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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?

MaajidNawaz

Tulip and Maajid to stand for Hampstead & Kilburn

On Sunday, the Kilburn Festival was in full swing in the blazing sunshine. A few streets away in Mazenod Avenue, local Labour party members were listening to speeches by the three candidates vying to be the party’s replacement for Glenda Jackson on the ballot sheet for Hampstead & Kilburn. The heat clearly got to some as there was a headbutting incident outside, though no charges have been brought.

The chat in the run-up seemed to suggest that Sally Gimson, a councillor in Highgate, could upset the favourite, Tulip Siddiq. The third candidate, Sophie Linden, had a couple of high profile supporters including Fiona Millar, but no-one seemed to think she would win.

In the end, Sally’s support wasn’t enough to stop the Tulip juggernaut and now Conservative Simon Marcus knows who he’ll have to beat if he wants to overturn that wafer-thin majority of 42 votes that Glenda clung on to in 2010.

Tulip Siddiq at the West Hamptead Women’s Centre

Tulip will need to ensure that the local party, which can appear to be fractured and fractious to outsiders, unites behind her if she’s going to be Glenda’s successor. She is charming and personable, but critics suggest that whereas Glenda had the confidence to shoot from the hip, Tulip prefers to play it safe and check the party line. She’ll need to get past that if she’s going to come out of the hustings process unscathed – this is one of the most highly educated constituencies in the country, and voters expect answers not spin.

On Thursday night, the Liberal Democrats met to choose their candidate – for the second time. You may remember that back in January, the party announced Emily Frith would be its PPC (prospective parliamentary candidate), and then a month later she was made a better offer and vamoosed. The local party grandees were not best pleased and it’s taken them this long to get someone else.

The three candidates that people were talking about were James King (a former local councillor and champion of Kilburn), David Buxton (also a former councillor, and a disability rights campaigner), and the leftfield candidate Maajid Nawaz (a former Islamist radical who spent five years in prison in Egypt, who now runs Quilliam, an anti-extremist think tank).

The result was something of a surprise: Maajid Nawaz will be campaigning against Simon and Tulip for the seat.

He’s likely to be an energetic campaigner – judging by his Twitter feed, which this morning consists largely of retweets of people congratulating him, he’s certainly a strong self-promoter. It will be interesting to find out how he plans to balance campaigning (and potentially sitting as an MP) with his think tank work, which he is clearly passionate about. He was quoted in the Ham & High this morning saying, “Quilliam will remain a priority for me because its values shape my beliefs and outlook.”

He’s already a TV regular, with Newsnight and Question Time appearances, so does he see Hampstead & Kilburn as a route to a larger platform, or will he be an active local MP? Both he and Tulip, who worked on Ed Miliband’s leadership campaign, could be positioned as candidates with their eye on the bigger picture rather than being interested in getting their hands dirty locally. Tulip will no doubt cite her role as Camden cabinet member for culture, where she can be cast as either the saviour or the axe wielder of the borough libraries.

It will be interesting to find out over the next two years what Maajid will bring to the table in terms of his local politics, and to what extent he tows the Lib Dem party line versus positioning himself as a party maverick.

Expect all three candidates to become increasingly visible, especially as we approach the local and European elections next year. No doubt there’ll be a few other candidates – Magnus Nielsen is expected to stand again for UKIP, and it’s hard to believe the Green Party won’t put someone forward after a strong showing in the London mayoral elections and give the high profile of Hampstead & Kilburn.

Glenda eviscerates Thatcherism

One of the most frequent complaints about Hampstead & Kilburn MP Glenda Jackson levelled by her West Hampstead constituents is that she’s invisible. Clearly not everyone agrees, but for a relatively high-profile person it’s fair to say she’s not as much in the public eye as one might expect.

She of course will argue that she’s too busy working for those constituents who need her to be bothered with press releases and photo shoots. Once in a while, however, she still knows how to make waves.

At yesterday’s session in the House of Commons, Glenda ignored convention and while other MPs from both sides of the house praised Margaret Thatcher to a greater or lesser degree, Glenda stood up and proceeded to give Thatcherism a damn good kicking, referring to the state of education in particular in our constituency when she first became an MP in 1992.

Most of the way through her speech she referred to Thatcherism more than Thatcher. Then, in case anyone was under the illusion that she was hiding behind semantics, she finished off by arguing that the idea that Thatcher had broken the mould for female politicians was a nonsense. She dismissed the achievement, pointing out firstly that during the war women had “not just run the government, they’d run the country”, before concluding that these women “would not have recognised their definition of womanliness as being incorporated – of being an iconic model – in Margaret Thatcher. To pay tribute to the first prime minister deputed of female gender, ok. But a woman? Not on my terms”

Twitter naturally exploded with praise and loathing in fairly equal measure. Some might suggest that we decry bland politicians today and then decry those with the courage to speak their mind. Some might also suggest that – whatever the topic – it’s a shame we have seen so few performances like this from Glenda Jackson in the 21 years she’s been in Westminster.

Thankful the people of #HandK don’t have to stand Glenda Jackson much longer. Her lie-filled, hate-filled rant at Thatcher was disgraceful.
— Oliver Cooper (@OliverCooper) April 10, 2013

If only Glenda Jackson spoke more in the Commons. A great speech, brilliantly and fearlessly delivered.
— Simon (@simonk133) April 10, 2013

@whampstead Glenda Jackson made me feel proud(er) to live in West Hampstead
— Ken Kills (@kenkills) April 10, 2013

Emily Frith: “It’s a dream job”

As speculation continued about Emily Frith’s sudden decision to stand down as Lib Dem PPC for Hampstead & Kilburn, I thought perhaps someone ought to ask her a few questions. So, via e-mail, I did.

WHL: When were you offered this new government job?
Emily Frith: It was the weekend after the hustings [19th/20th January] I was asked to apply, having previously worked for the party on health policy

WHL: And when did you decide to take the job?
EF: Last Wednesday [February 13th]. I wanted to make sure I had spoken to the key people in the Lib Dems locally and to my current employers before making an announcement public.

WHL: What exactly is the position you’ve taken?
EF: A special adviser in Health and DWP [Department for Work and Pensions] issues.

WHL: What was your motivation?
EF: I’ve always wanted to do this job – it’s a dream job.

WHL: Do you see yourself standing as a PPC in the future?
EF: Absolutely – my experience in Hampstead & Kilburn made me realise I definitely want to do this in the future.

WHL: To what extent did the scale of the battle in H&K have a bearing on your decision to step down?
EF: None at all. The seat is extremely close and a key London seat for the party. They are a brilliant team of local activists and I was looking forward to moving up and joining the campaign.

Emily starts her new position on Monday. I wish her all the best. If she wants to stand as a PPC again, I suspect it’s unlikely to be in Hampstead & Kilburn.

Shouting into an empty room: Emily’s gone

No great surprise that the other parties made hay over Emily Frith’s decision to stand down as Liberal Democrat PPC for Hampstead & Kilburn.

It reflects badly on her, and is a headache and a half for the local party (not for the first time).

Conservative councillor Gio Spinella argued on Twitter that a Tory-style primary would have weeded out the half-hearted. Hard to see how – if anything, a primary approach is typically more about style and rhetoric than substance. Spinella admitted that the three Tory candidates had been through a vetting procedure beforehand at which such questions were asked.

Cllr Gio Spinella

When I pointed out the natural implication of his argument

@camdentories that implies the local LDs are so incompetent that they can’t spot a weak link? Do you think that?
— West Hampstead (@WHampstead) February 19, 2013

he stopped short of an outright yes, but

@camdentories I think their candidate quit after a month for another job. I think that answers your question…
— Giovanni Spinella (@GioSpinella) February 19, 2013

Keith Moffitt, local councillor, chair of the Camden Liberal Democrats, and chairman of the PPC selection committee, said that “commitment” was indeed one of the areas that all the shortlisted candidates were grilled on.

Apparently (and frankly, unsurprisingly), it wasn’t the case that she accepted the nomination knowing that there was another option in her back pocket. Instead, Emily was approached at a weekend for newly nominated PPCs and effectively recruited by a minister to become a Special Advisor working, I’m led to understand, across health and pensions.

It’s very reasonable to criticise a minister for recruiting a PPC, knowing how disruptive that would be locally. It’s also very reasonable to criticise Emily herself for committing to the constituency and then bailing out. Surely if this had been a safe Lib Dem seat (are there any of those left?) then her decision would have been different. On the other hand, she has a family and everyone – even a politician – has to think about providing for their children. Being a PPC doesn’t bring any financial reward and it’s a long process. Nevertheless, that’s something you know before you sign up and I would imagine her short-lived tenure as PPC will leave a bad taste in many local Lib Dems’ mouths. Don’t expect her to stand here again.

There will be a pause before the nomination process starts again. Expect to see some more familiar names in the fray – the party has quite a large pool of experienced campaigners from which to draw. Both existing and former councillors could well be in the hat. Could Russell Eagling follow in the footsteps of his partner Ed Fordham who placed third in 2010? Might James King, ardent Lib Dem campaigner and former Kilburn councillor, have a tilt? Janet Grauberg and David Abrahams – also former Kilburn councillors might be tempted. The faithful might be very wary of taking another candidate parachuted in from outside the area.

Meanwhile, as I suggested in yesterday’s post, it would be good to see the Conservatives taking advantage of their rivals discomfort not by ramming it down their throats but rather by hogging the pulpit for as long as they can to tell the voters of Hampstead & Kilburn why they should overturn that 42 vote deficit that kept Chris Philp out of Westminster in 2010.

[update: http://www.westhampsteadlife.com/2013/02/emily-frith-its-dream-job-0056.html]

Another story rumbles on in the background to all this. Nigel Rumble has been a member of all three main politicial parties. At the moment he’s a Labour card holder. He’s been dropping not very subtle hints on Twitter that he’d be an excellent candidate – no-one seems to be talking about him for the Labour nomination and if it’s an all-women shortlist then he’d be ruled out anyway. So, will Nigel be the first independent candidate to throw his hat in the ring?

Unlike the LibDem PPC looking for a quick “safe house”. I have a principle main home in H&K and am part of this wonderful vibrant community!
— Nigel Rumble (@nigelrumble) February 19, 2013

What H&K needs will be an “independent” candidate who engages with the local people of the constituency not for party CV profile building !
— Nigel Rumble (@nigelrumble) January 21, 2013

Emily Frith stands down as Lib Dem PPC

I met Emily Frith last Monday at the local Area Action Group. She seemed rather nice, if perhaps a little timid. I am assured that she can turn on the steely politician-speak when needed.

Emily, centre stage, when she won the nomination

Were she to have had any chance of playing a meaningful role in the next general election then she’d certainly need to find that inner steel. As the Lib Dem PPC for Hampstead & Kilburn she was going to face an uphill battle. But now we’ll never know if she had what it takes as she’s had to relinquish the role as would-be MP just a month and three days after being nominated.

She released a statement this afternoon:

“It is with regret that I have to let you know that I am standing down as the Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn just a few weeks after I had the honour of being selected by Liberal Democrat members in the constituency.

This has come about because I have been offered a job in government in which I will be working to give the Liberal Democrats a stronger voice within the Coalition in key areas where I have expertise. However, as this job is politically restricted I will not be allowed to continue as a parliamentary candidate.

I am very sorry to be leaving the campaign at this stage, as I have enjoyed working with Hampstead and Kilburn’s excellent team of campaigners backed by the strong membership I have enjoyed getting to know in recent months.”

It’s a shame that she wasn’t able to be more specific about the job she’s taking on “in key areas where I have expertise”. One wonders what it says about her belief deep down of her chances of winning this seat. Remember that although the Lib Dems came third in 2010 here, Hampstead & Kilburn was the closest three-way seat in the country but at the moment pundits are calling the next election here a two-horse race.

Now the Lib Dems have to go through the selection process all over again – apparently it’s not as simple as just choosing the person who came second in their ballot. Cllr Keith Moffitt, who leads the Lib Dems in Camden said, 

“Obviously our members and supporters in Hampstead & Kilburn will be disappointed as Emily had impressed during the selection and was already working hard with local campaigners… We will be looking to advertise for a new Prospective Parliamentary Candidate shortly.”

One would think that the Lib Dems need to put up someone that already has a power base in the constituency if they are to have any hope of taking this seat.

Meanwhile, Conservative PPC Simon Marcus will be thinking that the start to his campaign couldn’t be going any better – as things stand he has no Labour or Liberal Democrat candidate to campaign against. This would be a great opportunity for him to set out his stall before the party apparatus falls into the negative campaigning that – whatever the protestations of candidates and party workers – seems to be an inevitable part of electioneering.

[update: http://www.westhampsteadlife.com/2013/02/shouting-into-empty-room-emilys-gone-0055.html]
[update: http://www.westhampsteadlife.com/2013/02/emily-frith-its-dream-job-0056.html]

Simon Marcus elected as PPC for Hampstead & Kilburn

On Wednesday night the local Conservative group held an open primary to select their Hampstead & Kilburn parliamentary constituency candidate. Anyone could go along and vote for one of the three candidates, whether or not you were a member, or even supporter of the party.

I couldn’t make it, so local Tory voter Greg reported from the front line.

“More than 200 people attended the Open Primary to select the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for the 2015 general election. Three candidates had been shortlisted and each had 30 minutes to convince the audience why they should vote for them.

Great turnout for the event

The candidates did not appear at the same time and lots were drawn to determine who would appear first second and third. All candidates were asked the same three questions by the moderator and then for the remaining time, the audience were able to ask a question. Strict rules ensured that once an issue had been raised, no further questions could be asked on that topic.

Apart from some obvious planted questions, topics ranged from local issues (saving the high street) to national (the economy, gay marriage, immigration and High Speed rail) and international issues (the EU, defence and international aid).

The moderator’s questions gave the candidates an early opportunity to declare their love for the area – what it stands for, its heritage and how it represents all that is great about London. Although Seema Kennedy lives in St Albans, she promised to start house hunting in the area the next day should she win. Simon Marcus believed he knows what it takes to win the seat, following his council by-election victory last September.

Each was asked to list an issue of party policy they disagreed with. Alex Burghart wanted to see the party go further on tax breaks for married couples, Seema Kennedy wanted the government to spend more on defence and Simon Marcus was concerned about the direction of policy for small businesses. As a small businessman himself, he wants to see less regulation and, as a last resort, legislation for state lending to boost jobs and growth. All were asked their views on Europe. The consensus was that David Cameron’s referendum on a negotiated settlement was the right way to resolve the issue.

Burghart: next government must address “social deficit”

Some of the highlights from the audience questions for Alex Burghart included one on who should be leader of the Conservative party if David Cameron does not secure a majority in 2015. Diplomatically, Alex suggested “the very best candidate.” He argued that the greatest challenge post-2015 would still be the economy but, relating to his day job, he spoke about the “social deficit”, which the next government must address. He argued that the council could do more to protect local business and cited an example in Westminster where there is an arrangement to protect petrol stations from closing. He would like to see private landlords sit round the table with the council to ensure the high street is not taken over by large chains.

Kennedy: uncontrolled immigration puts strain on public services

Seema Kennedy was asked about her views on immigration. As an immigrant herself, she said that much of the beauty of the area is down to it being a “melting pot.” However, she argued that uncontrolled immigration puts a strain on public services and so agreed with the government’s policy. She answered a tricky question on Article 50 of the EU’s constitution (the one relating to withdrawal). She was confident that David Cameron would secure the right result. She was also concerned that the high street was dying and listed business rates as a reason. She believed that business rates are and will continue to be a barrier to small businesses opening and talked of a friend in Kensal Green who was unable to extend her premises because of the extortionate rates.

Simon Marcus was asked what he would do in his first 100 days as the candidate. He explained how he would build on what he has done since September, try and achieve a solution for West Hampstead police station, talk to free school groups, residents associations and others. He received a round of applause when he answered that he agrees with the proposals on gay marriage, but also said it is important for religious organisation to have a choice and that freedom of choice has to be preserved. On reaching out to kids on the council estates he used his experience of setting up a boxing academy to ensure kids have a purpose. On reaching out to the wider community he said that he would knock on doors and target all areas through community meetings. He believes the way to win is to get the message out to as many people as possible.

Marcus: in favour of Boris Island

Marcus also said he would like to see the international aid budget reduced but made to work further, would like a chance to look study HS2 more closely, perhaps increase the National Minimum Wage, and if pushed would like to see airport expansion at Stansted – although he is a fan of the Boris Island proposal.

Counting the votes

Once the votes were cast, the moderator announced that Simon Marcus had won in the first round having achieved at least 50% of the vote. In his short acceptance speech, he didn’t want to get “schmaltzy”, but said it “was a dream come true.””

Emily Frith is Lib Dem’s H&K candidate

Last night, the local Liberal Democrats nominated Emily Frith as their candidate for the Hampstead & Kilburn seat at the next general election.

Frith is the first candidate from the main three parties to be named. The Conservatives will be choosing from a shortlist of three at the end of the month, while Labour are being much cagier and it may not be until the summer that we find out who will be the third name in the ring.

What do we know of Emily Frith. According to one of her two Twitter accounts (@EmilyFrith and @EmilyFrithHandK) she’s a “Blackheath mum”. As Richard Osley has already pointed out, this gives us the (outside) possibility of two consecutive Blackheath residents as MP – Glenda Jackson also lives there. I know lots of you feel strongly about such things.

The more politically focused account, describes her as “a comms advisor working for two national charities. I have over 10 years’ campaigning experience, for charities, community groups & the Liberal Democrats.” Her LinkedIn profile tells us that she’s had experience with the Prison Reform Trust, Driver Youth Trust (a charity for children with literacy problems), as well as for the Lib Dems themselves.

On her own website, emilyfrith.net, the Cambridge graduate explains why she wants to be an MP.

“I’ve seen the job of an MP first-hand, and I think its one of the best jobs you can have. Yes its busy, yes the hours are silly and you are doing at least two jobs – being present in your constituency and campaigning on its behalf in parliament, but the rewards are immense.

I want to be a really good backbench MP. Someone who helps individual families with their housing problems or campaigns on issues like transport or access to local schools. Yes I know casework can be frustrating, when progress is slow and the demands are high, but to actually succeed in changing someone’s life in such a fundamental way is a privilege.

I want to stand up for the issues I care about, which tend to be the kind of Cinderella services which are too often neglected by mainstream political debate – prison reform, children in care, mental health services and homelessness. I think that the intractable seeming nature of some of these problems is really down to a lack of political will to solve them. I want to be a voice for those people whose voices are so often ignored.”

So far, so fairly predictable.

Hampstead & Kilburn is a very high profile constituency, even more so after the incredibly close race in 2010 that saw her colleague Ed Fordham place third, just 841 votes behind Labour’s Glenda Jackson. Emily has a big task on her hands if she is to overcome the antipathy towards Lib Dems nationally and climb ahead of the two other parties. At least, while campaigning on Sunday, she saw at first hand some of the unique challenges of H&K:

“Spotted two celebrities at different times of the morning– James Corden and Matt Smith. This is such a glamorous constituency.”

Before she was selected as the candidate, Emily wrote that she would “Design a strategy to engage diverse groups such as young commuters, families and people from different backgrounds with key messages and different communication tools, e.g., Twitter and Facebook”. Now that she’s been chosen, does this mean we’re about to endure a social media onslaught? Glenda won without much recourse to social media, but Ed – by far the most active online of the three – no doubt garnered some votes because of his tweeting. Aside from the two Twitter accounts, there’s also a Facebook page already.

Based on this trawl of her online presence, Emily seems to be an enthusiastic candidate with a strong record of creating campaigns but it’s not immediately clear what many of these campaigns have achieved. This may just be a communication issue, but she does describe herself as a communications professional.

No doubt we’ll get to know more about her in the coming months – we’re still more than two years away from the election. At least we can be fairly sure that if she should surprise the early pundits and become the next MP for Hampstead & Kilburn, she’s unlikely to disappear off to the jungle. Here’s what she tweeted about Nadine Dorries’ recent escapade:

“Being on telly and eating insects is not a good enough reason for having a month off work. What does #nadine think she’s being paid to do?”

Drop in on Glenda Jackson for advice

Hampstead & Kilburn MP Glenda Jackson holds advice surgeries in the constituency several times a month. If you’ve got anything you want to ask her or want help with, you can just turn up. She’s less able to help with recycling or local planning – those are issues to raise with your local councillors; but topics such as benefits or immigration issues, she’s the person to go to.

And for those of you who complain you never see her in the area, here’s your chance. It’s interesting that she doesn’t hold any of these surgeries in Hampstead itself. Which is either because she believes that the people of Hampstead need less help than those of Kilburn, or perhaps because the prospect of listening to the well-heeled of NW3 complain about their #firstworldproblems would be enough to drive anyone mad.

Anyway, all the dates and locations are below (click image for larger version).

Fortune Green stays in Hampstead & Kilburn

It always sounded improbable. How could Fortune Green ward disappear off into the clutches of a Barnet-dominated parliamentary constituency, leaving behind its southern neighbours? There was lobbying from all three parties; there was wailing; I heard a rumour that some Liberal Democrats actually gnashed their teeth. The end result: the Boundary Commission’s revised proposals have kyboshed the idea.

The Commission proposed a Hampstead and Kilburn constituency, comprising two Brent wards and eight Camden wards, that would be similar, but not identical, to the existing Hampstead and Kilburn constituency. The Commission did not include the Camden ward of Fortune Green in this constituency, but rather in a Finchley and Golders Green constituency. It also did not include the Camden ward of Belsize, which it proposed should be included in the Camden and Regent’s Park constituency. Both these wards are in the existing Hampstead and Kilburn constituency.

In light of the many representations, such as from Camden Borough Council, that the Commission’s proposals in relation to both Fortune Green and Belsize wards would break existing ties, we have decided that these wards should be in a Hampstead and Kilburn constituency. To satisfy the electorate range, we have decided that two other Camden wards, Gospel Oak and Kentish Town, which the Commission included in its Hampstead and Kilburn constituency, should instead be included in a Camden Town and Regent’s Park constituency. Our proposed Hampstead and Kilburn constituency (which is the same as that proposed by the Conservative Party) comprises wards from two boroughs, as in the Commission’s proposals. Since this constituency would be largely similar to the existing constituency, we have decided that the name should be retained.

In the near term this is all a bit of an irrelevance, but it may not be in the longer term. We all know that the Lib Dems said they wouldn’t back the Conservatives over changes to constituency boundaries as the Tories failed to move forward on an elected House of Lords. In practice, this means that any changes have a Lib Dem’s chance in Tower Hamlets of getting through before the next election. Nevertheless, the revised proposals from the Boundary Commission may carry some weight should the Conservatives win an outright majority next time around (Labour’s already said it would scrap the proposals).

The revised proposal returns Fortune Green to its rightful home as part of Hampstead & Kilburn. There are other changes to the 2011 plans, but the upshot compared to the situation as it stands today is simple: H&K gains Highgate but loses Brondesbury Park. Everything else is as you were. You can view all the revisions across London on this gigantic map.

To recap:
Existing wards in H&K:  Belsize, Fortune Green, Frognal and Fitzjohns, Hampstead Town, Kilburn, Swiss Cottage, West Hampstead, Brondesbury Park, Kilburn, Queens Park

Proposed revision: Belsize, Fortune Green, Frognal and Fitzjohns, Hampstead Town, Highgate, Kilburn, Swiss Cottage, West Hampstead, Kilburn Park, Queens Park

Here’s the 2011 proposal from the Boundary Commission
Here’s the 2012 revision

As I say, this will not happen before the next election (at the very earliest), so it’s a bit premature to start predicting the political ramifications of any such changes.

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.