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H&K 2017: The Kirsty Allan interview

Kirsty Allan, Liberal Democrat candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn

Kirsty Allan, Liberal Democrat candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kirsty and Lib Dem activists out on the campaign trail

Kirsty and Lib Dem activists out on the campaign trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A sweaty few hours for local Lib Dem councillors

Camden’s late count means candidates will be sweating it out for longer than most, especially those in tight wards – which includes West Hampstead, Fortune Green and possibly Kilburn.

We woke up to the news that Labour and UKIP have made gains in councils that have declared so far, while the Lib Dems have taken a beating.

In West Hampstead and Fortune Green, the Lib Dem candidates, five of whom are incumbent councillors, still have a few more hours to see whether they can buck the trend. The BBC is calculating a 13% drop in support for the Lib Dems but they aren’t being wiped off the political map – as I write they’ve lost only four more seats than the Conservatives (from a much smaller base of course), and have retained 237 to date. They are losing 1 out of every three seats. The challenge they have locally is that the margins are tight in West Hampstead (remember, that Labour fell just 77 votes short in 2010 off a much higher turnout). Fortress Fortune Green was markedly safer with a 446 seat cushion over the Conservatives. Check out “What happened in 2010” for more detail on share of votes in the local wards.

Holding all six seats in the two wards would be a great result for the Lib Dems and Labour would definitely feel miffed if they can’t nick at least one – but expect West Hampstead at least to go down to the wire. A split ward is more than possible.

Over in Kilburn, in a two-way fight that got nasty right before polling day, it would be a minor miracle if the Triple-J Lib Dem team of James, Janet & Jack could buck the national trend and unseat Labour. But a ramping up of candidate sniping suggests that Labour aren’t as confident as they perhaps should have been (or arguably would have been if they hadn’t kicked Mike Katz off the slate).

Overall, it’s hard to see Labour not retaining control of the Town Hall – they’d need some strange results for that to happen. But all eyes will be on West Hampstead – the most marginal ward in the country’s most marginal constituency?

West Hampstead elects

Local and European elections take place on May 22nd. Eager readers have already been checking out the West Hampstead Life election pages, which give a detailed rundown of each of the four local wards, as well as explaining why it’s worth voting and a host of other info.

All the candidates for the local elections have now been announced. Three of the the four wards we’re covering – Fortune Green, Kilburn and Swiss Cottage – have 12 candidates each; that’s three from each of the Labour, Lib Dems, Conservatives and Greens. West Hampstead ward has an extra two candidates, one from UKIP who’s already got himself in hot water, and one from the other end of the political spectrum – the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition.

Why West Hampstead ward? It’s likely to be the most closely contested of the four wards with the incumbent Lib Dem candidates relying heavily on a personal vote as their party braces itself for a beating. Labour are attacking it hard, while the Tories have been waving around demographic statistics that they believe mean they’re destined for victory. The reality? It’s likely to be close, and a split ward (not all elected councillors from the same party) is quite possible.

Fortune Green feels more like a head-to-head Lib Dem/Conservative battle although Labour does have some strong candidates – all of whom are standing under the Labour and Cooperative party banner. Kilburn is a straight fight to the death between Labour and the Lib Dems and no-one else will get a look in. It’s notable that it’s the only ward that the Conservatives haven’t sent over candidate bio information for and if you can catch a local Tory off the record, they’re likely to concede that victory in Kilburn would be a surprise.

Swiss Cottage, on the other hand, is likely to remain safely in Conservative hands – if either of the other two even got a look in here, it would be an upset and would probably indicate a particularly bad day at the ballot box for the party nationwide.

What’s the difference?

The three main parties have all published their manifestos for Camden. Labour’s is a reasonably punchy document with five clear pledges followed by a wadge of extra detail. The Conservatives is a frankly too long tome that gets in cosnsistent digs at Labour (in red text, just so you don’t get confused), which is disappointing when a manifesto should be all about what you are going to do rather than trash talking the opposition. The Lib Dems have gone for a funky online version, that’s actually quite easy to navigate and lets you quickly zoom in on the topics that matter to you.

The Green Party, which I’m sad to say has been phenomenally uncommunicative, doesn’t appear to have a manifesto document, but sets out its policies here. The Greens are far from a token presence in Camden – they hold one council seat in Highgate and are working their environmentally friendly socks off to win all three seats there. Unfortunately for them, their existing councillor Maya de Souza is standing down. Richard Osley does a good job of explaining the challenge this leaves them.

UKIP doesn’t have a Camden branch and appears to have one “local election” manifesto for the whole country, which you can read here. The TUSC manifesto is here.

Over the next few days, we’ll take some of the major issues that we face here in north-west Camden and looking at the parties’ policies as well as seeing what individual council candidates have to say.

Profile: Flick Rea “It’s payback time”

In our occasional series of profiles of notable locals, Moya “Scoop” Sarner spoke to Fortune Green ward councillor Flick Rea.

“Flick Rea’s home is a testament to her passions, from the theatre posters on her wall, to the ‘I heart Kilburn’ bag hanging off her kitchen chair. And, of course, Mr Monster, her cat who has his own Facebook fan page (although at the last count, he only had four likes, and one of them was mine).

Flick Rea & Mr Monster

She’s one of West Hampstead’s most recognisable faces, not only because of her standing in local politics (a councillor for Fortune Green, she was first elected in 1986), but because she’s lived here for 43 years and she knows it better than anyone.

“There’s something unusual about West Hampstead,” she says. “It’s in the air, it’s on the water, it’s in our bones – it isn’t like anywhere else. It’s much friendlier than anywhere else in London, and it’s always been a harmonious place to live. Although some neighbours might not get on, we don’t have large pockets of people who can’t stand other parts of the community. And although there are a few people who will hang on tight to the past and fight against new flats or shops, most of the changes in this area I appreciate enormously.”

She has certainly seen a lot of changes. “The place is cleaner, tidier, greener. When I first lived here, it was bedsit land, but now a lot of the cheap housing towards the north end has been turned into beautiful family houses. Iverson Road is transforming as you look at it. They’re all smartening themselves up with new gates, you can see how the area has changed just by counting the burglar alarms.”

Flick first became involved in politics nearly 40 years ago, while she was trying to cross the Finchley Road. “It all started when I was standing in the middle of the road, screaming at the traffic because I couldn’t get across to collect my kids from school – they were down at Holy Trinity opposite Waitrose. I was shouting at all these cars when a frightfully nice woman came up to me, and said ‘Oh I know how you feel, isn’t it dreadful, all these cars? I think we should do something.'”

The next thing she knew, Flick was on a protest. Without permission from the police, a group of them walked, placards and children in hand, round and round West End Green, crossing Mill Lane and West End Lane in a circle, blocking the rush hour traffic.

Soon after, she became a founding member and secretary of the local campaigning group WHAT – West Hampstead Amenity & Transport. Traffic protests and newsletters led to delivering leaflets and addressing envelopes for the Liberals, and, eventually, Flick was elected as a local councillor for the Liberal Democrats in 1986. She also created Spotlight, the local party’s “attempt at a newsletter”, as she calls it, which is still going strong. It was her husband, Charles Rea, who drew the recognisable cartoon logo of an old-fashioned theatre spotlight, a reference to their acting careers.

Flick’s was cut short by the birth of her two children, now with families of their own, but it’s easy to spot her RADA training when she’s in command a council meeting or giving a reading at a local event – or, indeed, being charming and funny in interviews.

Charles was “a very good actor and a lovely man,” Flick says. He died 20 years ago, and his memory sings out from the posters on Flick’s wall advertising his plays as well as from her anecdotes. As for the other cartoons he drew for the newsletter, they don’t get much of a look-in these days, as Flick explains: “I used to use two cartoons to illustrate news stories – a little lady with a shopping basket and a headscarf, and a man with a cloth cap and a stick. But Keith [Moffitt, Lib Dem councillor for West Hampstead] said people in West Hampstead don’t look like that any more, and now I’m only allowed to use them about once an election if I want to represent pensioners. It’s a great concession to me,” she concludes, dryly. An apt illustration, if you’ll excuse the pun, of how NW6’s demography has changed.

When I ask why she’s still involved in politics, her answer is disarmingly honest: “It’s certainly not for the money! What I absolutely love is the entitlement to poke my nose into all sorts of places. Somebody once said ‘Flick Rea would come and inspect my toilet if I let her!’ I like hearing what’s going on, being early with the news, and I really, really care about where I live. I love West Hampstead and I want to make it better. And, I hate to say this because it sounds goody-goody, and I’m not, but, it’s payback time. I’ve had a very privileged and lucky life, not exactly free from financial stress but I’ve never had to endure some of the things that other people have to put up with. If I can do something to help others, this is a good way of doing it.”

If this does sound a bit goody two-shoes, Flick’s wry demeanour returns upon mention of fellow actress-turned-local political figure Glenda Jackson. “She was the year above me at RADA. Our paths have relatively rarely crossed then or since” Enough said.

Could she ever leave? “In a box. I never want to leave West Hampstead. I’ve sorted my house out so that I can live on the ground floor when stairs become a problem. When we first moved here, into a bedsit on Fawley Road, I went to the shops on West End Lane and I remember walking back with a bunch of daffodils and thinking ‘This is just the best place.’ And so it is.”

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]

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?”

Lib Dems take a battering in West Hampstead

London Elects released the results of the mayoral and assembly elections by ward yesterday. A bit of number crunching later and here are the percentage of votes and change from 2008 for the four local Camden wards (West Hampstead, Fortune Green, Kilburn and Swiss Cottage).

What can we deduce from the data? Well, nothing that we didn’t know already in the sense that the Lib Dems (who have six local councillors – three each in Fortune Green and West Hampstead) took a hammering as they did across the city and across the country.

It is reasonable to take the London-wide assembly member vote as the fairest reflection of party support as it is relatively devoid of the personality politics that beset both the mayoral race and the Barnet & Camden constituency race.

The Lib Dems polled better locally than they did across the city as a whole, taking 10.8% of the vote compared to 6.8% across London. However, if we look at the drop from 2008, the picture is very different. Across London in 2008 the party polled 11.4%, while locally it managed 17.8%. So the percentage point drop locally from 2008 to 2012 was 7 percentage points (or 60.6%), while the percentage point drop London-wide from 2008 to 2012 was 4.6 percentage points (or 59.6%). So even where the Lib Dems are relatively strong, their support was actually worse in this election. This is not surprising, after all it is Lib Dem voters who will feel most aggrieved at their party’s record in coalition.

In most other regards, the local voting patterns were not so different from those across the city: Boris was more popular than his party, while Ken was less popular despite being from this part of London.

The next council elections are still two years away, and the longer-standing Lib Dem councillors in Fortune Green and West Hampstead may feel that their personal stock will still be high enough to secure their seats even if the party continues to struggle nationally at the ballot box. Whether all three seats in both wards will stay yellow, however, must surely be in some doubt.

Area group postscript : Burn, baby, burn

After the Area Group meeting had disbanded, West Hampstead Lib Dem councillor Nancy Jirira approached me to make what were distinctly party-political points.
“The Labour party in Camden,” she said “needs to be managing more efficiently, rather than just focusing on ‘cuts cuts cuts'”. She accused Labour – now in control of Camden council – of a lack of imagination, and argued that the proposed cuts were “officer-led” decisions rather than being developed by political debate. 
“There could be much more business process re-engineering,” she argued (that’s ‘doing things better’ to you and me), based on her experiences of working for a local PCT. She couldn’t tell me what proportion of the £80 million in cuts could be delivered through efficiency savings vs. cuts to services/programmes. 
She also thought that Labour, as the opposition party nationally, should be holding the government to account, even though her own party is in government. In fact, she came come across as disillusioned and disappointed with Labour as a whole. Which is no doubt how many in her own party feel about the path that their own leadership has taken them down.
She also said that it was crazy that schoolchildren were going on demos, and seemed to be blaming Labour for that too. I pointed out that most of the anger about changes to education funding was being directed towards Lib Dems over the broken promise on tuition fees. 
In what may be a representative position of Lib Dem councillors across the country* she was clearly extremely sympathetic to the protestors. “They can burn Nick Clegg’s effigy if they want,” she said, which is an odd thing to say about the leader of your own party. 
Do other Camden Lib Dems hold similar (if less publicly expressed) views? Will all six West Hampstead and Fortune Green councillors run under the Lib Dem banner again? Might some with a strong personal reputation be better placed running as independents given that the Lib Dems could get hammered the next time we go to the voting booth?
*wild speculation – probably

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.”