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H&K 2017: The Claire-Louise Leyland interview

Claire-Louise Leyland is a Camden councillor for Belsize and for three years has been leader of the Conservative opposition on Camden council. She is also the Conservative candidate for Hampstead & Kilburn in the upcoming general election.

Hampstead and Kilburn is one of the Tories’ top target seats – one of the few in London on that list. In both 2010 and 2015, Labour managed to retain the seat by narrow margins. In two short years Tulip Siddiq has established her name and profile among H&K voters but with the Conservatives riding high in the polls nationally, will Claire-Louise Leyland be the candidate to finally take the seat? And if she does, what sort of MP will she be?

Like her fellow candidates she lives locally (Primrose Hill), but  was born and grew up in South Africa, although her father hails from Lancashire. She returned to the UK in 1998. Even though her father lived and worked in South Africa as a ex-pat, Claire-Louise says that “he was still very passionate about the Queen, England and Margaret Thatcher – plus he was a strong Liverpool supporter” crediting him with her interest in politics. On her mother’s side her great uncle was an MP (in South Africa).

Claire-Louise Leyland, stood as the ppc in West Tyrone in 2015. Will stand as ppc for H&K in 2017 Image: Ulster Herald.

Claire-Louise Leyland, stood as the ppc in West Tyrone in 2015. Will stand as ppc for H&K in 2017 Image: Ulster Herald.

In the 2015 election, she stood for the Tories in West Tyrone. It’s a Sinn Fein stronghold and the Conservatives don’t traditionally fare well in Northern Ireland. No great surprise then that she came eighth out of nine candidates with less than 200 votes, but it was of course a valuable experience. Claire-Louise also felt it was important the Conservatives stood so voters had a national choice, to help move away from any sectarian mindsets. It’s an unusual rationale, but stems from her experience growing up under apartheid in South Africa and from her work for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD).

With the WFD she has worked in Bosnia (seven times), Georgia and Moldova. “They send out people to strengthen democratic organisations, such as women’s groups,” she explains. She has also worked as a voluntary therapist with children in South Africa and on the Syrian borders helping those with PTSD.  Her work focuses on art therapy and as well as being a practising therapist she also runs a masters programme training art therapists.  It’s an atypical  background for a Conservative candidate.

In the referendum, Claire-Louise campaigned for Remain, though has now aligned herself with the Conservative party policy on Brexit, when she could have taken a softer approach.  Why?

“It was a very difficult choice in the referendum,” she say. “I knew I was going to vote for Remain which is why I campaigned for them. I respect the fact that everyone across the country had the opportunity to think about the issues and make a choice and we need to respect the democratic institutions… there was an enormous amount of information summing up both sides of the issue in the mainstream press. So people had the information to make the decision… A choice was made, a decision was reached and if there were flaws in the system all we can do at this point is learn from them for the future, but we have to accept the decision that was reached.”

Of course, Hampstead & Kilburn is clearly Remain country, so inevitably not everyone she meets in her campaigning agrees with her. Her ward of Belsize has 1,400 resident EU citizens. “I’m meeting people whose lives are in limbo and who have a sense they are not in control of their future. Having grown up in South Africa in a state of emergency it was something I have experienced”. So her message to EU nationals is that she’s aware of the uncertainty around their future and believes this is an issue that needs to be decided at the start of negotiations.

When asked about how Remain voters will vote in this election, she played the Jeremy Corbyn card; saying that whatever the reason behind their referendum vote – personal, business or European idealism – “they are all concerned about having Jeremy Corbyn leading our country in the Brexit negotiations. We have to make a decision about who will lead our country.”

One positive sign for the future is that Claire-Louise has noticed that people are showing a greater interest in politics since the referendum. She thinks that not everyone is taking on the challenge of how you use your time and energy to engage with the issues. Her experiences in eastern Europe showed how alien the idea of having agency within their community was to some people – she cites an example of people complaining about litter but never picking it up, or even realising they could; which clearly resonates in Camden.

“In this country you think everyone knows they have a voice and can get engaged. When I moved here it never occurred to me that people wouldn’t feel able to shape their country, but I have worked in Hackney and there are kids who don’t recognise this.”

During this short election campaign, Claire-Louise has talked much about her “plan” for Hampstead & Kilburn, but has not elaborated much further. The Conservative manifesto was just being been published when we spoke, and she said that then she would set out a clearer message about what that would look like for the constituency. She does say the usual sort of things about residents having someone who will listen to them, talk with them, hold Camden and Brent councils to account as well as the Mayor of London. She talks about ensuring that education, housing, policing and other services are delivering the right results for our community, transport and infrastructure. To be honest, it’s still not clear what her “plan” is, but now that the manifesto has been published, she will be able to clarify, hopefully at Tuesday’s hustings!

“I believe there should be real scrutiny and evidence-based decision making and that local people’s needs should be at the heart of thinking. What I don’t want to see is the Labour Mayor of London and two Labour councils using our area to rebuild the Labour party. As a community we can’t have our needs put second to a part of the Labour party”.

Claire-Louise Leyland campaigning (on the edge) of West Hampstead

Claire-Louise Leyland campaigning in (or on the edge of) West Hampstead

She talks extensively about local government, and suggests that while Camden Labour blames local cuts on central government funding cuts, in fact there was “an extraordinary amount of duplication of services and inefficiency, a lack of clear evaluation and lack of accountability,” when she was elected in 2010. “My understanding of what the government was trying to do was to make the system of [local] government more accountable, more efficient and better integrated.” She says that overall, she thinks “local government is a much tighter, much better system. I think it is a pathfinder for the how the NHS can adapt to change.”

Aside from Brexit, what other issues are coming up on the doorstep?

“Waste and recycling, but also schools funding. London schools are now the best across the country. I have been working in schools across London since 2001 so I see that they have high levels of need and that needs sufficient funding.” Notably, Labour controls more than twice as many London boroughs – which are responsible for education provision but not funding – as the Conservatives. The Conservatives have pledged that no school will have its budget cut and the total budget will rise by £4 billion over the next parliament.

In West Hampstead specifically, Claire-Louise cites concern about the level of overcrowding at the Underground and Overground stations, and also says community safety is being raised. “We really need to take care with the Pathfinder model, i.e., the integration of Camden and Islington police forces doesn’t leave the outer edges of the boroughs worse off”.

Overall, she seems to fall fairly squarely behind her leader by adopting a relatively interventionist approach for the state. “The system functions well in many ways but where it does not then it is right for the Government to intervene.” Council tax is a good example – with the rate being based on 1991 property values. “Once Brexit negotiations have put us in a secure position, it will be time to tackle issues such as a revaluation. That will an opportunity to refine the system”.

If, in the early hours of June 9th, Claire-Louise is our next MP, what can we expect from her? “I’m interested in being a constituency MP. I’ve come into this because this is the area I want to serve. You don’t have to be in Government as there are many other ways you can influence outcomes. You can sit on APPGs [All-Party Parliamentary Groups] and do all sorts of work at committee stage. Every layer of the system is just as important – I like to do the bit I’m doing to the best of my ability”.

Of course, had the election come after the proposed boundary commission changes (which could still happen), then Barnet’s Mike Freer would likely have been the candidate. Should Claire-Louise and Mike both win this time around, who then would stand for a new seat? “Honestly? I don’t know”, she said, looking slightly sheepish. “That’s politics!” she agreed.

Finally (and without using the words “strong and stable”), why should someone vote for Claire-Louise Leyland? “Because I am incredibly committed to our area, proven that I can get results for our community and I will work hard on your behalf”.

WHL Hustings 2017: Tuesday 23rd May 7.30pm

The 2015 #Whampstead hustings

The 2015 West Hampstead Life/Sherriff Centre hustings

H&K promises once again to be closely fought battle and West Hampstead is the marginal bit of a marginal constituency.

Given the snap election, hustings have been thin on the ground in 2017 – in fact we don’t know of any large-scale hustings at all. We’re therefore very pleased to announce that we’ve teamed up again with the Sherriff Centre and you’ll have the chance to grill your candidates on Tuesday evening at St James’ Church.

Many of you will remember that we held a successful hustings in 2015, with more than 200 people attending. We appreciate this year’s is short notice, but hopefully lots of you will be able to make it.

To make the evening flow smoothly, we’re encouraging you to send questions in advance – the candidates will not see these beforehand. We will then ask some of the popular submitted questions before handing over to the floor.

To send a question, simply drop me an email before midday on Tuesday. There will also be a question box in St James’ Church over the next few days.

Format:
Each candidate will get a 4-minute slot to pitch themselves, and then we will structure the evening in three parts. First, questions on Brexit, then questions on other national issues (incl. foreign policy), and then questions on local issues. If we have time then there’ll be time for free questions at the end.

Doors open at 7pm, we will start at 7.30pm. We will aim to finish around 9.15pm. The Sherriff Centre café/bar will be open. We’d like to encourage floating voters to sit at the front (but you might need to get there early).

Live streaming
We are planning to livestream the event on Facebook in case you can’t make it. You’ll need to Like the West Hampstead Life FB page and keep your eyes peeled around that time.

We very much hope you can make it. All the predictions are that this will be a tight race – come and hear from the candidates and make an informed choice.

Don’t trust an MP who says they’re a “regular person”, says Tulip

Where's the NHS money Boris? Image credit: Tulip Siddiq/BBC

Where’s the NHS money Boris? Image credit: Tulip Siddiq/BBC

Tulip Siddiq, MP for Hampstead & Kilburn, is a busy working mother and her baby daughter Azalea is going through a naughty, determined, stage at the moment. After her mother’s recent haranguing of “smirking” foreign secretary Boris Johnson in the House of Commons, perhaps we know where Azalea gets it from. We sat down with Tulip to talk politics, Brexit, spin and, of course, West Hampstead.*

Juggling political life

At the moment, Tulip and husband Chris both have full-on jobs, and a baby to bring up. She laments that they are often like ships passing in the night and sometimes don’t get to see each other much. When they do, it’s a multilingual affair. Tulip talks to Azalea in Bengali, while Chris talks to her in Mandarin (he is a fluent speaker) to give her a good grounding before she starts learning English. Interestingly, if Chris talks in Bengali, Azalea refuses to answer him. Poor kid is probably baffled!

Juggling home and work life sounds pretty standard for most people, but Tulip is not impressed by those politicians who profess to be just ‘normal regular people’. To become an MP is quite a struggle – in her case with what she describes as a gruelling selection process (particularly bitter as “you are up against your friends”), followed by contesting a tight marginal seat, which can be a vicious experience. It is an unusual existence, and Tulip suggests you shouldn’t trust anyone who suggests they are just a regular woman, or man, who just ended up there by accident.

Tulip revealed that it was a Conservative who gave Tulip her first break in politics. Andrew Marshall, now an independent councillor for Swiss Cottage, is the man responsible, according to Tulip. Back in 2007 there was a council by-election in Fortune Green, following the death of councillor Jane Schopflin. At an informal hustings for candidates, Tulip says that Andrew was impressed enough to email Anna Stewart, then the leader of the Camden Labour, saying very complimentary things about Tulip. This, she says, is what got her noticed and she was then selected for Regent’s Park ward, made a Camden cabinet member, selected as parliamentary candidate and is now our MP. Andrew himself has no recollection of the hustings or the email.

Unity and division 

It may sound strange to outside ears for a member of one party to openly praise a member of another. But the reality is that parliament is not always as partisan as it appears. Tulip has worked with Conservative MP Maria Miller on a cross-party bill on sex and relationship education, and also actively supports Harrow MP Bob Blackman’s private member’s Homeless Reduction Bill. She even shares a corridor (and long chats) with Chris Philp, who many readers will remember as the Tory candidate who came just 42 votes short of toppling Glenda Jackson in Hampstead & Kilburn in 2010.

Tulip is also working on another cross-party bill with Conservative MP Oliver Dowden who, like Tulip, has a constituent imprisoned in Iran. West Hampstead resident Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has spent almost a year now in prison in Iran and Tulip say she is trying hard to get a meeting with the government to discuss her case, but claims Boris is stalling.

Lest we should think that all is sweetness and light across the house, Brexit of course remains divisive. Tulip was one of the Labour rebels who opposed the bill (and stepped down from the shadow cabinet as a result), and she is disappointed with the Tory response. She suggests that some Conservative MPs talked a good game but when push came to shove only Kenneth Clarke voted against the bill.

There are 17,000 EU nationals in Hampstead & Kilburn, one of the highest number in any constituency. Of course they don’t get to vote in a general election, but Tulip argued that “I’m not here to get votes, I’m here to help people.  I am your MP. If you live here I will represent you”. Of course in an area that voted some 3-to-1 in favour of Remain, far in excess of her victory margin, voting against the bill hardly seems like political suicide. Tulip does point out that it is becoming harder not to be very guarded when making public statements given the volume of nasty attacks that ensue if you say something even mildly controversial (that’s you Twitter trolls). A recent Guardian interview with her and anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller, gives some insight into the intensity of vitriol women in particular can face, and the lengths public figures like Tulip have to go to to keep themselves safe.

Brexit has predictably led to a big jump in EU casework – for example she is trying to help a Spanish constituent who has custody of her child whose father is British. Will she be allowed to stay? None of these implications were discussed by the Leave campaign at the time of the referendum, and as Brexit minister David Davis frankly admitted, there has been a complete lack of preparation.

Even this week, Tulip voiced her Brexit ire in the House of Commons, criticising Boris Johnson for “smirking at the British public” over the claim that £350m would go to the NHS.

Thankfully, Tulip is generally amused by Speaker John Bercow cutting MPs down to size in the chamber. “His comments are so funny,” she says (the clip includes a good example).

If proposed boundary changes go ahead, which would on paper suit the Conservatives, then perhaps her rebel stance will help her. Even if there is no change, the national polls don’t look good for Labour under its current leadership. Of course, she is fighting the proposals anyway – which would see Kilburn drop out of the constituency and leafier suburbs to the north and east come in.

Tulip’s main concern is splitting the Kilburn High Road across two constituencies. It is, she points out, already under-represented, particularly  since it straddles two boroughs – four if you go far enough north and south. She became particularly aware of the problems Kilburn faces when her constituency office was there and she became involved in all sorts of local issues: HS2’s ventilation shaft in South Kilburn, payday lenders and loan sharks targeting the area and even parking for Eid prayers.

What about West Hampstead?

Whatever boundary changes, West Hampstead will remain in the constituency, and so the conversation turns to our own neighbourhood. Tulip says that she was sorry to see long-standing Lib Dem councillor Keith Moffitt go, but that Labour’s Phil Rosenberg has carried on the tradition of working hard for the community. As a former local councillor, she is well aware of the problems local councils face at the moment: “The government doesn’t care about local councils, if you haven’t been a local councillor you don’t know the full impact of the decisions they are making.”

On the thorny issues of fortnightly waste collections in the area, Tulip politely demurs that she doesn’t know the full details, although she says that she understands the concerns and lots of people are coming to her surgeries about the issue. She does point out that councils have to make difficult choices and not everyone is aware of the level of services the council provides in other areas – much of which is statutory and cannot be cut.

As the conversation draws to a close, a school bus passed by, which Tulip said she had used as a 16-year-old – yes, she’s lived here that long. Of course, she still finds out new things about the area in West Hampstead Life, which she kindly says plays an important role in keeping locals informed (whether or not we say nice things about her personally). “I always read things where I think ‘I didn’t know that.'”

*this interview took place before the tragic events around Westminster last week

 

Tulip 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?

Undecided voters swayed by Sherriff Centre EU referendum hustings

EU Referendum hustings Fr Andrew

West Hampstead is a very civic-minded area and last night The Sherriff Centre in St James’s Church held a hustings on whether Britain should stay in the European Union. The audience of about 60-80 people was generally respectful and let everyone speak. A republican debate on Fox news it was not. Each side also had a stall with more information. The panel was moderated by Father Andrew Cain.

Audience fills up at the Sherriff Centre

For the Remain side: Andrew Marshall (Conservative councillor for Swiss Cottage and former Deputy Leader of Camden Council), and Hannah Phillips, who is leading the Holborn & St Pancras remain campaign (though has no political affiliation)

Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall

Hannah Phillips

Hannah Phillips

For the Leave side: Calvin Robinson (teacher and Conservative candidate in the recent Kilburn (Brent) by-election) and John Mills (a prominent voice in the Labour party supporting Brexit).

Calvin Robinson

Calvin Robinson

John Mills

John Mills

The referendum campaign on both sides has, with a few exceptions, been pale, male and old(er). It was welcoming therefore to hear Calvin and Hannah balancing out the experience of John and Andrew. There was a proper debate and although there was a bit of passion from the audience and some accusations of both sides on lying, it was all in moderation. We in West Hampstead are a bit respectful.

In the end, did the debate really change anything? Father Andrew conducted a poll of the audience and it transpired that nobody who was previously decided changed their minds, but four uncommitted voters came to a decision.

Whichever direction you think Britain should take, do vote on June 23rd. It’s a momentous decision that will affect everyone, so get out there and make sure your voice is heard. If you’re finding it hard to filter the facts from the fiction, try FullFacts for some stats behind the spin.

LIVE: Election 2015 – Hampstead & Kilburn

4.03am
Oliver Cooper has won the Hampstead Town by-election, triggered by Simon Marcus standing down. He won comfortably ahead of Labour, with the Greens just nicking third from the Lib Dems. Holborn & St Pancras looks to be all but done and dusted, but Hampstead & Kilburn is definitely tight. Tulip, looking tired, said “What will be will be,” admitting it was neck and neck between her and Simon. Labour sources claiming she’s still well ahead (like 1,000 votes), but Tories think it might be closer – though there’s not a convincing vibe that they’ve won it.

2015-05-08 03.58.11

2.22am
Quietened down a bit here. Simon says that if he loses he gets to spend more time with his kids, but if he wins the privelige speaks for itself. He also said he admired Tulip’s fighting qualities and wished they’d not been fighting the same seat so neither would have to endure recounts… that is if we are to have a recount. Tories telling the press that it’s too close to call. Given national trend, it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise now if it was a bit squeaky.

01.55am
Good to chat to Dan Snow on his Unelection online show just now. You can watch the live stream here.

01.40am
Has been a slow hour. Simon Marcus has arrived (he was flanked by policemen when i spotted him!) and the Tories are telling the media that Hampstead & Kilburn is too close to call. Doesn’t marry up with Labour’s belief that they’ve held with an increased if not massive majority. No advance yet on an result time of 4.30am.

12.53am
Labour’s Tulip Siddiq has arrived at the count with her mother. She looked a little nervous while trying to appear calm for the scrum of photographers that surged forward.

Tulip arrives 1

Tulip arrives 2

Simon hasn’t yet turned up – unless I’ve missed him, which is unlikely given that he’s a big lad.

12.39am
Counting, counting, counting… Holborn & St Pancras looks as nailed on Labour as everyone expected. The BBC have predicted Hampstead & Kilburn as Labour hold, though apparently the first ballot boxes to be counted are from the traditionally Conservative areas of Frognal, Belsize, Hampstead etc. so Labour supporters are far from jumping with joy on that side of the room. Looks tight, though people are talking low thousands. Good to catch up with former Camden mayor Jonathan Simpson who’s still full of pomp even if he’s passed the ceremony on to his successor!

12.04am
It’s getting livelier in the green room and in the count. Frank Dobson is here as is his presumed successor Sir Keir Starmer. Still no sign of Tulip or Simon. Natalie Bennett is doing a LOT of interviews, which seem to be along the lines of “lets wait and see what happens”. I was apparently in shot in one of them, helpfully captured by the BBC website!

BBC image

11.32pm
Three of the five main Hampstead & Kilburn candidates are here. Tulip and Simon still missing. Green room getting buzzier as it seems the first exit poll might be bullish for the Conservatives and the result may not be so clear cut.

The guys from the Camden New Journal are here – along with various other media, broadcast, print and online.

11.14pm
The partisan coffee cup is covering UKIP and the Greens as a few of you have pointed out on Twitter!

10.52pm
Only the Greens seem interested in the first result on the TV. For some reason. They’re very prominent here with their green t-shirts, while everyone else wears a rosette.

10.36pm
The green room is filling up with party worthies. The WiFi is terrible. Natalie Bennett is doing a TV interview. Labour in Hampstead & Kilburn are quietly confident but not expecting a big majority. No sign of any of the H&K candidates yet. The count is currently looking at postal votes.

2015-05-07 22.20.59

10.34pm
Evening everyone, and welcome to the live coverage of the count. One, two, thr… Trust me it’ll get worse as the night goes on. We’re in for a long one though hopefully not as long as 2010 when the result was declared at around 9.30am to some very bleary eyed (and teary eyed in some cases) party supporters and journalists.

Camden is predicting a finish time of more like 4.30am tonight. Hang in there with me. I’ll be tweeting interesting stuff from @WHampstead as the night goes on and updating this page as well.

I’m also going to be popping up on Dan Snow’s Unelection crowdsourced zero-budget online-only election night broadcast (Yes, Peter “Swingometer” Snow will also be there). So if you’re multi-screening, do check that out too. In the meatime, buckle up and stay tuned.

Election 2015: The Tulip Siddiq interview

If you’ve been following the election at all, it’s been hard to avoid Tulip Siddiq. The Labour candidate for Hampstead & Kilburn has been all over the papers over the past few weeks, with spreads in the Standard and lengthy profile pieces in the Independent and Sunday Times.

Tulip Siddiq at the West Hampstead Life hustings. Photo via Eugene Regis

Tulip Siddiq at the West Hampstead Life hustings. Photo via Eugene Regis

If you want all the background on her family history (which triggers bouts of smear campaigning from time to time), I suggest you read those. When West Hamsptead Life caught up with her in Apostrophe in the O2 centre, the fast-talking Tulip was focused on her own campaign.

“We started campaigning two years ago, and the beauty of that is that we’ve covered everywhere. I’ve campaigned up in Frognal, where people have been surprised to see me, and now we’re more focused on West Hampstead, Kilburn and Queens Park which is where our councillors are although we came very close to winning a council seat in Belsize so even that is not a no-go area.”

With the bookmakers and many polls calling the seat as a Labour hold with, one must assume, an increased majority from Glenda Jackson’s 42 votes, does Tulip think she’s got it in the bag? She’s too savvy to fall for that trick – and like all politicians, is acutely aware that the key to winning is getting core voters to turn out.

“The main thing is that Labour voters come out on the day – please don’t stay at home thinking this is just another election. The national media has always got the seat wrong and so have the bookies, so I’m not paying too much attention to that. My basis for thinking I can win is on the canvas returns and the promises we get on the doorstep. But it’s hard to call because when I’m on the doorstep everyone is nice to me. Even Tory voters are nice to me because they see the candidate and they’re so nice to me that it’s almost impossible to gauge. I’m absolutely not complacent, and yes, I think I could probably still lose.”

She’s also aware that the national mood is not necessarily reflected in the constituency. “People here make up their own minds,” she says. She also reports a recent upturn in the reaction towards Ed Miliband. “I think the TV debates and the non-dom status announcement seems to have filtered through to people. And I think the Tory personal attacks are really backfiring. I don’t know who’s advising them but it goes down badly. People are asking why they are picking on him on the way he looks.

I suggest that if enough Lib Dem voters go Labour then it would be hard for her to lose, but she points out that although some of the Lib Dem vote is coming to Labour, a lot of people are very apathetic and feel very disillusioned not just with Nick Clegg but with poltiics in general. “As politicians, this is our fault. We shouldn’t promise stuff we can’t keep. I do wonder if these voters will stay home; it’s not so obvious that a whole chunk will come over to Labour. Even in West Hampstead, some very well informed people are saying they just can’t bear to vote this time. That’s a sad state of politics if they feel they can’t vote for anything. I am working on Lib Dem voters telling them they have a choice between me and the Tories. Some say I’m a liberal at heart and I can’t vote for anyone else, and I respect that.”

Tulip has worked on campaigns before, but this is her first parliamentary campaign as the candidate. She’s not been surprised by the press attention given that it’s a high profile seat, but rather says she’s been surprised by how much fun it is. “Everyone keeps telling me I must be really tired, but I’m on adrenalin. I almost can’t sleep at night because I’m so excited about what’s going to happen the next day.”

She admits that she – along with Simon and Maajid, her main rivals – misjudged the hustings. The candidates have attended 20 hustings, some large and lively, but some very small indeed with just half a dozen people in the room and some of them can be party members.

We turn to the thorny issue of housing and what Labour can do for the young professionals who can’t get on the housing ladder.

“The crux of the whole problem is that we need to build more houses. We also have a duty to look after those young professionals who are privately renting so they can afford to buy in the future. We’re not going turn over the housing bubble over night but the private rented sector is so unregulated that the horror stories I hear. I hold surgeries and I’d say 8 out of 10 cases is housing, and not just social housing but also the private rented sector. Rogue landlords charge whatever they want, ask for as much deposit as they want, there’s no kind of accountability, and then they can tell you to leave at short notice. These are things we need to look after as the Labour party.”

“I think scrapping letting agency fees so you don’t have to pay two sets of fees is a good start, but Labour has also said you have three years secure tenancy if you are in the private rented sector, and landlords can’t increase the rent in those three years, and I think that’s a step in the right direction.”

She reiterates that the underlying problem is still the lack of housing, “My problem with housing is that the laws are so heavily in favour of private developers. We need to reduce the powers of private developers and give councils more of an opportunity to build. Another step is to restrict the sale of property to overseas buyers, which I don’t believe is bad for business in the same way that cracking down on tax avoidance doesn’t send businesses elsewhere. Lets not underestimate the power of London.”
Tulip’s Conservative rival Simon Marcus has made a habit of objecting to Conservative party policies, so I ask Tulip which Labour policies she is least proud of.

“I’m not proud of the immigration stuff. I won’t be caught dead drinking out of the Labour immigration mug and it’s not allowed in my office. We got the six mugs with the pledges and I said “Get the immigration one out of my sight now!”

She admits that there is a need to find out who’s in the country, and that she’s in favour of stopping people coming here who are criminals . “You also need to prosecute people who don’t pay the minimum wage and have illegal immigrants working for them. In the first two years of this government I don’t think there was a single prosecution for not paying the minimum wage, which can’t be right. We need to crack down on that.”

However, she argues that both the Tory and Labour rhetoric on immigration is wrong and she doesn’t think the party should be pandering to UKIP. “How is it suddenly acceptable to say ‘immigration bad’? It’s because UKIP has framed the debate for us, so I’m not proud of that.”

One quote in the press that Tulip claims to be embarrassed about was from a “close aide” to Ed Miliband who described her as “prime minister in waiting”. If that’s jumping the gun, what are her ambitions if elected?

“The main thing we have to do is make people in Hampstead & Kilburn feel they have a representative who really is listening to them and who lives in the area.” She’s active on Twitter and replies to e-mails from locals in a way she suggests Glenda Jackson would never have done.

“My role is to represent people in the seat and look into issues of deprivation, because there is such a difference in life expectancy between Hampstead and Kilburn at the moment. But I think my top priority is to make sure that our young people feel like they have a choice. At one school debate, a girl in the front row asked why she should believe anything we say, and I realised we’ve lost an entire generation. So there’s a big role to play in making sure they come back.”

So a junior minister or shadow cabinet position? “I’d need to think about it when the times comes”, she says, wary of tying herself down.

One plausible outcome tomorrow is that she wins the seat, but the Tories and Lib Dems form another coalition. What would be her biggest concerns if that happened?

“My biggest worry locally and nationally is that amid all the talk of the FTSE reaching a record high, of how we’re doing the best among the G7, amid all that, the people who really need help get overlooked. My worry is that the bedroom tax will stay, which is really hurting people in our patch. We keeping looking after an economy that works for the few and not for everyone else. When politicians, who are all well off, go on television and say how much the economy is improving, we need to think about the people for whom its not improving. The economy isn’t so fragile that we’re going into another recession, we just need to think a bit more about the people at the bottom and that’s my worry because if the Tories get in they’ll be so triumphant that they’ll just continue with what they’ve been doing.

And so to the question I’ve asked each candiate. Why should someone vote for Tulip?

“You should vote for Tulip if you want a fairer society, if you want to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor and you want to protect public services.”

Election 2015: The Maajid Nawaz interview

Liberal Democrat Maajid Nawaz is on television far more than any of the other Hampstead & Kilburn candidates and yet despite his high profile and self confidence, he is still a distant third favourite for the seat with pollsters, pundits and bookmakers.

Maajid Nawaz

Maajid’s assured manner and strong hustings performances could well mean that he outperforms the party nationally but, during a long chat with him in The Alliance a couple of weeks ago, he himself seemed unsure as to whether being in politics is the right course for him. “This is my first taste of politics and if I don’t win, I’m trying to work out whether I serve the issues I care about better as the head of Quilliam or whether I can continue serving them [through politics], and it’s something I have to decide.”

Quilliam is the anti-extremist think tank Maajid runs and heads up. It advises governments on policy, publishes research, and does outreach work in communities. Maajid’s personal story has been told in many places, not least by him at every hustings and in his book, Radical. As a teenager, Maajid joined an Islamic extremist organisation, which eventually led to him being imprisoned in Egypt. Amnesty International adopted him as a prisoner of conscience and he finally returned to the UK in 2006. He joined the Liberal Democrats before the 2010 election – which was the first time he’d voted.

He argues that there are many reasons why he chose to stand in this election. “Personally I felt it was important because of my journey. I sit here before you in The Alliance in West Hampstead and it’s a long way from a solitary confinement cell in Egypt, but it’s part of my journey and part of what I want to be able to demonstrate is that there is hope to bring people together. It can potentially send out a signal to young angry teenagers that there is another way to engage in the system, who knows how successful that will be, but the symbolism is there at least. If the 16-year-old me had had the alternative messages, who knows how I’d have reacted to it.

Hampstead & Kilburn appealed to him, not just because it was where he first lived when he returned from Egypt, but because it’s such an engaged constituency. He argues it’s a “small ‘l’ liberal” area, though recognises that his party needs to understand why that doesn’t translate into votes for the “big ‘l’ Liberal Democrats”. When the seat became available after the first candidate, Emily Frith, stepped down, Paddy Ashdown asked him to stand.

“If this seat hadn’t come up it’s unlikely I’d have gone for another seat”, he says. “The Liberal Democrats don’t really have safe seats, so it had to be a combination of factors for me to make all this effort and risk potentially not winning. I’m not really comfortable going out of London. I live here, I work here. And within London it’s realistically the only seat I can really gel with.”

If this election is part of Maajid’s journey, the obvious question is where does he see that journey taking him if he does – or doesn’t – win.

“Hypothetically”, says Maajid with comic exaggeration into the microphone, “If I don’t win then there’s a lot to do with Quilliam. Extremism isn’t going away; there’s another book coming out, I’ve got lots of speaking invitations which I keep turning down because of this. Also the nature of British politics means that being an MP isn’t the only position one can have, so I have the option to explore the future of my relationship with the Liberal Democrats.”

We spoke the day before the Daily Mail published revelations about Maajid’s visit to a strip club on his stag night. Despite the big splash, the article didn’t actually seem to cause too many ripples in Hampstead & Kilburn, and Maajid himself was able to quip about it at the next hustings. However, one has to assume that he was aware this was coming: “I haven’t been attacked too much yet by the right wing press but I imagine something might come up and that would also affect my decision because how much of a distraction do I want from the extremism agenda if I’m being gunned at by the right-wing press just because they don’t want me to win a seat.”

We turn to the scenario where Maajid does win. What are his political ambitions, given that he doesn’t yet seem entirely sure whether politics or Quilliam is his natural home?

“My dream job would be to be in the coalition negotiations and get out of it an elected House of Lords and proportional representation. If I got just those two things, then the country has changed forever, and I’d be happy as a backbencher.”

“Obviously I’d be a new MP so I’d need to give myself a bit of time to learn the ropes and then go forward. If I were to go for a ministerial role, even a junior ministerial role, I would be interested in foreign policy or communities and local government, which deals with social cohesion.”

Aside from his natural territory of counter-extremism, Maajid seems most passionate about housing. He mentions a couple of times that he himself couldn’t afford to buy here. The Liberal Democrats, he tells me, have pledged to build 300,000 new homes although he’s not sure over what timeframe. His personal view is that housing is such a critical issue in the country that there should be a cabinet level minister for housing so someone is accountable. “That’s not a Liberal Democrat suggestion, that’s a personal me suggestion, which I’ve invented but I hope someone takes it up!”

On the spare-room subsidy aka the ‘bedroom tax’, he’s very clear that both the Conservatives and Labour have got it wrong. “There is an issue when we have such an acute housing crisis. Why should someone who’s single have a two-bed flat if they’re not disabled? If they don’t have the need. Labour is in this precarious position where they recognise there’s a housing crisis but they don’t want to flip that so that someone like me, in a 1-bed, should get a bigger place if I had a kid and was in council housing. Labour hasn’t addressed that need, and the Tories haven’t addressed the fact that someone could be disabled or hasn’t been offered alternative housing, but still gets turfed out. So we’ve said, if someone is disabled then they’re exempt. If they’ve volunteered to downgrade and they haven’t been offered an alternative, they’re exempt. But if they fit the criteria, if they’re not disabled, if they’re offered suitable and adequate accommodation to downgrade and they refuse then they have to pay the subsidy.”

Of course the challenge of this is always the geographical element – if the alternative offered is not local, or even in the same part of the country, do tenants still have to take it up to avoid paying?

“I don’t know if the policy goes into that level of detail, but that’s obviously worth looking at.”

One challenge Maajid faces is the accusation that he’s so preoccupied with national and international issues that he lacks sufficient knowlege and interest in local matters.

“The Liberal Democrats have a reputation for being the best at local stuff and I don’t have that reputation.”. His spin on this is to suggest that the ideal scenario is therefore to have a candidate like him who is big on larger issues, supported by a very strong team locally. “We’ve got the Flick Reas and the Keith Moffitts who do know the local stuff inside out.”

Whether Fortune Green councillor Flick or former West Hampstead councillor Keith are willing to do the local grunt work while Maajid pops up on Newsnight isn’t clear, but what he’s suggesting is that a vote for him is a vote for the whole Camden Lib Dem team. “It’s the package”, says Maajid.

Given the hammering the local Lib Dems took at the local elections last year, losing five of their six councillors in West Hampstead and Fortune Green, one wonders whether the “package” is an appealing proposition to voters or not.

The final question: Why should I vote for Maajid Nawaz?

“A vote for me is a vote for hope, for unity, for showing what can change, it’s for reinvigorating liberalism and the democratic process and for trying to enthuse young people. It’s a vote to revive our belief in the system and it’s a vote for someone who will speak his mind and stand on principle even if it means joining a party that had no chance of forming government when he joined it.”

Election 2015: The Simon Marcus interview

Simon Marcus wants to be your Conservative MP. He also really wants you to know that he would be a strong independent voice for Hampstead & Kilburn. On the Conservative backbenches, but independent. Throughout the hustings, and in his interview with West Hampstead Life, Simon has gone to considerable lengths to make clear that he is prepared to stand up and disagree with Conservative party policy – on HS2, on the spare room subsidy, on Trident…

Simon Marcus (right) walks down West End Lane with Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond

Simon Marcus (right) walks down West End Lane with Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond

A cynical observer might wonder whether he’s banking on the electorate in these parts favouring a strong minded MP. Glenda Jackson, stepping down at this election after 23 years as the local MP, has never been afraid to speak her mind after all.

Simon himself will tell you that it’s the very freedom to be able to speak his mind that brought him across to the Conservatives from his left-wing background.

Simon talks a lot about the sense of duty instilled in him by his parents. His father, an Irish immigrant from Cork, was one of the first NHS doctors and saw first hand how tight-knit communities were in the East End of London after the war. “That extraordinary social conscience and witnessing the poverty and the hardship but also the duty and the strength of community that people had gives you a very clear view of the world,” says Simon.

His great grandparents escaped the rise of fascism in Eastern Europe but found it again in the form of Oswald Moseley in London. “They were all communists, and I spent a lot of time with them; so my grandfather would read the Morning Star with me.”

Simon describes his parents as being “democratic socialists”. “Freedom of speech was taught as a foundation of democracy,” he explains. At university, as a young left wing activist, Simon describes his frustration at arguments being shut down. “I expressed views that the left would not allow me to express, but they were important questions – if we have too much immigration then wages are lowered and we have to make sure people have a good standard of living.” But, he contines, these sort of discussions weren’t allowed and he’d be called terrible names.

Some 20 years later, having moved across the political divide, Simon argues that his views haven’t changed. “Twenty years is a long time , but my views didn’t change at all. I tried to work for the Labour party after university, but Labour became a party with which I could not live.”

“One of the many reasons I found a home in the Conservative party was because of my values, and the values of my grandparents and parents – forged in the times of the Great Depression – because you’re allowed to speak freely. You can criticise the Tory party from any direction.”

Simon’s tries to boil his views on politics down. “It’s about doing the best you can with what you can for all. And the difference between socialism and more mainstream beliefs is that subtle difference between absolute equality and equality of opportunity. I believe in equality of opportunity. Absolute equality doesn’t work and wherever you’ve seen it tried, people have died in their thousands. And that should be the end of the argument, but it’s not for some people. What any successful leader has realised is that you have to occupy the centre ground, and that means equality of opportunity – letting people run with their talents and their abilities. I think Labour has perhaps lost sight of this.

Simon reels off a list of his values, again drawing on his family’s background. “Hard work, discipline, family, respect for others, responsibility for yourself and for society.” “It’s incredibly ironic that the values my communist grandparents taught me could only find a home in modern politics in the Conservative party”

We turn to the here and now and to Hampstead & Kilburn. The consistent complaints, says Simon, are cleaner streets, cleaner air, cheaper housing, more police on the beat. “Obviously mansion tax is huge in more than half the consitutency while social housing is a big issue on the South Kilburn estate. In the north of the constituency, overdevelopment is a huge issue.”

Getting even more local, Simon waves a hand at West End Lane from our seat in The Alice House, “What would really make this one of the finest streets in North London would be if the Travis Perkins building was not only replaced with a good mix of social housing and affordable and private housing but with some social space below, off the road. You need a focus for a high street.”

How will he get this done?

“A large part of my work if I’m elected will be carrying on where I left off as a councillor [for Hampstead Town].” He talks about the South Kilburn estate, making sure there’s more social housing there. “There’s got to be a better way for the people who’ve lived there all their lives. I know you’ve got to make money and you’ve got to pay for it, but there’s got to be a balance. So it would be up to me to ask for a meeting with the developers, the investors, with Brent Council, and say ‘look, lets find a way through’”.

Simon believes his track record “speaks for itself” before going on to elaborate what he’s achieved. “I’ve been in small businesses my whole life, paying wages, creating jobs, creating a ground-breaking charity out of nothing. I worked for the British Chamber of Commerce in Brussels for four years; I’ve worked with the biggest law firms in the world, the biggest building firms in the world, with every industry from defence to petrochemicals. I think getting people round a table and getting a good result is something I’ve done most of my adult life be it on a global scale or be it at the ward scale. It would be a real privelige to do it for this constituency.”

Although this makes him sound like some sort of superhuman business man, Hampstead & Kilburn isn’t Simon’s first tilt at Westminster. In 2010 he stood in Barking in an effort to knock the BNP into third place. The seat was always safe in Labour hands, but the Tories were determined that the BNP shouldn’t come second and Simon secured that against the odds – a fact he likes to mention as the bookmakers continue to keep Labour’s Tulip Siddiq as odds-on favourite here in H and K.

“I’ve spent my life creating something out of nothing and earning trust from people. To transfer those skills to politics is just second nature.”

If Simon wins and the Conservatives are in power after the election he states clearly that he has no aspirations in this parliament to be anything other than a backbench MP with a “loud and strong voice” for the constituency. He’d like to be involved in areas such as social policy and education, and says he’d refuse a junior minster position because it would mean he couldn’t criticise the government. “I’m not a career politician, i’m going to stand up for people and do what’s right. And you can hold me to this – I’d say no.”

Amid all the talk of the fact that the Conservatives are trying to overturn the smallest majority in England of just 42 votes, Simon also wants to clarify his quote to Al Jazeera last year where he said it might be too soon for him to win. “A year and a half ago I was just talking about both sides of an argument, making a reasonable comment. But if you’re asking me now, I’d say Hampstead & Kilburn has changed very quickly and that is why I have a very good chance of winning.”

The final word to Simon. I should vote Simon Marcus because… “I was born and bred here, I’ve lived here all my life, this is my home and I will work very hard for you.”

Listen: Candidates respond in hugely popular election hustings

Hampstead & Kilburn hustings West Hampstead Life turnout_700

Fantastic turnout for the hustings

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

Tulip Siddiq Hampstead Kilburn West Hampstead Life hustings

Tulip Siddiq (Labour)

Simon Marcus Hampstead Kilburn West Hampstead Life hustings

Simon Marcus (Conservative)

Maajid Nawaz Hampstead Kilburn West Hampstead Life hustings

Maajid Nawaz (Liberal Democrat)

Rebecca Johnson Hampstead Kilburn West Hampstead Life hustings

Rebecca Johnson (Green)

Magnus Nielsen Hampstead Kilburn West Hampstead Life hustings

Magnus Nielsen (UKIP)

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

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

Photos courtesy of Eugene Regis (more photos here)

Grill the candidates: Election hustings March 31st

Hampstead & Kilburn 2015 Candidates_cropped

As the May 7th election gets closer, and election literature starts to pour through you door, how best to know who to vote for?

Go to a hustings to hear the candidates answer questions – maybe your question. If you’ve never been to a hustings before, or aren’t sure if they’re really for you, why not come along to the Sherriff Centre on March 31st and give it a go? This will be an accessible way to meet the candidates, see what the issues are, and understand where the differences between the parties lie.

Hampstead & Kilburn was the closest three-way marginal in the country in 2010 and Labour held the seat by just 42 votes from the Conservatives (the Lib Dems were many people’s pre-election favourites, which tells you how tight it was). So, the idea that your vote doesn’t matter holds no water here, and when you consider the national situation that puts Labour and the Conservatives neck and neck in terms of numbers of seats they expect to win, every vote in a swing seat like this really can influence the make-up of the next government.

It’s important therefore to know who you’re voting for – not just the party or party leader, but the actual person who would be your MP. We’ve already briefly introduced the five candidates standing so far – Tulip Siddiq (Lab), Simon Marcus (Con), Maajid Nawaz (LibDem), Rebecca Johnson (Green), and Magnus Nielsen (UKIP).

On March 31st, you’ll have the chance to grill them in person at the West Hampstead Life hustings held at The Sherriff Centre in St James’s Church on West End Lane/Sherriff Road.

The event is a chance to hear from the candidates on why you should vote for them, but more importantly to ask them questions about the issues that matter to you.

Format
We’ll start at 7.30pm promptly, so please start arriving from 7pm. The doors will be open before that if you really want to get a good seat. We plan to wrap at 9.30pm.

The Sanctuary Café will serve coffee and tea (and possibly cake!) until 9pm, and there’ll be wine available for a donation (money going to St James’).

Each candidate will give a 3 minute opening pitch on why you should vote for them. As you’ll know if you were at the lively council election hustings, we will be strict on the timekeeping and an alarm will go off after 3 minutes.

The rest of the evening will be broken into three sections: Local, National, International. There are of course blurred lines between these, but hopefully it lends some structure to proceedings. Local will be for topics and issues directly related to London, and West Hampstead specifically. National will be for broader policy areas: e.g., the economy, immigration, the NHS. International will be for geopolitical issues as well as issues such as climate change.

Each section will start with a question from the chair, and then the floor will be open for questions from you. Please raise your hand only for a question that falls within the section we’re dealing with. Some questions of course could fall into a couple of sections, e.g., housing.

There’s no need to sign up beforehand or pre-submit questions, just stick your hand in the air. We do suggest that you have your questions ready though and please keep them short and succinct – we want questions not statements. We won’t have time to get to everyone’s questions, but we’ll get to as many as we can and encourage the candidate to give reasonably brief answers.

That’s it. We look forward to seeing as many of you there as possible, so do come along!

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?

Not voted yet? Maybe you should give it a whirl

Twitter is awash with people getting quite ranty about voting. I defintely think it’s important to vote but not always for the reasons that get rammed down our throats.

“People died for our vote”
Yes, they did. And hurrah for that. But that was about 100 years ago and while we’re very grateful ‘n all, don’t vote because someone died for it. People have died for all sorts of stuff over the years. Vote because you care about what’s happening to your world now and in the future.

“If you don’t want [insert rabid party du jour] to win, then vote. Their supporters will”
Yes, maybe, though depending where you live that “support” may be more ephemeral than you think. Voting to stop extremists IS a good reason to vote, but only if you are confident that you’re not diluting the vote of the other parties. Instead, why not vote because you want to see a party win. If enough people do that, the extremist parties will be blown out of the water anyway.

“Put up or shut up”
This is certainly a justification I cite – but then I see a lot more people moaning about stuff than most of you do! It’s true that if you don’t vote then you really don’t have a leg to stand on whe it comes to complaining, but don’t vote so you can moan later, vote because you want things to get better.

And then come the wave of objections

“My vote doesn’t matter”
The age-old challenge of democracy. Obviously if everyone thought that then the system would collapse. If votes didn’t matter, there wouldn’t be political parties and policies would be set by a centralised bureaucracy. See: China. We happen to live in one of the most politically competitive parts of London – remember Labour held the Hampstead & Kilburn seat by just 42 votes over the Conservatives in the General Election, and lost out on a council seat in West Hampstead to the Lib Dems by just 77 votes. So here, even if nowhere else, your vote really does make a difference, and even more so when turnout is low. If you’re reading this from a safe seat, remember that it’s only “safe” because people go and vote. If you want to turn a safe seat into a marginal one, you have to be part of making that happen. Don’t forget that funding, media exposure and parties’ own resources move based on votes.

“All the parties are the same”
No, no they’re not. Yes, at the leadership level it can seem as if a bunch of middle-aged and well educated white guys (and occasionally women) are running the show. Yes, it can seem as if all the parties are very “establishment”, but that doesn’t mean that they have the same beliefs, especially on issues such as welfare, healthcare, education – things that affect all of us at some point, and affect how the places you live and society around us evolve. Vote because you have some vision and ambition for yourself and the people around you and there’ll be a party that mirrors that better than the others.

“None of the parties reflect my views”
No shit Sherlock. Aside from the political groupies who bristle at the notion that anything their party does could ever be misguided, how many of us fully subscribe to every single policy that any party develops? I certainly don’t. Don’t abandon the idea of voting because no-one is offering perfection. Get real. Vote for the party that comes closest to your ideals or that will be best for you and the people you care about. If you feel that strongly about it, stand for election yourself.

“Russell Brand said there’s no point voting”
Not voting isn’t the same as voting FOR Russell Brand. He’s not going to do anything about the big issues of our time such as carbon emissions, economic stability, or negotiating with the European Union. Love is all you need – along with weekly rubbish collections, right? ‘Cos Russ certainly isn’t going to solve the problem of fly tipping on West End Lane however entertainingly articulate he may be. So, sure, knock yourself out. Sit at home and pretend you’re an anarchist. You’re welcome back into the real world at any time – and the people who ARE elected will generally still try and help you out if you need it; they’re good like that. And if they don’t – guess who’s got the power to get rid of them?

If you’ve not voted yet, and aren’t sure who to vote for, then why not look at our Election Special pages to help you make your mind up. And if you’re still not sure:

Election Special: Hear the candidates in their own words

As people gathered outside Emmanuel School on Monday night for the hustings, we were inside trying to get microphones to work. Despite one or two technical glitches early on, the message still came across loud and clear – people remain interested in what their politicians have to say.

Excitement builds (photo via Richard Olszewski)

Excitement builds (photo via Richard Olszewski)

The livestream of the event sadly failed (note to the school: Get a better Wifi connection!), but we do have a record of the whole evening, with just over a minute missing.

If you’re not hardcore enough for the whole thing, then here’s how the evening played out in bitesize pieces.

First up we had the three-minute party speeches.

Keith Moffitt for the Liberal Democrats focused on their record as councillors across the two wards

Ian Cohen for the Conservatives stressed their candidates’ expertise and focused heavily on the local issues

Philip Rosenberg for Labour talked about the party’s record in the Town Hall under the pressure of budget cuts

Juan Jimenez for the Green Party (apologies to the Greens, but this is where we lost a minute of the recording)

Magnus Nielsen for UKIP talked a lot about his family history but less about what he’d do for locals.

Dave Pearce for TUSC (Trade Union and Socialist Coalition) talked about cuts, jobs and housing security.

We then went on to discuss:

Rubbish – with issues of costs, enforcement and the contract with Veolia coming to the fore

Schools – specifically the different parties’ view on whether they support the proposed free school in the area.

Mansion tax – where much was made of the LibDems’ U-turn and there was an entertaining heckle!

Camden’s complaints procedure – would Sainsbury’s do a better job of managing the process?

Cycling & parking – is a wholesale review of parking restrictions needed?

Delivery lorries – everyone’s in agreement that Tesco lorries are a problem, what are the solutions?

Support for the Neighbourhood Development Plan – almost – almost – universal!

Getting the vote out – here’s where UKIP talk about removing the vote from some people

156 West End Lane – school? Community venue? What do the parties think?

Affordable housing – what does it mean?

And finally, how the candidates would fight our corner in the Town Hall (which led to one or two very odd replies).

If you want to watch everything in one go to get more of the atmosphere and hear what gets applauded and what doesn’t, then settle back with a cup of tea and a biscuit.

And a closing word:

Magnus Nielsen, UKIP

Hustings hoo-ha takes away from real issues

Monday night’s hustings for West Hampstead & Fortune Green wards in the local elections turned out to be popular. Some 150 people turned up to Emmanuel School hall to hear what 21 of the 26 candidates across the two wards had to say.

One of those candidates – UKIP’s Magnus Nielsen – took all the headlines the following morning after a peculiar answer to the question of low voter turnout where he mused that perhaps all the efforts made in the 19th century to extend the voter base might have been misguided.

The audience reaction – more laughs than gasps – tells you how little it resonated with voters. Yet, with one headline grabbing soundbite, the rest of the candidates’ efforts to discuss the issues that actually matter to local residents have been subsumed.

It was fairly clear that Nielsen was playing to the gallery with this and other bon mots throughout the evening. What West Hampstead voters – and quite possibly UKIP itself – might have found more disappointing was that Nielsen clearly hadn’t prepared a meaningful three minute pitch to voters unlike all the other candidates.

A lengthy intro about why someone with a Danish name was standing for UKIP means that half of his three minutes was about the war, and the other half consisted of a few digs at the EU.

There was nothing about West Hampstead, or even Camden and it rather felt as if it had been dreamt up at the last minute. Such a lack of respect for the audience and the electorate suggests that, despite the occasional bout of political hubris (“when I’m elected councillor”), the likelihood of Nielsen sitting in the council chamber for the next four years is even slimmer than it might have been at the start of the evening.

Grill the candidates: Local election hustings May 12th

Courtesy of Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries

Courtesy of Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries

If you want to ask your local election candidates about the issues that concern YOU rather than those that preoccupy the media (West Hampstead Life included), then come to our hustings on Monday May 12th at Emmanuel School hall (new building on Mill Lane).

What’s a hustings?
It’s an opportunity to hear from election candidates and to ask them questions. They’re common enough in general elections, but relatively rare in local elections. Why am I bothering? I think that a lot of people don’t vote in local elections because they don’t know much about the issues or who they’re voting for. What better way to find out that to meet the candidates in the flesh to see how they cope over hot coals!

Who’s going to be there?
This hustings will cover two wards – West Hampstead and Fortune Green. Apologies for those of you who live in the other local wards, but these two wards share more similarities and it would be a logistical nightmare to do more than two wards given the number of candidates.

All 26 candidates from the two wards have been invited – that’s six each from the Lib Dems, Labour, the Conservatives and the Greens, and the UKIP and TUSC candidates who are standing in West Hampstead. As I write, it looks like all the candidates from the big three parties will be there alongside some of the Greens, UKIP and the TUSC. That’s a lot of people, but we’re going to ensure it’s manageable.

Weren’t you going to do this in a pub?
Yes, I was. For all sorts of reasons I’ve decided to move it to the school hall in the new Emmanuel School building on Mill Lane. The main reason was sound quality – with no PA system for us at the pub, I was conscious that it might become hard for everyone to hear. Sorry for those of you looking to have a pint with your politics, but we will be able to serve refreshments – and some of those might even contain alcohol!

What’s the format?
One person from each party will get three minutes (strictly timed) to give a pitch. Then I’m going to kick things off with a few questions for everyone. Each party is encouraged to let only one person answer the question. After this, I’ll open it up to questions from you the audience, ideally topic by topic to avoid repetition. Naturally we expect everyone to be civil and polite and adult – this isn’t the House of Commons after all – and I will get very grumpy if those questions become statements or are patsy questions from other party members. You won’t like me when I’m grumpy.

Dimbleby

Depending on the lateness of the hour, there may be a bit of time at the end to mingle with the candidates in case your pet topic hasn’t come up, and then I suggest that everyone migrates to the pub for a much more informal chat.

Give me the logistics!
We have the school hall for two hours – from 7.30-9.30pm. I expect us to start promptly at 7.45 and we do need to stop at 9.30. The school is on Mill Lane, on the left (south) side if you’re coming from West End Lane.

I’m not that fussed about politics, why should I come?
I’m surprised you’ve read this far frankly. Come because it will give you an insight into who the people are who want to make decisions at the local level, and into the sort of decisions they make. Sure, it’s not about whether to invade Iraq or scrap tuition fees, but it is about the area you actually live in – the communities, the schools, the rubbish on the streets, the planning decisions, the roads and so on. It’s the stuff that affects you day to day. Wouldn’t you want to know who’s making those decisions; wouldn’t you want to have some say in who those people are?

What’s your agenda? Who’s paying for all this?
Valid questions. I have no political agenda other than to encourage people to engage with politics. That’s why all the parties have been invited and encouraged to attend, and all will be given a fair chance to speak. The parties themselves are (hopefully!) making a small contribution to the event costs (hall and equipment hire, refreshments), which is quite normal for a hustings. In addition, West Hampstead estate agent Paramount Properties is generously covering the rest of the costs as part of a commitment to community engagement. Paramount has neither asked for nor will receive any influence or involvement whatsoever in setting the agenda for the evening or in any of the questions I shall be asking.

I can’t make it on the night – how can I find out what happened?
We may be able to livestream the event – that’s still to be worked out. Failing that we’ll try and record it. I will try and post some tweets during the evening but, as the chair of the event, that might be a bit tricky. We will, however, write it up afterwards.

magnacarta

The Magna Carta – it may have been signed under duress, but it’s still the basis of our democracy today

Cycling campaign draws up wishlist

West Hampstead has a low rate of car ownership compared to other areas (>40% of households have no car); yet, West End Lane is frequently congested.

Encouraging cycling is increasingly seen as part of the solution to reduce congestion. Camden Cyclists, as part of the London Cycling Campaign, has been very active for more than ten years in lobbying for the interests of cyclists.

Last Monday, the group held its regular monthly meeting and invited local election candidates for the Fortune Green, Kilburn and West Hampstead wards to respond to a set list of “asks” for those wards. These included:

  • Fortune Green – providing safer routes for pupils to cycle to Hampstead School
  • Kilburn – traffic calming and protected crossings for cyclists at the south end of Kilburn high Road (the junction of Kilburn Priory and Maida Vale)
  • West Hampstead – two-way cycling on Broadhurst Gardens west of Priory Road with subsequent changes to traffic lights.

All these issues will take time to resolve. Traffic planning is never an exact science and slowing down cars or encouraging cyclists in one road can lead to worse congestion elsewhere.

For example, would a two-way contraflow for cyclists on Broadhurst Gardens actually be less safe for cyclists? Would it lead to more congestion on West End Lane as the traffic lights would need to allow cyclists time to turn from Broadhurst Gardens onto West End Lane?

Ideas to improve conditions for cyclists on Mill Lane will be of particular interest to pupils of Hampstead School (and their parents). Yet, calming measures on Mill Lane may not be so simple given that it is a bus route for both the C11 and is used (controversially) by Metroline to move 139s to and from its Cricklewood depot.

This was my first Camden Cyclists meeting. It was good to have council candidates from all the major parties there, although only Labour’s Tulip Siddiq was there from the parliamentary candidates. Still, it suggests that the cycling vote is being taken seriously and that despite cuts, there is some money available for some improvements. However, improvements can only come about if people lobby their elected representatives and as part of the planning process.

Camden Cyclists meets every month. Notices of their meetings are posted on West Hampstead Life and meetings are open to all with an interest in cycling.

Follow Eugene on Twitter @Cycle_Whamp