lane Books where another eager crowd had gathered and was treated to a reading from Orwell’s Bookshop Memories essay — and that’s where I learned of mine and George’s shared experiences!

Bookshops, Orwell remarked of his time working in one, were places ‘you can spend a long time without spending money’. Yep, that bit still rings sadly true. And although our customers aren’t of the ‘motheaten’ variety that Orwell depicts and nor do we regard children’s books as ‘horrible things’ (they obviously didn’t have Puffin, Walker, Usborne et al in those days), his description of the ‘brutal cynicism’ of the marketing of Christmas, in particular the order form for advent calendars displaying ‘two dozen Infant Jesuses with rabbits’ brought a blush of shame.

Orwell went on to describe life with George as his (adopted) father, noting that while he was always Eric Blair to at home, he was only ever George Orwell to his friends and professional contacts (‘the name change was to protect us,’ said Blair.) and often the two camps were not aware of the other; some family members remaining ignorant of George’s alter ego even as his books were published and word began to spread of his work.

Blair recalled his father as an affectionate man who often read to his son—classics such as AA Milne (also honoured by a Kilburn plaque) and Beatrix Potter, but also his own little stories and poetry, none of which survives to our loss. While retaining the then-customary stoicism about his struggles with TB (‘he was slightly vague about it’), Blair told us that his father was nonetheless constrained by his illness and felt that physical contact with his son needed to be minimal for his own safety.

Orwell also read aloud chapters of Animal Farm at home to his wife and Blair reminded us that even this literary colossus had initial trouble finding a publisher. Blair himself was not allowed to read 1984 until some time after his father’s death when he was 11 and when asked when he first became aware of Orwell’s status, he remembered it as a form of osmosis around the same age.

Listening to Blair’s recollections of Orwell doing bits of woodwork, rolling fags with newspapers when he ran out of cigarette papers and all of the everyday trivia family life is filled with, I for one had a few frissons: this man lived with Orwell…this man knew Orwell!

What an honour to have Richard Blair in our shop. What an honour for NW6 to have such a connection! Major thanks to Ed Fordham for making this happen.”

What’s new on the Overground?

Are you a regular Overground user? If so, then this guest post by Ed Fordham is for you. Ed sits on the London Overground Passenger Board – the user group that discusses issues relating to the Overground network and in particular the North London Line:

“Being a frequent user of one part of the line, I tend to confine myself to taking a close interest in the stations between Willesden Junction and Gospel Oak.  There are other user groups for the other bits (Barking-Gospel Oak, West London etc), but the six rail stations between Willesden Junction and Gospel Oak can be a bit left out. So I thought I would report back on what had occurred at the last meeting on 15th June – which felt exceptionally positive.

Punctuality
Overall the Overground network achieved 95% punctuality over the past 12 months, making it one of the most punctual services in the UK. This is based on arrival time at the end destination, rather than at intermediate stations – and given some of the routes are so long and have so many stations, there are variations. The North London Line section of the network was only 92%, and steps are being taken to try and tighten up on that.

Olympics
It is expected that this service – going through residential areas will be heavily used during the Olympics, so there will be 70 additional staff and some additional services for parts of the line. An Olympic and Paralympic timetable will be out in the next week or so.

Phase 3 refurbishments
As you may have seen over the last 18 months, there havebeen a host of small scale station improvements ranging from new signs and a general paint job to the more comprehensive redecoration at Hampstead Heath station (this was part of the Art on the Overground project).

There is now a chance to have a more substantive conversation about issues and improvements in the medium and longer term and it would be good to hear your ideas and suggestions.

Issues that have been mentioned include:

  • Better recycling facilities generally, especially for free early morning papers (on trains as well as platforms?)
  • Additional shelters or canopies at Brondesbury station
  • A lift at Hampstead Heath station – especially given access to the hospital
  • Taking down the excessive anti-vandalism measures at Finchley Road and Frognal
  • A cashpoint to be installed at Brondesbury Park station

Getting the community involved
One specific initiative has been to get the community working with London Overground to introduce flower boxes and flower beds at other stations and it strikes me that this would be very possible at Kensal Rise, West Hampstead and Hampstead Heath stations in particular. If any local residents, amenity groups or traders would like to get involved with this please do get in touch and I can help facilitate the conversation asap. Homerton Station has been very successful at this.”

Thanks Ed! Ed sends out an e-mail update every 2–3 months or so on these issues, so any local residents, users or traders on or near the Overground Line should contact him on moc.l1566050235iamg@1566050235mahdr1566050235of.de1566050235. He tends to concentrate on the six stations between Kensal Rise and Hampstead Heath.

Useful links
LOROL – London Overground Rail Operations Ltd
TFL and Overground
Passenger Focus

The Plaque at Pooh Corner

“A party for Me?”
thought Pooh to himself.
“How grand!”

There can be very few people who have not encountered Winnie the Pooh. One of the great characters of children’s literature and I can’t help but feel also a precursor of Homer Simpson. Lovable, of “little brain”, and ever so slightly obssessed with food.

Pooh’s creator of course was A.A.Milne and – who knew – he was born in Kilburn in 1882. The house where he was living was destroyed in the war when a V1 fell in the vicinity and the site is now occupied by Remsted House, part of the Mortimer Estate, at the junction of Mortimer Place and Kilburn Priory.

Lib Dem worthy and sometime local historian Ed Fordham has launched a Historic Kilburn Plaque Scheme. Appropriately enough given the area’s Irish heritage, the plaques are green. The unveiling today of Alan Milne’s plaque was the first of what Ed hopes will be “at least 20” such plaques to be dotted around Kilburn.

Under gloriously blue skies an impressive crowd was gathering for the big moment. Milne’s granddaughter Clare was present.

Ed kicked off with a few booster words for the area, before local historian Dick Weindling (he literally wrote the book) gave a short explanation of the heritage of the area – formerly the Greville Estate (and much earlier part of a 12th Century priory).

Weindling explained that Milne’s father had bought and ran a private school – Henley House – on the site at which 13 boys boarded. Four years later, A.A. Milne was born. In 1889, H.G. Wells was the science teacher there for a year and despite being highly critical of the type of education at Henley House he praised Milne’s father as a “really able teacher”. The Milnes sold the school in 1893, apparently concerned that “the neighbourhood was going down”.

Michael Brown, chairman of the Pooh Properties Trust and wearing an approriate Pooh-themed tie, then said a few words about A.A. Milne himself. Of course he is famous for the Winnie the Pooh books, but he also wrote successful plays and adult books and was very much part of the literary elite in the interwar period.

It was time for the unveiling – suitably to be done by two kids. “Either the string will break, or the tape will stay up, or something will go wrong,” said Ed.

But really isn’t that what would have happened to Pooh? Piglet would have pulled with all his Strength. Rabbit would have advised from the sidelines and Eeyore would have pointed out all the things that could have gone wrong. The strings were pulled, the curtain fell, some tape remained and Pooh would have been a very happy bear.

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.”

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.