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Tulip2GE2017

Bouquets for Tulip as she surges to comfortable win

Tulip Siddiq MP romped home with a clear victory in Hampstead & Kilburn, getting 34,646 votes and more than half of all votes. That was a margin of 15,560 over her Conservative opponent Claire-Louise Leyland. There was a swing to Labour of 14.6%, which transformed Tulip’s slim margin of 1,138 seats in 2015. Far from being a squeaky tight seat as many predicted, H&K is – for the moment at least – a Labour stronghold.

And the winner is ... Tulip Siddiq M.P. Image credit @betterforbritain

And the winner is … Tulip Siddiq M.P. Image credit @betterforbritain

Conservatives’ share of the vote fell 10%. Kirsty Allan of one-time challengers the Lib Dems got 4,100 votes (up 1.4%) while John Mansook of the Greens got 742 (down 3.2%). The two independent candidates couldn’t muster 200 votes between them. UKIP had not stood, and it was their voters going to the Conservatives that was Tulip’s biggest fear. In the end, she had no need to worry.

Tulip was clearly helped by the strong Labour boat, captained by Jeremy Corbyn, but H&K voters also seem to have responded to her focus on her local record and no doubt the very high intensity campaign that her local supporters were able to muster at short notice.

Her strong anti-Brexit stance must also have played a role, and may well have been a key driver of the drop in the Tory vote. One theory doing the rounds at the count was that remainer Tories were voting Lib Dem, but if true, then other Lib Dem voters must have switched to Labour perhaps to keep the Tories out rather than due to a change of ideology, as the Lib Dem overall share of votes remained about the same.

Did the drive to sign up young people have an effect in Hampstead & Kilburn. It probably helped. An additional 2,779 voters signed up to vote (though age is unknown), taking the total electorate to just shy of 83,000. Turnout on the day was higher than the national average, rising 3 percentage points to 70.4% (which translated to 4,443 extra votes compared to 2015).

What of our neighbours? In Camden’s other constituency, Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer stormed home with a majority in excess of 30,000. In H&K’s neighbouring Brent seat, Brent Central, Labour’s Dawn Butler was also a convincing winner with a 28,000 majority. Looking south, Karen Buck – also Labour – was in a similar position to Tulip, defending a small majority and with the threat of a strong Tory challenge. She too ended up coming home safely with an 11,500 majority.

All those election leaflets, now we need to recycle them (... or just reuse them for the rumoured next GE?)

All those election leaflets, now we need to recycle them (… or just reuse them for the rumoured next GE?)

Labour’s only local disappointment, and the only glimmer of hope for the Conservatives in our part of the capital was to the north in Finchley and Golders Green, Conservative Mike Freer was re-elected, though his majority was only just over 1,500. It was a similar picture further north still, where local boy Mike Katz – former Labour councillor for Kilburn before his controversial deselection – looked like he was in with a good shot of taking Hendon. In another very tight race, the rising Labour tide wasn’t quite enough for Mike who fell just under 1,000 votes short of unseating Conservative Matthew Offord. One feels Mike’s time will come.

What does any of this mean – well, no great change locally for now, but brace yourselves for another trip to the polling booths before too long in the next round of “Tulip takes on allcomers”.

Kirsty_Allan_Hampstead&Kilburn_ft

H&K 2017: The Kirsty Allan interview

Kirsty Allan, Liberal Democrat candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn

Kirsty Allan, Liberal Democrat candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kirsty and Lib Dem activists out on the campaign trail

Kirsty and Lib Dem activists out on the campaign trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

West Hampstead library at 8.30am on polling day 2015 via Rita Tudela

Election fever hits West Hampstead, again.

West Hampstead library at 8.30am on polling day 2015 via Rita Tudela

West Hampstead library at 8.30am on polling day 2015 via Rita Tudela

For the third year running, voting fever is upon us. Hampstead & Kilburn looks like being a key battleground once again as Brexit clashes with broader political and party-political issues to muddy the waters for many voters.

To be honest, like Brenda, I’m not sure I can take much more. We love West Hampstead because it’s a nice place to live, but it’s the marginal bit of a marginal seat – and therefore politically interesting. Indeed, Channel 4 News has already been vox-popping Kilburnites (Labour activists may want to look away).

So far, only two of the three main parties here have candidates. Labour’s Tulip Siddiq will be trying to hold the seat and her job as MP, while the Lib Dems were well ahead of the game selecting Kirsty Allan some months ago. The Conservatives will choose their candidate on Tuesday.

Campaigning won’t begin in earnest until after Parliament is dissolved on May 2, and the deadline for candidates isn’t until 11 May – so plenty of time for the Greens, UKIP and whoever else fancies a tilt to come out of the woodwork.

The #Whampstead 2015 hustings

The 2015 West Hampstead Life hustings (yes, that is PJ O’Rourke in the front row)

The not-to-be-missed West Hampstead Life hustings (I think the largest in the constituency in 2015), will be sometime at the end of May – the precise date is t.b.d. Election day itself is June 8.

Setting the stage

If you’re new to West Hampstead, then here’s a quick primer on the constituency’s recent electoral history.

Back in 2010, it was a three horse race with Glenda Jackson (MP for the area since 1992) unexpectedly holding the seat with the slimmest of majorities – just 42 votes separated her and Conservative Chris Philp (now an MP in Croydon). Lib Dem Ed Fordham was very close behind – just another 800 votes behind Chris – making H&K the tightest three-way in the country.

Five years later, that Lib Dem support collapsed from 31% to just 6% and H&K was a straight Tory/Labour dogfight. Yet again, the Conservatives were pipped at the post when Tulip Siddiq took 44.4% of the vote to Simon Marcus’s 42.3%: a margin of victory of less than 2% and less than 1,200 votes.

In 2017, the national political landscape looks very different. Depending which polls you read, the Conservatives are on about 48%, Labour on 24%, Lib Dems 12% and UKIP 7% (Times/YouGov – April 19).

Hampstead and Kilburn is in the top 25 Conservative target seats so if the national swing of ~7% to the Tories was replicated locally, they would win comfortably. They only need a 1% swing from Labour to take the seat.

But Brexit complicates matters. Theresa May has put Brexit front and centre of this election, but Camden was one of the 10 most pro-Remain areas in the country, with 74.9% voting Remain last year. In addition, Labour’s Tulip Siddiq has been a prominent Brexit rebel within Labour, voting against the party on Article 50. Nevertheless, Labour has clearly stated already that it will not seek a second referendum should it get elected in June.

The 2017 candidates

Just to show how much of a surprise the election announcement was, the Conservatives are in the embarrassing position of not having a candidate yet. This is because of plans to change constituency boundaries, which would have led to Finchley and Golders Green MP Mike Freer becoming the candidate for a new Hampstead and Golders Green seat. These boundary changes might still happen, but not until after this election.

The Conservatives will not be holding another ‘open primary’ to pick their candidate, as they did in 2010. Instead a members’ meeting on Tuesday will choose someone from Central Office’s pre-approved list, which includes current leader Cllr Claire-Louise Leyland and Cllr Siobhan Baillie (both of whom were in favour of Remain). Central Office could parachute in a candidate, even a Brexiteer, but this would more likely damage rather than enhance their chances in the seat. One prominent former Tory has already announced how he will vote, and it won’t be Conservative. Indeed, he will be helping too.

For Labour, Tulip has announced (albeit in rather vague terms on social media) that she will stand for the constituency.

Tulip campaigning in 2015. Photo by Eugene Regis

Tulip campaigning in 2015. Photo by Eugene Regis

It seems the snap election will prevent the re-selection (deselection in some cases!) process for many Labour MPs, but the divisions in the Labour party won’t help their chances. Dan Hodges, Glenda Jackson’s son, former member of the Labour party and Corbyn critic, has already announced who he is voting for – the Tories. It seems he is not alone in his doubts as many Labour supporters, including this prominent one, have expressed concerns over Corbyn’s leadership.

The Lib Dems chose their candidate last autumn. She is Kirsty Allan, she works in PR and has worked for MPs Lynn Featherstone and Norman Lamb. The Lib Dems have the obvious advantage of having a clear Remain stance – but with only one councillor left on Camden – Fortune Green’s own Flick Rea – the Lib Dem central office seems to be focusing resources elsewhere. In 2015, Kirsty ran in neighbouring Westminster North, where she come in fourth with 3.7% of the vote, just behind UKIP with 3.8%.

Kirsty Allan, Lib Dem candidate. Image @kirstyrallan

Kirsty Allan, Lib Dem candidate. Image @kirstyrallan

Expect to see street stalls on West End Lane and outside Finchley Road Waitrose in the coming weeks as all the parties ratchet up their election machines. There are still local elections for much of the country to deal with first on May 4th (and a council by-election in Gospel Oak to divert attention locally), but then it should be all guns blazing.