Posts

Tulip2GE2017

Bouquets for Tulip as she surges to comfortable win

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tulip Siddiq maiden speech

H&K 2017: The Tulip Siddiq interview

As the incumbent MP, and a very active one at that, Labour’s Tulip Siddiq has a higher profile than the other candidates for Hampstead & Kilburn. It is hard to believe she has only been our MP for two years – she has packed a lot in to that time (including this recent interview with us before the election was called) and had a baby too! In our final interview of this election we look at how this campaign has differed from 2015, and what makes her nervous.

Two years ago, she told us that she had loads of energy and the campaign was really exciting. How is this time? “With Theresa May calling a snap election we only had a day to plan, last time we had a year, so it has been very intense. With the luxury of a lot of time in 2015 we could hold events to boost volunteers. This year, there’s been no time for any of that. And add to that a severe lack of sleep because of the baby!”

She has just done an interview with the BBC about having a baby on the campaign trail. “Normally, you can skip a meal, you can forgo a few hours of sleep; but you can’t do that with a baby – she needs her meals, her sleep, the basic human needs of a child can’t be neglected.”

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

Tulip Siddiq at the 2015 West Hampstead Life hustings. Photo via Eugene Regis

Hampstead & Kilburn was always going to be a tight seat – such are the demographics here – but predictions have definitely changed over the course of the campaign. How has the campaign gone? “It’s very had to know how people will vote,” says Tulip. “[Pollster] Peter Kellner said that H&K was an odd-ball seat. I hope people are focussing on my personal record. This is the seat I wanted to stand in and the seat I wanted to win. But this year feels a lot more unpredictable. Brexit has changed everything, as has Trump being elected. Although Europe came up in 2015, we didn’t really expect that we would vote leave. The political landscape has changed.”

Tulip of course rebelled against her party on Article 50, voting against and resigning her frontbench position as shadow early years minister in the process. Given that H&K is a strong Remain constituency, this was probably a smart move, but with Labour’s own position rather vague on Brexit some hardcore Remain voters may still be sceptical.

For Tulip personally, being a rebel has been eye-opening. “The level of pressure you get to vote in terms of the party is immense – it’s borderline harassment if you go into the wrong lobby. But I’m a tough cookie and I’ve questioned the PM more times that any other backbencher.”

Tulip certainly continues to fight the EU corner: “I am very worried about the future; about what will happen with trade, about the number of scientific projects in the constituency that are dependent on EU funding, about what will happen with EU citizens in the NHS – a fifth of the doctors and nurses in the Royal Free are from Europe, for example. Bluntly, what is going to happened to the GDP of London?”

She says that, on the doorstep, “People seem to appreciate me voting against Article 50 – they even know the position I held – but it’s a mixed response and you need to win people over”.

Her Tory opponent this time around is Claire-Louise Leyland. A very different character from boxing-academy Simon Marcus in 2015. But is she more challenging? There are, after all, some Tories who feel Simon’s campaign never really picked up momentum. “I don’t really know much about Claire-Louise, and I haven’t met her that many times, whereas I knew Simon a lot better (as we were both Councillors) . I think part of the problem with Simon was that he was saying things he didn’t believe in. In this constituency people are very engaged and very informed and they’ll see through you.”

One of the biggest challenges facing many Labour candidates this year has been the electorate’s apparent disregard for Jeremy Corbyn. And not just the electorate – he’s already survived a vote of no confidence from within his party and Tulip has been a fairly outspoken critic of his, despite the fact that she was the MP to tip him over the line for nominations for the leadership (though she didn’t subsequently vote for him).

Yet in the past couple of weeks, it seems that Corbyn’s popularity has grown and this boost has been behind much of the rise of Labour in the polls. As we enter the final week of campaigning, is he an asset or a liability?

“If you asked me that four weeks ago, when Theresa May called the election I would have definitely said a liability, but I don’t know any more. Maybe his rise in popularity is a reflection that people are craving politicians who are human. I don’t know what to say about Jeremy anymore, because I’m as shocked as everyone!”

There are rumours that a number of Labour MPs are planning on forming a separate parliamentary Labour party after the election. Would Tulip join them? “I’m Labour to the core”, says Tulip. “You don’t make change by shouting from the sidelines, you make changes from within. I was talking to a Labour activist this week and he said he was never a  fan of Tony Blair but he carried on campaigning for Labour and for many it is the same with Jeremy. Leaders come and go but we are the Labour Party”.

Labour’s rally in the polls has been reflected also in the bookmakers’ odds for this seat. They are always to be taken with a large pinch of salt, but they certainly suggest that H&K is no longer a clear Tory win, which many predicted at the start of the campaign. Tulip definitely has a good chance of holding her seat, so what is her biggest worry about the vote now. She is unequivocal. “It’s UKIP saying publicly that they have pulled out to support the Tories. They got 1,500 votes last time, which is bigger than my majority, so there is a big chance that we could wake up on June 9th with a Tory MP because of UKIP votes”.

Not that every Labour voter from 2015 can necessarily be relied on. Hampstead may be the clichéd home of the champagne socialists, but the reality is that the wealthier parts of the constituency vote Tory. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of potential Labour voters in the upper income brackets across H&K. Is Tulip concerned that Labour’s proposed tax rises on the very wealthy will hurt her chances given that she’s going to need every vote to overcome the national swing to the Tories?

She is very clear: “If you want public services to improve and you want money to go into the health services and schools, then where do you expect the money to come from? If you earn more than £90,000 you would have to pay £10 week extra. If I earned £90,000 I would pay that extra £10 a week.”

In 2015, the mansion tax was a bugbear on the campaign trail with areas like Hampstead and West Hampstead having plenty of properties that would have fallen into that category thanks to the rocketing prices of property in the area. That idea has been shelved, but Labour has said that it’s interested in consulting on a land value tax to replace council tax, but it is only a consultation. Tulip argues that revaluing council tax bands is long overdue. “If I were writing the manifesto, or ever became Prime Minister I would do that.”

Of course, we have to discuss the rubbish issue, which has been the biggest local topic for discussion since the fortnightly collection was introduced by Tulip’s Labour colleagues in Camden. “I’ve been shocked by the accusation that I haven’t done anything about the rubbish collection,” she says. “I realise how much it has affected people’s lives. I deal with the casework and as a local resident with a baby I’ve also been affected by the problems [Ed: nappy collections have been just one area that has not gone smoothly]. I may not have gone to papers, as I don’t think that is very constructive, but I met with [the responsible Camden cabinet member] Meric Apak about it back in March. We spoke for a long time – I almost never have hour long meetings with Camden Cabinet members!”

Will those who want to give Labour a kicking over the rubbish issue and can’t wait until next year’s local elections to punish the people actually responsible, push Claire-Louise over the line? It’s possible and Tulip has to contemplate life after just two years as an MP. What would she do?

“It’s hard to think beyond Thursday… so I don’t really know. One of the things about being an MP in an area like this has made me realise is that there is real need for someone to do interfaith work. There is a real need for people to come together. There is a big Jewish community here and a big Muslim one and the lack of interaction between them is astonishing. They are only five minutes down the road from each other and they have still never really interacted.  You probably need someone like me who is equally comfortable with both communities to do something of the bring together.”

“I feel in the light of what happened in Manchester and in light of that fact there is a real threat of terrorism now, that I’d like to do some work looking into the causes of terrorism [Ed: this interview took place the afternoon before the attack on London Bridge on June 3rd]. What do we do to help people who feel so disenfranchised with the society they live in? The work I have done as an MP has shown me there is a big gap we need to address.”

“Whether I win or lose I’m going have to play some part in lobbying for a softer Brexit. I’m working on a legal case with a local QC, Jessica Simor at Matrix, on some legal aspects of Article 50 and I’d like to do something about scrutinising the government.”

Finally, why should someone vote for Tulip Siddiq?

“I am the local candidate who grew up here, went to school here, been a local councillor here, had my baby here. I’ve always put this interests of the constituency first, and will continue to be a strong independent voice for Hampstead & Kilburn”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Election fever hits West Hampstead, again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The #Whampstead 2015 hustings

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

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

Setting the stage

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2017 candidates

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

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

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

Tulip campaigning in 2015. Photo by Eugene Regis

Tulip campaigning in 2015. Photo by Eugene Regis

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

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

Kirsty Allan, Lib Dem candidate. Image @kirstyrallan

Kirsty Allan, Lib Dem candidate. Image @kirstyrallan

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

Tulip_ft

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

 

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

Tulip at risk if parliamentary boundaries change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you feel about the proposed changes?

Tulip Siddiq maiden speech

Tulip gives maiden speech in the House of Commons

Tulip Siddiq maiden speech

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

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

Tulip wins

Tulip wins Hampstead & Kilburn, and increases Labour’s majority to 1,100

Tulip wins

It’s all over. Tulip Siddiq has won Hampstead & Kilburn for Labour by just 1,138 votes. In the context of the evening, that’s not a bad result for Labour.

The final votes
Tulip Siddiq (Lab) 23,977
Simon Marcus (Con) 22,839
Maajid Nawaz (LD) 3,039
Rebecca Johnson (Green) 2,387
Magnus Nielsen (UKIP) 1,532
Ronnie Carroll (Eurovisionary party) 113
Robin Ellison (U Party) 77

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

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.”

The 2015 #Whampstead hustings

Listen: Candidates respond in hugely popular election hustings

Hampstead & Kilburn hustings West Hampstead Life turnout_700

Fantastic turnout for the hustings

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

Tulip Siddiq Hampstead Kilburn West Hampstead Life hustings

Tulip Siddiq (Labour)

Simon Marcus Hampstead Kilburn West Hampstead Life hustings

Simon Marcus (Conservative)

Maajid Nawaz Hampstead Kilburn West Hampstead Life hustings

Maajid Nawaz (Liberal Democrat)

Rebecca Johnson Hampstead Kilburn West Hampstead Life hustings

Rebecca Johnson (Green)

Magnus Nielsen Hampstead Kilburn West Hampstead Life hustings

Magnus Nielsen (UKIP)

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

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

Photos courtesy of Eugene Regis (more photos here)

FlickReaMBE

Politics and public services: Review of the year

Back in January, local MP Glenda Jackson confirmed what she’d told me back in 2010 – namely that she wouldn’t stand for re-election. Thus the tightest three-way seat in the country would have three new candidates. Chris Philp, who was beaten into second place, finally secured the Tory nomination for the safe seat of Croydon South. Expect to see him on the front benches before long.

The Lib Dems stole a march on the other parties by announcing Emily Frith as their candidate. A month later, they were back at square one as Emily got a better offer. The local party grandees were distinctly unimpressed.

The Tories were next to announce their candidate, based on a open primary. Rugby fanatic Simon Marcus, councillor for Gospel Oak, got the nod. Simon’s made a big deal of trying to save Hampstead police station from fellow Tory Boris’s cuts. He failed.

That left Labour. The party decided to draw up an all-women shortlist, which ruled out popular Kilburn councillor Mike Katz.

Fiona Millar’s name was bandied about as a contender, but she withdrew and in July, the nomination went to Regents Park councillor Tulip Siddiq.

In the same month, the Lib Dems regrouped and put forward the high-profile Maajid Nawaz, founder of think-tank Quilliam. Simon and Tulip have strong local credentials, while Maajid is a TV regular focusing on more international issues. Nevertheless, the consensus is that by bringing in a big hitter, the Lib Dems have at least made the contest more interesting than it might otherwise have been.

The election isn’t until 2015, but expect the battle for hearts and minds to heat up over the year and some major players from the parties to turn up.

Not that Glenda shows signs of going quietly – she’s been more visible in the House of Commons this parliament than in previous years. She also made the news in April with a strident attack on Margaret Thatcher in an otherwise hagiographic House of Commons session.

It wasn’t Mike Katz’s year. He got shafted by his party and was deselected to stand in Kilburn in 2014’s local elections and then missed out on nomination for Brent Central.

Russell Eagling announced he wouldn’t be standing as Lib Dem councillor for Fortune Green again. Nick Russell will stand in his place. It was a big year for Russell though as he and partner Ed Fordham – who placed 3rd in the 2010 general election – got engaged after Ed’s tireless work championing the equal marriage bill paid off. The engagement even made it into Hansard and Jimmy Carr’s Big Fat Quiz of the Year.

Flick Rea, Russell’s fellow Fortune Green councillor, was awarded an MBE, which she collected from Buckingham Palace this month.

The local elections take place on May 22nd 2014. We’ll be holding a hustings nearer the time so you can meet the various candidates and get a better understanding of what councillors actually do and why you should get off your arse and vote for the ones you want.

We DO need some education – but where?
Schools were a political hot potato in 2013. A free school campaign got off to a blaze of publicity, but has been struggling in the past few months to generate enough support after a wave of negative comments.

In September, Hampstead School – the comprehensive school that’s really in Cricklewood – made the front page of both local papers for different, but perhaps related, reasons. The Ham & High ran a story about the free school campaign for a local free school, in which a Labour activist branded the campaigners “snobs”. The Camden New Journal meanwhile went with the story of the headmaster contacting police over the “anarchist tendencies” of a former pupil who ran a satirical blog about the school.

Secondary school provision is controversial, but everyone accepts that the area needs primary school places. The problem is where to put them. Camden is pushing forward its plans to expand Kingsgate School; except that the extension would be the best part of a mile’s walk away in Liddell Road, where there is a light industrial estate. Camden will build 100 private homes to pay for the school. This story continues to run.

Should they stay or should they go?
The West Hampstead police station was going to be closed, but then it wasn’t. In what seemed a very opaque process, the Fortune Green Road station was retained as an operational station, but its front desk would be open only limited hours as was the SNT base on West End Lane.

West Hampstead fire station has never been under threat in any of the restructuring plans for the London Fire Brigade, however Belsize station’s position has always been precarious and it looks like its fate is now closure.

Over the course of the year, the idea that the post office could relocate to St James’ Church has turned into a reality. The Sherriff Centre, as it will be known, will run as a social enterprise and include a café and fund community support workers. It was officially awarded the contract in August.

Meanwhile, the Swiss Cottage post office looks set to be closed completely. After some vocal campaigning, it’s now going to be moved into the Finchley Road branch of WH Smiths.

MaajidNawaz

Tulip and Maajid to stand for Hampstead & Kilburn

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

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

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

Tulip Siddiq at the West Hamptead Women’s Centre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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