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H&K 2017: The Kirsty Allan interview

Kirsty Allan, Liberal Democrat candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn

Kirsty Allan, Liberal Democrat candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn

If you don’t know who Kirsty Allan is… well, you should. She is the Liberal Democrat candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn (H&K). She’s a bona fide local too;  she lives over in Queen’s Park, right on the constituency border between H&K and Westminster North.

She actually stood for Westminster North in 2015 but after the Brexit vote, the Lib Dems moved swiftly to put candidates in place in case of a snap election. Kirsty was delighted to have been asked if she would stand.

Her 2015 Westminster North campaign was clearly a struggle. The result was disappointing with the Lib Dems beaten into fourth place by UKIP with just 1,457 votes (that was a 3.7% share, down from 13.9% in 2010). The constituency was always an unlikely win for the Liberal Democrats and Kirsty said it was great to get the experience and understanding of what it takes to run in an election. She also got a large taste of what is involved from helping Lynn Featherstone in the election. Featherstong was MP for Hornsey & Wood Green from 2005 to 2015.

Kirsty points out that being a Liberal Democrat – especially these days – means there are no such thing as safe seats. She argues that they really have to fight for every vote, attend every hustings, knock on every door.  “We have to put the work in to become an MP.”

She claims that she is Lib-Dem bred, rather than having moved into the party. Both she and her sister learned their Lib Demery at the knee of her father, who has always voted for the party since its inception in the late 1980s.  This interest in politics and Lib Dem politics in particular led Kirsty to apply to work in Lynn Featherstone’s constituency office, which she did for three years. Kirsty said that having dealt with Lynn’s constituency and parliamentary casework she has a real sense of what it takes to be an MP.

Despite her family Liberal Democrat roots, it was only a year after working for Lynn that she joined as a member.

Kirsty, unsurprisingly, is keen to look back to 2010 in H&K, when the constituency was a true three-way battle. Indeed, Lib Dem candidate Ed Fordham was many people’s favourite to win, though eventually he came a very close third. However, she says there is no denying what happened in 2015, “We really did get swept out with the tide then. But the world changed for us after the Brexit vote. Nick Clegg was the only leader to take on Nigel Farage in the debates. It is obvious to us that is our fight, we want to represent the 48% – indeed in this constituency the 76% who voted for Remain.”

Kirsty’s Labour rival, incumbent MP Tulip Siddiq, has also been vocally anti Brexit. Kirsty respects Tulip’s individual position, but points out that the Labour party’s position is unclear and therefore Tulip is at odds with her party.

In 2015, the Lib Dem’s high profile H&K candidate Maajid Nawaz got just 6% of the votes (down from 31.2% for Ed Fordham in 2010). Does Kirsty accept that she might get relatively few votes if some Lib Dem voters decide Labour has a better chance of keeping the Tories out? Kirsty points out that there is a lot of support for the Lib Dems around here (though of course they lost five out of six council seats in 2015). “At the moment we have a message that resonates. It is important that voters have someone they agree with to put a tick against. That’s what democracy is about.” She accepts that if people want to vote tactically then they will, but does not believe there is much sign of that happening.

Kirsty and Lib Dem activists out on the campaign trail

Kirsty and Lib Dem activists out on the campaign trail

The Gospel Oak council by-election on May 4th could give Kirsty and the party some succour. Labour retained the seat with 1,485 votes, but the Lib Dems came second with 587 votes, more than doubling their share from 2014. She suggests that it’s evidence that in Camden, “the Lib Dems are on the rise!”

Despite the battering the party took in the 2015 election, Kirsty believes that the momentum is swinging back to them. “The party had a huge swell across London after the Brexit vote, with more than 1,000 members in the Camden Lib Dems. There’s a 17-year-old girl who helps me every time I’m handing out leaflets – she is very energised. The new influx of members is young, the largest number is in the 18-24 age group”.

“After two years of a ‘pure’ Tory Government after the coalition, a lot of people are feeling warmer towards the Liberal Democrats,” she suggests. National polls would suggest this is true, but not yet as warm as the days of ‘I agree with Nick’ in 2010. Then they took 23% of the national vote, but that slumped to just 7.9% in 2015. Today’s polls put support at around 10%.

Does the influx of young people to the party mean they see it as best-placed to tackle the broad challenges we face today? It is notable that for a party that preaches inclusivity, the few MPs it has are traditional ‘men in suits’, bar the recent addition of one woman. Yet the party strives to “reflect its diverse membership”.

When questioned further on this, specifically about Tim Farron’s recent poor handling of the issue of whether he thinks homosexuality is a sin, Kirsty does indeed become uncomfortable trying to explain his stance (he initially refused to answer the question, several times, before deciding to positively assert that he did not – perhaps trapped by trying to adhere to a philosophically robust “liberal” position, without realising that the electorate generally isn’t that nuanced). Kirsty herself is far more unequivocal. “One of the main reasons I applied to work for Lynn [Featherstone] was that I was so impressed with her work on the same-sex marriage initiative”.

Given that no party reflects an individual’s personal beliefs perfectly, what Lib Dem policies does Kirsty struggle with? “I was never a massive fan of the mansion tax, but I am in favour of reassessing the council tax bands. At the moment it is ridiculous that a house worth £7 million pays an amount calculated from 1991 data and values. ”

Warming to the housing theme, “the problem in this constituency,” she argues, “is that the average wage is £33,000, while the average property price is over £700,000. So owning a home is becoming a pipe dream. Increasingly, I see people priced out of the market, and even ‘affordable’ rents are extremely high. I do feel we should be doing more to make sure London is affordable. First of all you stop selling council houses and if you do, use that money to reinvest and build more council homes. It’s logic.”

She say is “seems bizarre” that the Conservatives don’t get more flak for failing to act on the housing crisis. “We are living in a city that will exclude those earning under £130,000 from buying anything in this area of London, and that’s absurd.”

From national, to London, to local issues. Kirsty is running into some familiar grumbles on the doorsteps of H&K. “On the Camden side, there are a lot of problems with the rubbish collection. We are in favour of people doing more recycling but the introduction of the new bins and system does not seem to be working yet. Everybody is concerned that foxes get into their rubbish. When I was helping in our Gospel Oak campaign, rubbish was second only to Brexit as the main issue.” Though of course it didn’t stop Labour from holding the council seat.

“The NHS is also worrying people, and education, and to some extent crime.” In a cruel twist of fate, at the very moment we were discussing crime my wallet was being pinched from my rucksack in Costa.

“But Brexit comes up in every conversation. The first thing people say is that they’re very upset about it.” Presumably about 25% are not, but Kirsty doesn’t mention that. “A lot of people are also worried that all the other issues will be drowned out by the Brexit chorus. If we end up on WTO rules that’s not good for the economy and if the economy is weak it puts further pressure on funding for services.”

If she was to be elected on June 8th, her priorities are health and education – she has friends who are teachers and they don’t have enough money to do the things they want to do in schools. “I don’t think there can ever be an over-funding of education – we have to make sure that children get the best possible start. I’m very much about defending those social liberal values and believe feverently in equality.”

As for being a constituency MP, “I think I learned quite well at Lynn’s knee – she was always out meeting people, attending events and as a Lib Dem MP you need to be visible and have an open door, always being responsive, holding surgeries, talking to people face-to-face.” Some would argue that Tulip has done a good job of this in her brief tenure as our MP. “I respect Tulip – I think she been a good local MP – but I’m standing so that people have a chance to vote for a Liberal Democrat candidate.”

What has surprised her most about her second tilt at Westminster? “The reception on the doorstep,” she says emphatically. “I campaigned in 2015 and it wasn’t an easy time to be a Liberal Democrat. It’s very different this time around. I knew that we had a message that resonated on Brexit but I didn’t realise quite the level of support.”

The final question: Why should I vote for Kirsty Allan? “This is a constituency that really, really wants a voice that is going to resonate with them and I am entirely pro-European and will respect the will of the 76% of people that voted for Remain. And it is not just about Brexit, I want to be an MP that will work hard for Hampstead & Kilburn.”

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. Indeed, he will be helping too.

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

 

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.”

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

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.