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.
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.
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