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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.

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

Tulip at risk if parliamentary boundaries change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you feel about the proposed changes?

Tulip Siddiq maiden speech

Tulip gives maiden speech in the House of Commons

Tulip Siddiq maiden speech

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

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

The 2015 #Whampstead hustings

Listen: Candidates respond in hugely popular election hustings

Hampstead & Kilburn hustings West Hampstead Life turnout_700

Fantastic turnout for the hustings

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

Tulip Siddiq Hampstead Kilburn West Hampstead Life hustings

Tulip Siddiq (Labour)

Simon Marcus Hampstead Kilburn West Hampstead Life hustings

Simon Marcus (Conservative)

Maajid Nawaz Hampstead Kilburn West Hampstead Life hustings

Maajid Nawaz (Liberal Democrat)

Rebecca Johnson Hampstead Kilburn West Hampstead Life hustings

Rebecca Johnson (Green)

Magnus Nielsen Hampstead Kilburn West Hampstead Life hustings

Magnus Nielsen (UKIP)

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

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

Photos courtesy of Eugene Regis (more photos here)

Hampstead & Kilburn 2015 Candidates

Election 2015: Hampstead & Kilburn candidates line up

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

The candidates

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

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

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

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

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

Who’s going to win?

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

Ladbrokes odds January 24th

Ladbrokes odds January 24th

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

Lord Ashcroft poll August 2014

Lord Ashcroft poll August 2014

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

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

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

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

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

The most marginal wards in the most marginal seat

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