Local elections 2018: The candidates

The local elections are on May 3rd. This is when you get the chance (and “you” includes EU citizens) to vote for three councillors for the ward you live in. All the ward councillors who are elected form Camden council (or Brent council for those of you the other side of the Kilburn High Road).

For those of you new to the whole local politics thing, we wrote a useful 101 guide to it last time around that’s worth reading so you understand what you are (and are not) voting for (obviously many of the links in that article are out of date, but the key messages are the same).

We are going to take a look at the two wards that are fully in West Hampstead: Fortune Green and West Hampstead itself. Some of you will live in Kilburn ward and others in Swiss Cottage ward (anyone living in the Gardens area between West End Lane and Finchley Road falls into that ward). Kilburn ward is hardcore Labour, Swiss Cottage has been Tory for quite some time, though two long-standing councillors are standing down this year, so it’s now considered up for grabs. But our focus is on West Hampstead and Fortune Green.

In any election it’s important to know who you are voting for. Some people always vote on party lines. Many people (most people) don’t vote in local elections at all, though plenty still have a good ol’ whinge about everything the council does. In the current political climate, some voters – especially Labour voters and Remain Tories – may find voting on party lines harder than usual, which means that it’s even more important to understand the individuals you want to represent you. As our interview with departing councillor Phil Rosenberg suggests, the individuals do matter.

The general election last year showed Labour strengthening its hold in the area. There’s even talk in Camden of a total clean sweep of the council with a chance that traditional Tory areas Swiss Cottage and Belsize and even Hampstead and Frognal might go red. Most sane people would accept that a one-pary state with no opposition was not healthy for democracy at any level.

What are the big issues?

Brexit: Most of you know that this was one of the most devout Remain constituencies in the country. Labour’s manifesto suggests you “let Theresa May know how you feel about Brexit by voting Labour”, which given Jeremy Corbyn’s lack of clarity on Labour’s stance on Brexit seems like an odd line to take. Of course the local elections have almost no bearing whatsoever on Brexit, but given that it’s almost the only political story in town at the moment, it’s bound to play a part in how some people vote.

Rubbish: This is squarely within the remit for local elections and the Conservatives  are unsurprisingly going big on it given their poor Brexit credentials in a Remain area. Candidates are calling for the reinstatement of weekly rubbish collections. After huge problems when the new system was introduced a year ago, yes it’s been a year, gradually things have got better. Sure fly-tipping is an issue, but it was actually an issue before as well. As Cllr Phil Rosenberg said things are now at a granular level and Camden are now getting round to dealing with street by street issues (which they should have done much earlier).

Growth: West Hampstead continues to experience high levels of development – although many of the major sites are now accounted for, if not fully developed. However, the O2 car park and the area around Blackburn Road generally is still up for grabs and while nothing may happen here over the next four years, it could be a major issue. None of the parties have much to say about it – but if you get the chance to grill the candidates on the doorstep or at the hustings then this could be a good topic.

Crime: Councils do not really have much responsibility for crime, though they do of course liaise closely with the police in many areas. Crime is on the up in our local area, by more than the average rise across Camden, but there’s not a great deal councillors can do about this other than to remain engaged and listen to residents concerns. Crime is more relevant in both the general election and the mayoral/London Assembly elections.

Are there hustings?

Yes. Local groups WHAT and the NDF are holding a joint hustings of all the candidates, yes both West Hampstead and Fortune Green wards, on Monday 9th April 7:30pm in the Synagogue Hall. Council election hustings are relatively rare given the number of candidates involved, so if you get the chance do go along.

CNJ deputy editor, Richard Osley, did a good summary of it on his blog. Or as he put it, on a polite night in West Hampstead

Enough waffle – show me the candidates

Ok, ok… First West Hampstead, or you can jump straight to Fortune Green.

West Hampstead ward

In the general election, West Hampstead was seen as the swinging bit of a swinging constituency. The reality was that Tulip Siddiq grew her majority considerably and West Hampstead swung resolutely Labour. It should be an interesting ward – and with three new Labour candidates maybe it’s not quite as clear cut as some pundits would have you believe.

Parties are listed in the order of last election and we will have updated this page once now all the nominations are in. 

Labour

WH Labour candidates: Peter Taheri, Nazma Rahman and Shiva Tiwari

Labour has three new candidates as existing councillors Phil Rosenberg and James Yarde are stepping down and Angela Pober, who was elected on the Labour ticket but has been sitting as an independent since September 2015, will certainly not be standing for Labour again. The final date for nominations is April 6th, and Angela has proved elusive of late so we don’t know if she’s going to stand again as an independent.

Nazma Rahman
Nazma is a nutritionist and a West Hampstead resident for nearly a decade and elsewhere in the borough before that. She has brought up two children in the area and if elected she is “determined to work tirelessly to improve the quality of life of people in West Hampstead. I want to tackle crime locally, improve rubbish collection in the area and ensure that our recycling rates continue to rise”. She is also concerned about housing, law and order (she recently suffered an attempted break-in).

Peter Taheri
Peter is a barrister who represents the police and says “I can bring to the table my experience as a barrister representing mainly police forces and other public bodies, which has given me a very concrete overview of the vital work that our police and other public services do and a deep understanding of the importance of protecting and supporting these precious services. My job gives me the skills to analyse and articulate arguments and standing up for public services is something I do day-in, day-out”.

Peter has just stood down as the local party chairman, and acted as Tulip Siddiq’s agent in the last election.

Shiva Tiwari
Shiva moved with his young family a couple of years ago to the area and since then had got stuck in, as a trustee of the West Hampstead Community Centre and a governor of Swiss Cottage School.

“If elected, I will work my hardest to improve the quality of life for all people who live and work in West Hampstead. My focus will be on fighting the recent uptick in petty crime, improving the collection of commercial waste on West End Lane & Mill Lane, campaigning for more affordable housing and controls on private landlords and ensuring that Camden is creating enough high quality school places to give local children the best possible start in life”.

None of the candidates mention development and the growth area. Over the last four years none of the three sitting councillors has really championed the growth area at the council. Phil Rosenberg was the most active, and was a regular at NDF meetings, but without a champion in the town hall (and ideally someone with an interest in urban design), West Hampstead could continue to be shortchanged.

Liberal Democrats

West Hampstead was once a Lib Dem stronghold holding all three seats. Are these three going to be able take back the ward?

WH Lib Dem candidates: Nancy Jirira, Roger Fox and Mukal H

Roger Fox
Roger is a fresh face in West Hampstead. “I think I bring a different perspective to our local councillors as a young private renter and someone starting a life in London”. He joined the Liberal Democrats in the aftermath of the EU referendum and is now chairman of the Camden Lib Dems. This is his first time standing as a candidate.

Mukal Hira
Nuruzzaman (known as Mukal) Hira has lived in West Hampstead for almost three decades. “As a father of two teenagers I have seen many changes that have affected our community. If elected, I am determined to tackle youth crimes and anti-social behaviour across the Borough”.

Back in 2006 he stood as a candidate for Respect in St. Pancras and Somers Town, getting a ‘respectable’ 781 votes before switching to the Lib Dems in 2008.

Nancy Jirira
Nancy has lived in West Hampstead for decades so she is “well aware of the local challenges”. She is an active member of the congregation of St. James Church (aka the Sheriff Centre). She works in the NHS, and is a familiar face. She was a Fortune Green councillor, elected in a by-election in 2008 and retaining her seat in 2010. She narrowly missed out in 2014, losing out (by 17 votes!) to Labour’s Richard Olszewski.

The Lib Dems are the first party to have their local website up and running so you can find out more about the candidates here.

Conservatives

WH Conservative candidates: David Brescia, Sedef Akademir and Mohammed Salim

Sedef Akademir
Sedef is campaigning for “cleaner, greener and safer West Hampstead”. She’s also concerned about the rise in crime which she says is up by 42% in the past year.

David Brescia
David is a familiar face in West Hampstead, he’s lived here for 20 years and is actively involved in local groups including the NDF. He is campaigning for a restoration of weekly bin collections which is the Conservatives’ top pledge. “We’re also fighting for a passenger lift and wider entrance at our overcrowded tube station”.

Mohammed Salim
Mohammed lives in West Hampstead and runs Spice Tree restaurant on Mill Lane. He says that “voting Conservative in the upcoming local elections is to get the bin collections restored to weekly, the garden tax abolished, and more local police officers and CCTV cameras to combat the rise in crime”.

Green Party

WH Green candidates: Jane Milton, David Stansell and Helena Paul.

Jane Milton

Jane thinks that “although they may feel a strong leaning towards us, they mistakenly believe that Green votes are wasted ones. Often people don’t realise that the greater degree of proportional representation at a local level really does give them more power to choose. We as a party do try to get the message home that Greens can be powerful and effective locally, but I do think we need to do a lot more work on this”.

David Stansell

Another long-term West Hampstead resident, David is a management consultant who runs his own firm helping energy companies transition 100% to renewable energy. His two main reasons for standing are ‘recycling and cycling’. His experience dealing the public sector made him observe that ‘the solution to many of local problems comes from not getting everyone together and agreeing on the baseline of the issue’.

Helena Paul

As a member of the NDF she recently led a project to monitor the air quality in West Hampstead and came up with some shocking results as the air quality, on the Finchley Road, in particular, was very poor.

“We must get TfL to prioritise improving West Hampstead Jubilee line station with an entrance on the same side of the road as the other two stations, while the interchange between the three stations needs addressing. There are already proposals for all this – let’s get on with it!”

You can read more about the candidates on the Camden Green Party website.

Fortune Green

Unlike West Hampstead, where three new councillors are guaranteed, all three sitting councillors in Fortune Green are standing again, which makes it a simpler but no less interesting ward.

In 2014, the Lib Dems suffered a collapse in their vote across Camden but Cllr Flick Rea managed to retain her seat in Fortune Green and with 1,151 votes, got the highest number in the ward. She has held the seat since 1986. She was the sole remaining Lib Dem in Camden and said she woke up understanding survivors guilt. Also elected were Labour’s Lorna Russell and Richard Olszewski, though the Lib Dems and even the Tories came close to nicking a seat.

Who is standing?

Parties are listed in the order of last election and we will update this page once all the nominations are in, but our focus is on the three main parties. 

Labour

FG Labour candidates: Richard Olszewski, Sorin Floti and Lorna Russell

Sorin Floti
Newcomer Sorin, if elected, would be the first Romanian councillor in Camden. Sorin quit the world of finance to do a masters in social policy at LSE and has been active in a number of groups including mentoring young people via the Prince’s Trust. As a Romanian he is “personally affected by the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, but am also aware of how it will affect everyone’s lives”. So this is one of his top issues, along with education and housing.

Richard Olszewski
Richard was a councillor for Regent’s Park from 1994 to 2002 and was then an advisor to senior Labour MP John Reid. Richard thought he might squeeze through if he stood in Fortune Green in 2014 and squeeze through he did, beating Lib Dem Nancy Jirira by 17 votes for the third Fortune Green seat. He is the relatively new Camden cabinet member for Finance. His priorities are ‘supporting our schools and early years services’, ‘providing more housing of all types, but especially council housing and low-rent accommodation’ and ‘campaigning against Brexit’.

Lorna Russell
Lorna has been one of the most visible and engaged local councillors over the past four years. “I have worked hard to represent the residents of Fortune Green at all levels of the Council. I am proud of the work I have done to support the community here, and hope that this is recognised by voters in May”. Her priorities are housing, crime (she has been a victim of burglary AND a phone theft), and getting a fair deal for EU residents”. Lorna stood up for the area over the controversial Liddell Road scheme showing a certain degree of independence when needed.

Liberal Democrats

FG Lib Dem candidates: Flick Rea, Adrian Bridge and Tracey Shackle

Adrian Bridge
The impetus to get involved in local politics came in the wake of the EU referendum. “We believe that with the Tories both nationally and locally in disarray, there is a clear need for a strong and effective opposition in Camden. We do not think that one-party rule is the best way forward in a democracy and would seek to provide rigorous scrutiny of what will almost certainly be a fresh Labour administration”.

Flick Rea
Flick was first elected a local Fortune Green councillor in 1986, and has lived in the area for even longer. She knows Fortune Green well. She says “my local priorities include protecting and improving our parks and green spaces, opposing overlarge unsuitable developments such as the Gondar Gardens Reservoir scheme – protecting our bus routes, and fighting to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists on Fortune Green Road, Mill Lane, West End Lane as well as major roads (Finchley Road and Shoot up Hill)”.

Tracey Shackle
Tracey works as an education practitioner in both pupil referral units & mainstream schools solving problems, which has given her good contacts to Camden officers and in “getting things done”. And if Tracey doesn’t get elected? “If I don’t get elected this May, those of us who didn’t will be back even stronger next time around! Lib Dems fight back!”

Conservative

FG Conservative candidates: Shamin Ahmed, Axel Kaae, Philip Taylor

The Conservatives are pushing a return of weekly bin collections and more police as key policies. They are (understandably) quiet on Brexit.

Shamin Ahmed
Shamin says that the Conservatives are pledging “an extra officer in every ward – paid for by the saving from installing LED street lights and leveraging the matching funding from the Met”.

Axel Kaae
“Our manifesto sets outs some really innovative plans to solve these problems and do so much more and I’m sure Fortune Green voters will consider them carefully”.

Philip Taylor
When asked how the Conservatives could turn round a poor general election showing, Phil replied “Luckily for us, Fortune Green voters are smart! They understand this is a local election and will vote on the issues and services which affect them every day”.

Green Party

Rather ironically, the Greens only have one candidate standing for Fortune Green. Her name is Helen Jack, but we don’t know any more about her. Even on the Camden Green Party website they don’t list anything (yet) although there is something for the candidates standing in West Hampstead.

Is West Hampstead due an £8 million Liddell Road windfall?

Liddell Road – a school, some office space and apartments. It was a controversial scheme when it went through planning a few years ago, with Camden acting as developer and approver. There was much talk of how the numbers added up and why there was to be virtually no affordable housing. Three years on, some of those numbers have changed – so could this mean West Hampstead is about to get a whole whack of cash?

Let us take you back to the mid 2010s. Liddell Road was a council-owned piece of land used as a light industrial estate. The council wanted to use half the site to build a school – specifically an extension to Kingsgate School – and it would pay for this largely by selling off the other half of the site for housing and office space.

Revised Liddell Road plan with 14-storey tower block (reduced to nine storeys)

The plan was for a four-form entry lower school (up to 7-year-olds) that would ultimately house up to 360 children who would then move on to Kingsgate’s main buildings over in Kilburn. The council claimed the school would cost £13.4 million.

To pay for it, Camden argued it needed to sell land with planning permission to build a nine-storey tower block plus some mansion blocks. In total, there would be 100 flats, of which just four would be “affordable”, and 3,500 m2 of office space. This would cover the cost of the school and generate an additional £1.9 million for the education department. The school was also eligible for £6.7 million of central government funding. Camden took this money but excluded it from its calculations on how to pay for the school.

In March 2015, the council’s own planning committee agreed two separate yet inseparable planning applications: one for the school and one for the development to fund it.

For reasons that were never made clear, the two sites were built separately. First the school, where construction has finished and which opened in September 2017. Next, the residential and commercial buildings where construction hasn’t even started. This second part of the site is due to be sold to an external developer this spring. When work eventually starts it will obviously cause considerable disruption and potential danger from construction traffic to children at the school. Not to mention the additional inconvenience to local residents from yet more construction. It’s hard to understand why both developments were not built simultaneously.

At the time, the Neighbourhood Development Forum and West Hampstead Life did some number crunching and argued that the development would generate a much larger surplus (or “profit” as a normal person would call it) than Camden was suggesting.

The residential and office space was supposed to generate £15.4 million (£13.4m for the cost of the school + the £1.96m surplus). This seemed low. Experts that the NDF consulted valued the land £10 million higher, which would lead to a £11.96m surplus.

From speculation to cold hard cash
It turned out that building the school was more expensive than first thought. Quite a lot more expensive. The cost rose by 38% from £13.4 million to £18.6 million when the construction contract was finally given. Camden’s press office told us that “£13.4m was the estimate quoted in the December 2013 cabinet paper,” but then argued that in the period 2014-2016, “the proposals were developed in detail while at the same time construction costs rose significantly for the industry as a whole and in Camden, resulting in this increase in cost.” It seems a very large jump in costs in two years, and it was not put on the table at the planning committee in March 2015 when the scheme was approved on the basis of the £13.4 million number.

It is still not clear whether the £6.7 million central government grant for building the school actually went towards building the school – even though it would have more than offset this £5 million increase in costs.

Was such a big school needed in the first place. Demographic modelling showed a lack of primary school places, but the four-form school opened last year with only three forms and this year’s entry will also be only three-form. Camden’s response: “The unexpected national drop in births in 2013 has had a considerable impact in Camden, and other authorities. Surrounding authorities have found themselves in a similar situation, reducing pupil admission numbers to temporarily address the falling reception numbers.” It’s true that the birth rate did fall in 2013 quite dramatically, but this was public knowledge in 2014, so again why was it not made clear in March 2015 when the decision came before the planning committee. Could the school have been slightly smaller and therefore cheaper?

Whatever the rights and wrongs of predicting school places, a school that cost £18.5 million would not be paid for by the £15.4 million raised from the homes and office development. It seemed the development had lurched from profit to loss? .

Fast forward to spring 2018 and Camden is finally planning to sell the land and has pencilled in the amount it expects to get. Turns out, surprise surprise, that it should sell the land for more than £15.4 million. It’s even going to be more than the NDF’s estimate of £25.4 million. Camden has pencilled in a net £26.8 million expected capital receipt. More than enough to cover the £18.5 million for the school, and the £1.9 million surplus (all assuming that £6.7 million was spirited away elsewhere). We are now looking at an £8.3 million surplus.

Camden’s press office again: “The original estimate of £15.3m was made back in 2012 as part of the business case for the redevelopment. Since 2012, land values in Camden have increased and more detailed work has been undertaken on the development which has resulted in this higher valuation. (This increased valuation is still very much open to market fluctuations).”

However, when the NDF made estimates using March 2015 valuations it estimated a sale value of £25.4 million which is much closer to the current valuation. Why was Camden using a 2012 valuation for a 2015 planning decision? Camden redacted all the numbers in its viability report due to ‘commercial considerations’ (this is the report used to justify the level of affordable housing) but the discrepancy in the public numbers and the final valuations suggests that decisions were made by the planning committee using out-of-date information.

Let us reflect that the argument for virtually no affordable housing at Liddell Road was that there wasn’t enough money and that the school itself was a public sector investment. Now the profit from the development looks like it’s risen from £1.96 million to £8.3 million. Does this mean more affordable housing is a possibility? The council does not rule this out, which is encouraging, though no chickens should be counted. How much of the money will pay for other improvements in the area, which are sorely needed as the population of West Hampstead continues to grow rapidly.

Camden’s rather vague answer to where the money will go is that “the extra money goes to support our continuing Community Investment Programme”. However, it accepts that “depending on the level of offers, additional affordable housing may be a point of negotiation with the shortlisted developers. Increasing the affordable housing numbers may result in a reduction in capital receipts so this can only be done if the overall programme remains viable.”

In fact, the Camden planning officer’s report in March 2015 was rather more specific. It states that “If the profit/surplus is more than £3m, this should be spent on an off-site contribution to affordable housing. This will be set out in the S106 agreement”.

Has this been set out? The other Section 106 payments (that’s money developers have to contribute to the local area to help offset the impact of their schemes) in the Liddell Road project were extremely low for a development of this size, only £47,000 and £30,000 for Maygrove Peace Park and local community facilities respectively. There was nothing more broadly for the larger growth area. It would seem that it’s time to revisit this.

Once again, the issues around this development are ones of transparency as much as of intent. As we wrote at the time, although it was a controversial development that led to a loss of jobs and useful local services, many people in the area were still broadly in favour of the school and accepted that some housing was needed to pay for it.

But when the development cost and possible income change so much from initial estimates – and in some cases these numbers could have been adjusted before the planning committee approved the project – we are left in the dark again.

When will Camden acknowledge that locals feel they have a right to a clearer understanding of how the calculations are made on affordable housing, of where exactly money in the “Community Investment Programme” will be spent locally, and on where that £6.7 million central government grant went that was specifically tied to the Kingsgate expansion.

Featured photo credit: Sue on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Could departing councillor Phil Rosenberg be back sooner than expected?

It’s getting hard to miss but the local elections are coming soon. West Hampstead ward looks set to see three new faces as none of the existing councillors are standing again – or rather we know two are not and one hasn’t returned any of our messages.

In 2014, Labour took a clean sweep of West Hampstead, overturning the Lib Dems who’d been embedded for years. The three new Labour councillors were Angela Pober, Phil Rosenberg and James Yarde. James and Phil have announced they are standing down. Angela resigned the Labour whip in September 2015 over accusations that the party was being disingenuous about plans to close the library and has therefore been sitting as an independent for the past two years. She has not publicly disclosed her intentions, though she has until April 6th when nominations close.

James and Phil both announced their decisions a year ago. James told the CNJ a year ago that he would not stand again. “I will soon be completing my PhD at the London School of Economics, after which I will be looking for a University teaching post. Uncertainty in the academic job market – in no small part caused by Brexit – means that it is important that I can be flexible around where I work. Sadly, I have accepted that this is likely to mean moving further afield.”

Of the three, one has definitely been far more visible than the others. Phil Rosenberg has attended every public meeting available and has engaged whenever possible, even on the most contentious issues of the past few years, such as 156 West End Lane or the introduction of bi-weekly collections. We spoke to Phil over coffee at David’s Deli about his experiences as a councillor and what the future holds.

What made you want to be a councillor in the first place?
“I like solving problems and I was weighing up either becoming a rabbi or a councillor. I wasn’t religious enough to be a rabbi (and my girlfriend wasn’t keen) so councillor it was!”

Why are you stepping down?
“I would like to buy a house with my girlfriend, but West Hampstead is unaffordable.” Phil admitted that it didn’t help that the local Labour party (and the party more widely) seems to have a problem with anti-semitism, something which is  a front page issue today, but he maintains it wasn’t a significant factor in his decision.

How have you enjoyed being a councillor for West Hamstead?
“I really love West Hampstead. It’s a great place, but still quite down to earth, it’s got entertainment, decent restaurants, good transport. It’s got a lot going for it.

Another of its strengths is the deep levels of social capital here. There are lots of active groups. This didn’t always make my life as a councillor easy, as if they have an opinion they will share it, but it’s certainly a strength.

Although it’s a great place, parts of West Hampstead have pockets of real deprivation, so that brings its challenges. Another issue that worries me (and others on Camden Council) is the hollowing out of Camden and London, with very wealthy parts other areas with large numbers of social tenants, and the middle whittled away”.

Cllr Phil Rosenberg – he loves West Hampstead!

What do we need to do to make West Hampstead even better?
“Of the top of my head – and I’ll admit it’s a very localised issue, but I’d say tackling the parking problem around Iverson and Maygrove Roads. We also need to sustain community assets and green space and of course build more housing. This is a particularly thorny issue but it’s a major problem that needs to be tackled. So many of the cases I see in my surgeries are to do with lack of or poor housing. And by housing, this included more social housing.

I’m particularly concerned about the rise in homelessness. Due to cuts in services like mental health, people who previously were just about coping with some support are now falling through the cracks and being thrown into crisis. It was great to raise money for C4C operating out of Emmanuel Church right here on our doorstep, which is helping to tackle this issue. There’s also a concern that social housing could become concentrated with tenants with high needs – we need to try and ensure that communities continue to be mixed.”

How would you describe your political philosophy?
“It’s been shaped by communitarianism. If we help each other a bit more then the state wouldn’t have to take up so much slack. There is quite a lot of this in West Hampstead already, but I’d like to see more. Of course we can’t do everything, but neither can the state.

The church (or the synagogue) or pubs have historically been at the heart of this, but this seems to be disappearing.”

What advice would he give the incoming councillors?
“My advice is be engaged! Know that the diversity of opinion can be challenging but use it to your advantage”.

What frustrations has he faced?
“There have been a number of internal challenges, principally the inability of certain parts of Labour to clamp down on anti-semitism. It’s by no means everyone, but some people in the membership have an itch that they cannot stop scratching.”

What does the future hold?
As we ended our chat, Phil said that in his frustrating property search he is seeing property prices drift downwards in West Hampstead, so he may, after all, be able to stay around the area. Maybe, at some point in the future, we might see his name popping up on the ballot papers again.

Council tax is going up by 4.99% and here’s why

Last night Camden accepted the recommendation that council tax bills will rise, a decision that will be ratified at full Council on the 26th. For the second year running, it will rise by 4.99%, an increase comprised of a 2.99% council-tax increase and an ‘Adult Social Care’ precept of 2%’. Average Camden band D council tax was £1,417 in 2017/18, which will rise by £70 to £1,487 this coming year, if the increase is approved on the 26th.

Before everyone jumps up and down and starts grumbling about the 1.99% council tax rise, remember that inflation was 2.7% over 2017. Also, almost every council in the country is doing exactly the same, so Camden is no exception. Up until this year, 4.99% was the maximum rise in tax allowed before a referendum had to be held. That number is rising to 5.99%, so let’s see next year.

Council tax accounts for 12% of total council spending (£101 million of total spending of £824 million). Retained business rates account for £89.3 million, fees and rents bring in £166.5 million (of which council tenants contribute ~£120 million directly or via benefits), and the remaining £466.6 million comes from central government.

*note these are for 2017/18 but 2018/19 is roughly the same, although there has been some reduction in the central government grant.

Government funding comprises money for statutory responsibilities, such as schools, adult care, and housing. This statutory funding has been squeezed in recent years, but not cut dramatically. What has been cut dramatically is the portion for discrectionary services. In 2010, this totalled £241 million, but it has fallen every year since and in 2018/19 it will be £119 million – basically half.

Former council finance chief Theo Blackwell argued that Camden faced the seventh highest cut in the country. Despite the cuts, he also said that “resident satisfaction with how Camden spends money is at an all-time high, and gone up by 20% in last 4 years”.

Camden has coped with budget cuts by making savings. Most visibly for most residents, it moved waste collections from weekly to fortnightly, which saved £5 million per year. This has become something of a political football. The Conservatives say they would reverse the change while Labour claims it’s the result of the cut in the central government block grant. Surely, whichever side of the political divide you sit on, we can all agree that the council should spend money as efficiently as possible?

As we get further into the savings programs, the easy savings have all been made and there is concern that some of the harder savings might not be realised, which would lead to Camden’s deficit rising. As the chart below shows, a growing share of savings fall into the “maybe” and “uncertain” to be realised categories.

These are the expected savings with the probability they will be realised; green = fairly certain, amber = maybe, red = uncertain. And they will have to find further savings on top of these.

Slicing the pie

Where does the council spend all this money? Every year it produces a finely sliced pie chart that breaks it down. The biggest area of spending is education (about 25% of the total), which is spent according to government rules. The block grant for education has been cut by 3% a year for the past few years. In 2018/19 it will rise by 0.5% (still a cut in real terms, given inflation is 2.7%).

*note these are for 2017/18 but 2018/19 are roughly the same, although there have been some reductions.

There were a couple of sizeable one-off items in the 2018/19 housing expenditure. The evacuation of Chalcots estate in the aftermath of the Grenfell fire led to emergency housing costs of £17.5 million and the cost of replacing the cladding was another £31 million. The council is asking central government to bear at least some of the cost but will have to find the extra money from its reserves.

Another change to the balance sheet stems from the changes to housing benefit and universal credit. So far only a small number of people have been switched over to universal credit but as has been widely reported, the process has not been smooth and has led to an increase in rent arrears. As more recipients get switched over, Camden expects these arrears to rise.

Meanwhile, central government is mandating a 1% rent reduction per year, until 2020/21. From then on they will increase again by 1% (though, depending on inflation, this is likely to still result in less income in real terms).

Adult social care makes up a large part of Camden’s expenditure. The last few years have coincided with a real-terms squeeze on the NHS budget and a rise in the number of older people, particularly of the very old. Between 2013 and 2023, the number of people aged 90+ is projected to increase by 50%. This is why central government has allowed councils to add a ring-fenced 3% precept for adult social care.

Still, Camden has been able to set a balanced budget for this year, assuming frozen block grant, there are budget deficits forecast for 2020/21 (of £36 million ) and beyond. Plus some of the expected savings are looking uncertain (as in RAG – red/amber/green graph above).

“More rough than ready”

Since Theo Blackwell departed to be Sadiq Khan’s digital tsar, Fortune Green councillor Richard Olszewski has taken over as cabinet member responsible for Finance. Richard said that the medium-term financial strategy Camden established in 2014 has helped it mitigate the impact of the cuts. It has also focused on ‘outcomes-based budgeting’ to help it spend money more effectively. Finally, the council also digitised many services, such as parking permits, making them work better (and cheaper).

“Council tax was brought in 1990 after the Poll Tax and was rough and ready but by 2018 its now more rough than ready”. The simple truth is that, broadly speaking, Londoners massively underpay council tax relative to the rest of the country as banding has not kept up with the stratospheric growth in house prices in the capital. But re-banding would be political suicide for the Tories who would hurt their home counties base and for Labour who’d alienate their urban voters.

Richard recognises that locals should be more involved in setting Council tax. “It would help if there was a more obvious link between council tax and council services, but people did get involved back in 2014 when we were consulting on budget cuts.”. He also argues that over the past few years, “we have been in an almost permanent election cycle”, and therefore there’s real-time feedback on the doorstep. “Yes, at first they criticise us, but then they recognise we have to make cuts, but end by saying we could do better!”

Richard says that there will need to be a further round of cuts, though won’t yet be drawn on specifics. Camden is dominated by Labour councillors, and the local party tries to plan its budget in line with Labour motivations with a focus on tackling inequality and spending more on early years provision.

Camden Conservatives’ finance spokesperson is Swiss Cottage councillor Don Williams. He argues that the Conservatives would try to be more efficient. He points out that Westminster (population 220,000) has 1,700 employees, while Camden (population 246,000) has 3,968. He also suggested ways of raising more revenue, such as through advertising, which now brings in £5 million a year.

Every year, the Conservatives produce an alternative budget that goes into more detail about how they would save money. Pages 7-11 of this document set out their ideas (for 2017). Note that the Conservatives accept the need for the 3% precept, so even under the Tories your bills would rise, but they would freeze the council tax component. In the end, last year their proposal would have led to a £21 annual saving over the actual rise in band D council tax, which doesn’t seem like a radically different vision.

 

Labour leader visits West Hampstead

Cllr Georgia Gould, the relatively new leader of Camden Council, was out and about in West Hampstead this week. She’s visiting each ward across the borough specifically to meet the groups that make Camden tick.

She was in our ‘hood with Cllr Phil Rosenberg visiting the Sherriff Centre, which impressed her. “It’s unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything like quite like it before,” she said. She also met with the Friends of West Hampstead Library, the Maygrove & Iverson Road residents assocation, Sidings Community centre, the NDF and WHAT (to jointly discuss step-free access at the tube station), JW3 and West Hampstead Life.

Cllr Gould grew up in Kentish Town and now lives in Regent’s Park – so she’s Camden through and through – but she confessed she didn’t actually know West Hampstead that well although “by virtue of it being a marginal ward I’ve done a lot of door knocking!”

Georgia Gould being shown round sunny West Hampstead by Cllr Phil Rosenberg.

Keith Moffitt, co-chair of the NDF and himself a former leader of the council, already knows Georgia and was encouraged by her interest in the tube station, adding that “she has a young friendly manner, but is highly competent”. This was echoed by Sue Measures from Sidings who said “she seems very genuine,”  and enjoyed having the opportunity to openly discuss some issues affecting Sidings.

Over at that Library, Jennie Cohen, FoWHL secretary, said that “in all the years that the Friends group has existed – we’re celebrating their 20th anniversary next year – we have never before been visited by a leader of Camden Council, so it gave us all a real boost.” Monica Regli, chair of MILAM was also impressed; “It felt like she was listening, was interested – and took notes(!)’.

Regarding the proposals for the tube station, which needs expanding, Georgia said that “Residents had some very interesting ideas about step-free access at West Hampstead tube station so that’s a lobbying thing for me to help on. We want to have a discussion with TfL about that.”

Of course the issue of rubbish has been the biggest concern for many residents over recent months – and could be a stumbling block for Labour locally in May’s council elections. The contract with Veolia is six months old and most people would agree that it isn’t running 100% smoothly yet. In response to some specific examples of local problems, Georgia said, “we kept our resources in-house to monitor the contract and educate. I appreciate it’s about behavour change; it will take time but we have resources to work with people”. She is still asking people to let them council know where there are issues. Which it seems is all some people who live in the worst-affected areas ever do.

“There are still individual properties where we need to act,” said Phil, to which Georgia added, “You have to be proactive. There were clearly issues when it first was introduced, things have got better but there is still a way to go”.

Although a lot of groups in the area cover both Fortune Green and West Hampstead (and sometimes the boundary between them is a bit unclear) Cllr Gould will be returning to look specifically at Fortune Green in the company of Camden’s only Lib Dem councillor, Flick Rea.

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”.

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”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

H&K 2017: The John Mansook Interview

John Mansook, the young chairman of Brent Greens, and the Green Party candidate for H&K  was out for a coffee last month with another member of the Brent Green party discussing how to take the local party forward.

The next day Theresa May announced the snap general election, and there swiftly followed an email asking if John wanted to run. He said yes – and less than a month later he’s talking to WHL on a park bench in Queen’s Park.

John is a fitness trainer. He left university and couldn’t find a job so he turned his hobby, kickboxing, into a career as a sports coach. He now works with all age groups from the elderly, people with dementia, the disabled and – his real passion – working with kids and toddlers to get them all exercising.

Sopporter, Shaka Lish (Brent Central), John Mansook (H&K) and super-activist Poppy.

L to R: Green supporter, Shaka Lish (Brent Central), John Mansook (H&K) and super-activist Poppy.

The Green Party is definitely at the David rather than the Goliath end of the British political system. It has a small team of local activists, including Poppy – its local secret weapon; but despite increasing evidence of climate change, Green issues have slipped down the agenda. Why aren’t younger members getting involved? “The meetings and politics can be “off-putting for young people,” says John.

The most immediate ‘Green’ issue in this local campaign is recycling and rubbish. John, who lives in Brent, feels that there should be a return to weekly collections in H&K as, despite the good intentions, there isn’t the necessary buy-in. In Brent “they no longer chase you down and give you information”.  As a sports coach he is aware that engagement is key, but is also aware it isn’t easy.

There was some controversy about the Greens putting up a candidate at all in Hampstead and Kilburn. They got 2,387 votes last time – greater than Labour’s winning margin of 1,132 votes. So how would he feel if Tulip lost by a smaller margin that the Green votes? “Personally, anything but Tory. But I wouldn’t say I’m preventing it happening. We did offer to stand down as part of a progressive alliance, but it is a two-way thing and there was no movement by Labour. Ultimately the members of the Camden and Brent Greens wanted a candidate to represent them.  But yes – I’m being asked about that a lot today!”

What has surprised him the most about the campaign? “I have been surprised how supportive and understanding people are. It’s very daunting because this is my first time doing it but for the most part people have been very kind and they recognise you are doing something for your community. It really has taken away a lot of that fear factor about standing”.

Finally, why should we vote for John Mansook? “I’m not your average politician, I’ve been on the receiving end of Conservative and Labour policies; tuition fees, lack of housing. So coming from that perspective I can really empathise with people about how they feel about these issues”.

 

 

 

Hustings postponed in wake of Manchester attack

We have had to cancel tonight’s hustings at the Sherriff Centre.

Following the terrible attack in Manchester last night, which has left 22 people dead and dozens more injured, the political parties have suspended campaigning.

Sadly this sort of disruption of the democratic process is surely one of the aims of terrorism. While calling a temporary halt to the campaign is understandable at the national level, and of course in Manchester, I believe the hustings would have been an opportunity for West Hampstead to come together as a community and pay its respects to the people caught up in this unimaginably awful situation, while acknowledging that sensitive and thoughtful political debate can continue even as we mourn for the victims.

We will try and reschedule the hustings, and keep you informed. Thanks to those of you who had already submitted questions. Hopefully they can still be asked

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.

H&K 2017: The Kirsty Allan interview

Kirsty Allan, Liberal Democrat candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn

Kirsty Allan, Liberal Democrat candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kirsty and Lib Dem activists out on the campaign trail

Kirsty and Lib Dem activists out on the campaign trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Claire-Louise Leyland chosen as Tory candidate for Hampstead & Kilburn

The local Conservative party held its constituency selection meeting last night in the Dennington Park Road synagogue hall – a special general meeting called at short notice after Theresa May’s surprise election announcement. Hampstead & Kilburn is a key target seat for them.

The local party had sent a shortlist to Central Office which initially included local party leader Claire-Louise Leyland, rising star Henry Newman – a wannabe Highgate councillor – and existing Camden councillor Siobhan Baillie. However, it seems that Siobhan either declined to stand or was dropped and when the list returned from Conservative central office it included a new name: London Assembly member Kemi Badenoch.

Tory selection meeting about to start. Image: @richardosley

Tory selection meeting about to start. Image: @richardosley

During the meeting, each candidate made a five minute personal statment, then answered the same four questions; on Brexit, the constituency being a marginal, changes to education funding and HS2. This was followed by 20 minutes of questions from the floor. Of the 700 local members, 142 turned out.

Kemi Badenoch was up first. She is the deputy-leader of the GLA Conservatives and on the GLA since 2015; her Tory credentials extend to having a husband who is a Conservative councillor. She had only found out she was on the shortlist at 11.30 yesterday morning and hadn’t even had time to go home to Wimbledon and change. Given the short notice and lack of “home advantage”, she put up a creditable performance.

Next came Claire-Louise Leyland, a familiar face to the audience as leader, since 2014, of the Camden Conservative group. She grew up in South Africa (but says her dad is as Lancashire as stick of Blackpool rock). She works as a professional art therapist and counsellor, and has spent seven years as a Conservative councillor. She campaigned for Remain last year. She had the advantage of knowing many people in the room – indeed even the room itself – as her first venture into politics was as a council candidate for the ward of West Hampstead.

The final candidate was rising bin-selfie star Henry Newman. Henry is director of Open Europe, having been a special advisor at the Justice Department for Michael Gove and at the Cabinet office. He’s only had limited media experience but was a polished performer.

As well as the four standard questions other issues that came up were the pensions triple lock, Brexit (again), the rights of EU residents, the “yellow peril” posed by the Lib Dems, Tulip, housing and inter-generational fairness.

After the first count no candidate had got a clear majority – apparently the vote was fairly evenly spread but third placed candidate Kemi dropped out.

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 be ppc for H&K in 2017. Image: Ulster Herald.

In the second round of voting, Claire-Louise Leyland won to become the prospective parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn. In her short winners speech she said it was a privilege to have been selected.

Will she be the candidate to see Hampstead & Kilburn turn Conservative on June 9th? Labour’s Tulip Siddiq and the Lib Dems’ Kirsty Allan will be hoping not

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.

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?

High Remain vote in West Hampstead, but turnout only average

Camden has released more details of the Brexit vote. The results are not strictly ward based (the count was organised in this way for reasons of accuracy) as postal votes were allocated randomly and evenly per ward. With that caveat, the percentage vote in favour of remain in the the local wards was:

Hampstead Town 79.72%
Fortune Green 79.71% (just pipped by Hampstead)
Frog & Fitz 79.18%
West Hampstead 78.43%
Swiss Cottage 77.79%
Highgate 77.06% (said to have been highest, but wasn’t)
Kilburn 70.20%

However, the results also reveal a surprise on turnout. Despite photographs of queues at West Hampstead Library polling station making the national press, turnout in Camden overall was 65.5%*, exactly on a par with the last general election. Yet nationally it was 72.2% (66.1% at the last general election) and, according to the Evening Standard, in comparable Islington it was 70.39% and in south west London 71.98%. So why was turnout in Camden relatively low? Local weather?  Demographics?  Voter registration?  Error in my sums?

*Turnout; 21,128 (postal votes cast) + 74,154 (ballot papers cast) = 95,282 / 145,328 (total Camden electorate) = 65.5%

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.

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 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

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!

Election 2015: Hampstead & Kilburn candidates line up

The five big parties have now all announced their candidates for the Hampstead & Kilburn constituency in May’s general election. We take a look at the runners, the latest thinking on the outcome, and the critical role West Hampstead will play in the final vote count. Put March 31st in your diaries for the West Hampstead Life hustings at The Sherriff Centre.

The candidates

Tulip Siddiq Hampstead KilburnFor Labour, which holds a 42 vote majority, Tulip Siddiq will be aiming to replace the retiring (though never shy) Glenda Jackson. Jackson has held the seat since 1992 though her margin of victory in 2010 was a nailbiting 42 votes. Tulip, who, unlike Glenda, lives in the constituency, was a Camden councillor for Regents Park ward until she stepped down in 2014.

Simon Marcus Hampstead KilburnSimon Marcus is the Conservative candidate. He was selected in an unusual open primary way back in January 2013. He is a councillor for Hampstead Town ward and may be unique among modern day politicians for appearing to concede that this might not be his year as far back as January last year.

Maajid Nawaz Hampstead KilburnMaajid Nawaz will stand for the Liberal Democrats. He was the replacement after their original choice jumped ship for another job back in early 2013. Maajid has a relatively high profile and regularly appears on TV and radio talking about Islamic radicalism. He is a former Islamic extremist who now runs Quilliam, “the world’s first counter-extremism think tank”.

Rebecca Johnson Hampstead KilburnThe Greens are putting forward Rebecca Johnson. Rebecca is a well-known figure in the campaign for nuclear disarmament, and is a relative heavyweight. This is a high-profile area where Green Jenny Jones polled well in the mayoral election, so it’s understandable the party would want a credible candidate.

Magnus Nielsen Hampstead KilburnFinally, UKIP has turned once again to Magnus Nielsen. Magnus is the only candidate from 2010 contesting the seat again. He made the headlines most recently at the West Hampstead Life local election hustings where he suggested that perhaps universal suffrage hadn’t been such a great idea.

Who’s going to win?

Lets turn to the bookmakers first. Ladbrokes has Labour as comfortable odds-on favourites to hold the seat. Currently at 1/4 (slightly tighter than the 1/5 they were at last week). The Conservatives are second favourites at 5/1 (slightly out from 9/2), with the Lib Dems third at 10/1. The Greens are at 33/1, and Magnus isn’t given much of a chance as the 100/1 outsider.

Ladbrokes odds January 24th

Ladbrokes odds January 24th

Lord Ashcroft’s well-regarded polls also give Labour a comfortable lead, although the last poll was conducted back in August before the mansion tax issue came to a head. That put Labour ahead on 47% (+14 points from the 2010 result), Conservatives down 3 points at 30%, Lib Dems at 13% down from 31% in 2010, Greens at 6% and UKIP at 2%.

Lord Ashcroft poll August 2014

Lord Ashcroft poll August 2014

Conservative blogger Iain Dale raised a few eyebrows earlier this month when he called Hampstead & Kilburn as a seat that would change hands at the next election and be a Conservative gain. What leads Dale to the contrarian position? “A lot of new info”, though he doesn’t care to share what that might be.

What is the likely outcome? Few would predict a repeat of 2010, when the seat was the closest three-way seat in the country with just 841 votes separating Labour from the Lib Dems in third . The polls suggest that the Lib Dem vote will crumble (though not as much as it will nationally) and that more of those voters will go red than blue, bolstering Labour’s majority considerably.

The Conservatives are making much of the mansion tax issue – that is Labour’s proposal to raise an additional levy on homes worth more than £2 million. According to estate agent Knight Frank, this consitutency has 4,783 properties that fall into that category at the moment; though not everyone who lives in one is necessarily cash rich. The question is surely whether there are more traditional Labour voters who would defect over the issue than there are disillusioned Lib Dem voters who’ll go back to Labour. If the predictions for the collapse of the Lib Dem vote is accurate, then the answer is clearly no.

In Maajid Nawaz, the Lib Dems might have a candidate who will outperform the polls. Despite being hit hard in the local elections by Labour, the local Lib Dems’ came out ahead of the party nationally beating the Conservatives into third in West Hampstead, Fortune Green and Kilburn (though coming fourth behind the Greens in Conservative-held Swiss Cottage). This die-hard Lib Dem vote in at least part of Hampstead & Kilburn should ensure their third place; and Maajid’s unusual background might bring in some votes from those disillusioned with “normal” politicians. Nevertheless, it’s hard to see him springing the big surprise.

What of the other two? UKIP is not expected to do well here; it struggles in urban areas. The Greens might have wondered whether they had a shot at third, but Maajid is probably too strong a candidate for that. So they are likely to finish fourth, with UKIP in fifth.

The most marginal wards in the most marginal seat

Whichever way the seat goes this year, the result is unlikely to be as tight as that in 2010 although it is a relatively evenly split constituency: Hampstead, Belsize, Frognal and Swiss Cottage are reasonably secure Tory areas, Kilburn and the Brent side of the constituency are pretty dominantly Labour, which leaves West Hampstead and Fortune Green as the swing wards in a marginal seat. Voters might have evicted all but one of the Lib Dem councillors last year, and delivered a thumping Labour win, but with a higher turnout and the growing affluence of the area, it very much feels that the streets around West End Lane are where the battle for Hampstead & Kilburn could be won or lost.

Local election 2014: The results

As the dust settles after an emotionally intense Friday evening at the Somers Town Community Centre, it’s time to recap the results from the four wards we’ve been covering.

First up, West Hampstead

John Bryant Liberal Democrats 836
Natalie Eliades Conservative Party 800
Nick Grierson Conservative Party 811
Richard Griffiths Green Party 327
Zane Hannan Green Party 343
Keith Moffitt Liberal Democrats 943
Magnus Nielsen UKIP 202
David Pearce Trade Union and Socialist Coalition 67
Angela Pober Labour Party 1,166
Gillian Risso-Gill Liberal Democrats 901
Phil Rosenberg Labour Party 1,179
Andrew Saywell Conservative Party 715
Quentin Tyler Green Party 250
James Yarde Labour Party 1,082
Total (inc. rejected)   9,622
Turnout   38%

Labour managed the clean sweep here (something residents will hope they can do to the streets as well), with the shock being the removal of Keith Moffitt. One suspects that if Keith had been standing in Fortune Green he’d have got back in, but the slightly more transient nature of the West Hampstead population may well have meant that national politics played a larger role here and his personal reputation counted for less.

West Hampstead share

Fortune Green next

Ian Cohen Conservative 893
Juan Jimenez Green Party 326
Nancy Jirira Liberal Democrats 950
Leila Mars Green Party 403
Lucy Oldfield Green Party 318
Richard Olszewski Labour & Cooperative Party 967
Andrew Parkinson Conservative 739
Flick Rea Liberal Democrats 1,151
Lorna Russell Labour & Cooperative Party 1,028
Nick Russell Liberal Democrats 865
Tom Smith Conservative 686
Phil Turner Labour & Cooperative Party 904
Total (inc. rejected)   9,246
Turnout   39.2%

Hard to know what’s more astonishing here: Flick coming top of the poll on a day when the Lib Dems were obliterated nationally or Labour dispatching the Tories into a distant third. The Lib Dems actually came top in Fortune Green with 32.1% of the vote, vs. Labour’s 31.3%. The Conservatives were well back at just 25%, although Ian Cohen’s 893 placed him fifth overall only 11 votes off fourth placed Phil Turner. Despite the outspoken animosity between some Labour people and Flick, hopefully these three councillors can work together on local issues.

Fortune Green share

From the two marginals, to the two safer seats

Kilburn

Sarah Astor Green Party 402
Douglas Beattie Labour 1,661
Richard Bourn Green Party 276
Maryam Eslamdoust Labour 1,611
Thomas Gardiner Labour 1,543
Janet Grauberg Liberal Democrats 876
Sheila Hayman Green Party 286
Jack Holroyde Liberal Democrats 746
James King Liberal Democrats 883
Nick Vose Conservative 411
Tim Wainwright Conservative 409
John Whitehead Conservative 357
Total (inc. rejected)   9,483
Turnout   38.31%

It was billed as a two-way fight, and that’s exactly what it was although in the end Labour’s margin of victory was more comfortable than many had thought. The Lib Dems – two of whom are former Kilburn councillors – found that their local credentials weren’t enough to unseat the incumbent Labour couple who have moved out of the area, while Mike Katz’s replacement came top of the poll.

Kilburn share

And finally… Swiss Cottage

Chris Butler Liberal Democrats 300
Tom Franklin Green Party 433
Roger Freeman Conservative 1,294
Andrew Haslam-Jones Liberal Democrats 230
Helen Jack Green Party 367
Andrew Marshall Conservative 1,340
Jill Newbrook Liberal Democrats 347
Ben Nunn Labour 1,029
Sheila Patton Green Party 339
Simon Pearson Labour 1,008
Gretel Reynolds Labour 960
Don Williams Conservative 1,221
Total (inc. rejected)   8,886
Turnout   34.67%

A low turnout in Swiss Cottage, which is predominantly made up of the redbrick properties of South Hampstead. The Conservatives were always expected to hold this comfortably, but in the end the margins were a little close for comfort, with Labour polling very strongly indeed – in no other local ward did two candidates get more than 1,000 votes and not get a seat.

Swiss Cottage share

Labour sweep Lib Dems out of West Hampstead

Labour_victory

Labour pulled off an astonishing victory yesterday evening, and redrew the political map of north-west Camden. West Hampstead and Fortune Green have been a fortress for the Liberal Democrats, with each ward headed by a popular councillor: Keith Moffitt in West Hampstead and Flick Rea in Fortune Green. This morning Keith – one time leader of Camden Council – is no longer a councillor, while Flick becomes the Lib Dems only councillor in the borough.

Labour won five of the six seats available in the two wards as well as holding Kilburn fairly comfortably despite a robust campaign from the Lib Dems. Swiss Cottage was a safe Conservative hold, although Labour ran them much closer than expected and before postal votes were counted it looked as if an upset was even possible.

Last night belonged to Labour, which gained 10 seats in Camden to give it 40 of the 54 on offer. All 10 were taken from the Lib Dems, who also lost two to the Conservatives in Hampstead Town and Belsize. The Greens kept their seat in Highgate, where turnout almost hit 50%, albeit with a different councillor – Sian Berry replacing Maya de Souza. The Greens will be disappointed not to have got a second seat there.

It was apparent as soon as the count got going that the situation looked good for Labour and worrying for the Liberal Democrats. With the dubious benefit of knowing what had happened in the rest of the country well before the count even began, the orange rosettes were already nervous and stress levels were clearly rising. There was an air of despondency hanging over the Conservatives milling around the counts for West Hampstead and Fortune Green – especially the latter ward, where they had high hopes of getting at least one seat.

Camden_count

Of the two wards, West Hampstead was called first but everyone knew the result. Only Keith had any chance of surviving the cull but there was no recount called, which meant the gap couldn’t be that close. John Bryant was the first name to be called and polled just 836 votes – the lowest of the Lib Dems and only 25 clear of Nick Grierson, who was the highest polling Conservative. Keith cleared 943 votes, but with a turnout of 38%, it was always going to need more than 1,000 to get in. Angela Pober was the first Labour candidate to be called out (names are are read out in alphabetical order) and she brought in 1,166. Gillian Risso-Gill took 901 votes – the farmers market hadn’t been enough to save her. Labour’s Phil Rosenberg won 1,179 votes – the most of anyone in the ward, and then James Yarde brought up Labour’s tail with 1,082 – 139 votes ahead of Keith and bringing 20 years of council service to an end.

West Hampstead's new councillors  James Yarde, Angela Pober, Phil Rosenberg. with Tulip Siddiq (second left)

West Hampstead’s new councillors James Yarde, Angela Pober, Phil Rosenberg. with Tulip Siddiq (second left)

Keith wiped away a small tear and then made a point of congratulating all the newly elected councillors. Not all losing candidates that night were as gracious. Nor were all winners. Night like these can bring out the worst of tribal party politics, though there were mercifully examples of generosity of spirit from all parties.

In the end, a combination of hard graft by the Labour candidates and the national swing had been too much for the personal vote for Keith to overcome. It was still a surprise. Labour had known that Keith would be the hardest incumbent to dislodge, and it proved the case, but it’s always a coup to remove the leader of a party.

The CNJ's Dan Carrier interviews Keith Moffitt after he loses out to Philip Rosenberg in West Hampstead

The CNJ’s Dan Carrier interviews Keith Moffitt after he loses out to Philip Rosenberg in West Hampstead

Attention switched to Fortune Green, where a recount was ordered. We already knew that the Tories were out of this. “If only Ian Cohen had had six more months”, one Conservative told me, seeming to forget that the Conservatives only finalised their list of who was standing across the two wards at at the last minute. Ian himself was still smiling, taking the hit on the chin. He’ll still be popping up at local meetings I’m sure.

Waiting for the Fortune Green recount

Waiting for the Fortune Green recount

Lorna Russell had already been told she’d polled enough to get in – and promptly collapsed. Labour really hadn’t held out that much hope for Fortune Green, expecting the Tories to do well and the Lib Dems to put up a strong fight. No-one but no-one had really thought Flick was vulnerable and, as these pages suggested, perhaps the other two Lib Dems could ride that wave to safety.

Keith Moffitt and Flick Rea look anxiously at ballot papers

Keith Moffitt and Flick Rea look anxiously at ballot papers

The reality was that Flick came home very safely – she actually topped the poll in Fortune Green, proving that personal votes can and do make a difference. Lorna was a surefire second, which meant the recount was between Labour’s Richard Olszewski and incumbent councillor Nancy Jirira.

Finally, the returning officer called everyone up to announce the final two wards – Fortune Green and Highgate. Fortune Green was first. The Conservative’s Ian Cohen (once thought of as a possible Lib Dem candidate) had done very well: 893 votes, more than 150 ahead of the next Conservative and narrowly in fifth place overall. Close but no cigar. Nancy was the next from the big three to be called – 950 for Nancy, agonisingly short of the 1,000 mark. Then Richard… 967. It was enough. Just 17 votes between them. Labour supporters whooped and cheered, knowing they’d done the unthinkable and obliterated the Liberal Democrats in their own backyard.

Flick took 1,151 votes and Lorna 1,028. Labour’s Phil Turner got 904 votes.

That left Flick Rea as the de facto leader of the Lib Dems in Camden. Outside the Somers Town community centre, she was in a feisty mood, and expect her to make a nuisance of herself in council meetings.

What does it all mean for local residents? At one level, not much – after all Camden was Labour before yesterday and remains Labour now – only with even more control. The Conservatives become the official opposition party.

On a more local level, it means that our new councillors have some big shoes to fill. They’ll have to learn fast how to navigate their way around the council and expectations will be high. Up in Fortune Green, Flick may well find that she’s bombarded with queries from locals who know and trust her to help them and simply don’t know much about the new Labour councillors. She’ll need to work with them though if she’s not to drown in case work.

It had been a long afternoon and evening. Labour gathered on stage for a victory celebration worthy of any cup-winning football team. Frank Dobson MP – who’d appeared for the photoshoots with winning teams in his Holborn & St Pancras constituency – had long gone home, but Hampstead & Kilburn hopeful Tulip Siddiq was very much still around. She’ll be hoping that the Labour surge in north-west London carries her to Westminster next year, while her Conservative rival Simon Marcus has to pin his hopes on a blue revivial nationally if he’s to stand any chance.

Meanwhile, congratulations to Phil, Angela, James, Lorna, Richard and Flick for winning their seats in two closely fought battles. We’ll be talking to them all – as well as some of the Lib Dems who’ve been pushed out of the way – over the coming days. You can also see a full breakdown of all the votes and the swings for the parties. I’ll leave the last word to long-time resident Tony Penfold, who tweeted last night: “Some good people who helped make West Hampstead what it is have left the stage, newbies now have to walk the walk. Whamp is watching”.

Liveblog: The Camden Count

Hmm – liveblogging from just a phone proved tricky; in the end, everything happened on Twitter!

17:45 it’s really warm in the counting hall. Most candidates in the middle, well away from the press. Two wards announced so far, Bloomsbury and Kings Cross, both comfortable Labour holds. There’s a recount in Belsize. West Hampstead and Fortune Green still close. There are an unusually high number of split ballots (where a voter chooses candidates from more than one party)

17:15 No announcements yet but most wards are more or less decided. West Hampstead and Fortune Green both very close. Latest predictions are Labour clean sweep in West Hampstead and take 1 or 2 in Fortune Green.

16:40 Here we are at the count in Somers Town. Labour looking confident both generally, where their hold of the Town Hall seems fairly assured, but also in NW Camden. West Hampstead seems to be super tight and Keith Moffitt looks anxious, though he may well cling on. Up in Fortune Green, Labour is telling me that it’s much closer than people were expecting.

Keith Moffitt and Flick Rea look anxiously at ballot papers for West Hampstead

Keith Moffitt and Flick Rea look anxiously at ballot papers for West Hampstead

Count_1

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:

Schools: What the parties say

It’s fast becoming the most divisive issue in north-west Camden politics. Do we need more schools? What sort of schools? Where should they be? Who should run them?

Primary schools
It’s universally accepted that a new primary school is needed in our part of Camden. Under current legislation, a new school would have to be an academy – i.e., outside of local authority control. The only way round this is to expand an existing school.

Camden council, rightly proud of its primary schools, proposes to expand Kingsgate Primary School, which sits on the corner of Kingsgate Road and Messina Avenue. Kingsgate can’t expand on its existing site. Instead, the council wants to open a remote extension on what is now the Liddell Road industrial estate. We have covered this in some detail before. To fund the expansion, the council plans to allow a private residential development to occupy the rest of the site – controversially with next to no affordable housing, even though it intends to make a £9 million profit on the site (£3m from the housing + the £6m central government funding it has received since the first plans were put forward). It is not clear whether that £9m would be reinvested in West Hampstead, or be dispersed throughout the borough.

Secondary schools
It’s not universally accepted that we need another secondary school. In fact it’s almost impossible to get clarity on the statistics being bandied around by both sides.

Parents campaigning for a new school mix up statistics from different geographic areas: constituency, ward, borough, postcode, which makes it hard to decipher the true need. Here’s the free school page on numbers (including links to the data). Meanwhile, the council argues that its analysis shows that there will be sufficient school places in the borough until 2022/23, including the NW6 area.

The only stat that seems clear cut is that across Camden, eight children ended up without a secondary school place in the last round of allocations.

The group pushing for a free school – already named the West Hampstead International School – submitted its application to the Department for Education about 10 days ago. The application is now for a primary and secondary school, and parents are also eyeing up the Liddell Road site. With 1,600 students, it would be the largest school in Camden when full in 2022, so potential sites are not obvious.

Dr Clare Craig submits the free school application to the DfE

Dr Clare Craig submits the free school application to the DfE

If the free school can’t secure the Liddell Road site, it’s not clear where else it could set up. The campaign website says only “Before securing a site we need to show the Department for Education there is sufficient demand so the school will be full when it opens. We are confident some of the brownfield land at the West Hampstead railway interchange can be secured for the school.”

There are almost no brownfield sites left that would be large enough – 156 West End Lane is large, but would be controversial for a school given the traffic situation on West End Lane. The O2 car park redevelopment would certainly have the size, but is a long way off. There’s likely to be more development of Blackburn Road, which could work but again, it’s not imminent and the school is hoping to take its first children in September 2015.

This issue of location has dogged proposed free schools locally. It’s been widely reported that some of these have had to tell parents who thought their child had a place that they don’t have a site and therefore parents should look at local authority options. The lack of sites is turning out to be a major problem and it’s hard to imagine that parents would have confidence in a school that has yet to secure classrooms but wants to open in 2015.

What do the parties have to say?
Labour opposes the idea of a new secondary school. It disputes the figures that suggest demand, and is pushing hard for the Kingsgate primary expansion on Liddell Road. It has by far the clearest position of the three main parties.

The Conservatives, said council candidate Andrew Parkinson at hustings, are “completely against Liddell Road as a site for a primary school”. In a more considered written response, he said, “Until we are satisfied that a full search for and assessment of other potential sites has been carried out, we will continue to oppose the choice of Liddell Road”.

The party has a manifesto commitment to supporting the free school but doesn’t seem to be throwing its weight behind the statistical analysis suggesting that a new school is needed, simply saying “Local people tell us that there are not enough local state school places for our children.”

Nor are the Tories willing to say where such a school would be located:

As for potential sites apart from Liddell Road, it would be inappropriate to name one site until a full assessment of suitability both for children and residents is carried out. However, the Travis Perkins building has been closed for three years and could potentially support either a primary or secondary school. Further, West Hampstead is to undergo significant change in the next few years as the railway lands (including sites at the O2 centre and Midland Crescent) are developed. The potential for a school to be included within these developments will also need to be fully considered.

Caught between the two seem to be the Liberal Democrats. They have argued against the expansion of Kingsgate to Liddell Road which, according to Cllr John Bryant at Monday night’s hustings, “for educational reasons, we think is wrong”. However, the party is not against Liddell Road being used as a primary school site, arguing that “we do not believe that the planned expansion of Kingsgate School is the right solution, and would prefer to proceed with either a totally new stand-alone primary school or consider the merits of a through school.”

In terms of supporting the free school, the Lib Dems say that they “support local campaigns for new schools, but would wish those schools to form part of the Camden family of schools”, which presumably means that they would come under some form of local authority control. This is broadly in line with national party policy on free schools, which boils down to “knock yourself out, but they’ve got to stick to the national curriculum and use qualified teachers”.

In a lengthy written response, the Lib Dems are keen to point out that they have supported the parents behind the free school campaign (although they acutally stop short of saying they support the proposed school itself), but that they also support Hampstead School as a “good local school.”

Where might a secondary school go?

“We believe that a general review of suitable sites for both primary and secondary school provisions in the West Hampstead and Kilburn area is needed, looking at all possible sites in the area, including Liddell Road itself, but taking full advantage of central government funding to avoid unnecessarily pushing businesses off of the site and using private housing to fund a school there; the 156 West End Lane site and other future development sites including the O2 car park, although it is important to be aware that unlike the other two sites mentioned that is not of course owned by the London Borough of Camden.”

When asked how they would ensure school place provision should the free school application fail, the Lib Dems’ response is

“We would say that the expansion of Emmanuel School and the building of the UCL Academy in Swiss Cottage have already gone a considerable way to addressing the shortage of both primary and secondary places in the area.” They continue “Should the WHIS application fail on technical grounds, we would encourage this parents’ group to continue in their efforts to provide further secondary school places in our area, possibly looking outside the precise geographical area of West Hampstead and Fortune Green.”

For the Greens, Leila Mars said at the hustings that the party supports free schools. This is in fact, not Green Party policy. The policy is to bring existing free schools back under local authority control.

UKIP‘s Magnus Nielsen didn’t have anything specifically to say on this issue at hustings, other than to recognise that primary education is very important. This was possibly the least controversial thing he said all evening.

Listen to all the parties’ comments on the schools question from last Monday night’s hustings

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

Housing: What the parties say

Housing – we need more of it, and it needs to be affordable for more than the highest earners. Not too many people disagree on that. How and where we deliver that is a different story and one that can be written at both the national, city and local level. At the local level, councils are also of course responsible for allocating and maintaining council housing and housing services.

Labour‘s very first manifesto pledge is to build 6,000 new homes – including council homes. It won’t introduce fixed-term tenancies and 80% market rates as long as it has that power. During the current administration, Labour has been selling off assets to fund schools and housing. The most obvious examples locally are 156 West End Lane (the Travis Perkins building) and the Liddell Road industrial estate. The party pledges to ensure that “developments led by the council deliver 50% genuinely affordable housing” (50% by floorspace is the existing target for any development in the borough). It also pledges to continue its reforms of council leaseholder and tenant services.

TravisPerkins

The Conservatives pledge to make the council’s housing and repairs services more efficient. Specifically they will change how maintenance and repairs are managed including using competitive tenders and reducing red tape. They will sell the freeholds of street properties that have more than 50% leaseholders and encourage right-to-buy. The manifesto makes no mention of additional or affordable housing.

The Liberal Democrats say they will take a proactive approach to creating new social housing, taking advantage of central government schemes and using planning powers to improve the borough’s housing mix and provide homes for young people at a price they can afford. They also want to give council tenants and residents associations a more active role in the delivery of repair and maintenance services.

The Green Party says it would “pioneer innovative models of housing, such a co-housing where individual units share facilities and social space” to keep housing affordable. Such housing would be a priority for new developments on council land. It would also create a register of good landlords to incentivse high standards.

UKIP, which doesn’t have a Camden manifesto but a generic local election one, says it will oppose the bedroom tax but provide incentives to re-use empty homes and that new housing should be directed to brownfield sites. It argues that ending “open-door immigration” would reduce the pressure on housing.

The TUSC, standing in West Hampstead, says it would prioritise the building of social housing including sheltered and accessible housing. It would also push for proper maintenance of current council housing stock by selecting a company that is sensitive to occupant needs/desires and able to provide quality for money. It would also work with developers to build sympathetic private properties of various sizes and that include affordable housing. It wants a register of local landlords and proposes rent caps for private tenants .

WHL perpsective: your reaction to these is likely to depend on your own housing situation and on the sort of communities you want to live in. If you believe that mixed communities are stronger and more interesting places to live than homogenous places then consider that (re)developments in all our wards should seek to improve the socio-economic mix. If you’re a council tenant then the issue may boil down to whether you think the current Labour administration has improved services to tenants or not.

MillLaneHouses1

Let us know your thoughts on the policies below and on what housing topics you think the parties should be concerned with.

West Hampstead elects

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the difference?

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

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

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

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

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.

Liddell Road – how the night unfolded

There was a lively Twitter conversation during and after last night’s Camden cabinet meeting, at which the fate of Liddell Road was decided. If you weren’t following along, here’s the bulk of it – rearranged to make a bit more sense than the pure chronological output. It’s also a good record of the promises made by Camden to look into some of the issues in more detail.

Dramatis Personæ:
LiddellRoad – the campaign set up by traders
Richard Osley – deputy editor of the Camden New Journal
Phil Jones – Councillor (Labour) and cabinet member for sustainability
Theo Blackwell – Councillor (Labour) and cabinet member for finance
Keith Moffitt – Councillor (Lib Dem) for West Hampstead
Mike Katz – Councillor (Labour) for Kilburn
WHampstead – me!

Cllr Phil Jones

Boris talks to West Hampstead businesses

Boris Johnson is either an ambitious and gifted politician or an incompetent buffoon. Whichever side of the divide you sit on, he is, indisputably, the Mayor of London and the blondest man you’re likely to see this side of Scandinavia.

This Thursday he made a relatively low-key and very short notice visit to West Hampstead to take part in a roundtable discussion with local business owners, under the banner of the relaunching West Hampstead Business Association (WHBA).

It stands for “White-haired Boris ambushed”

Local Conservative Party candidate Simon Marcus had managed to persuade his BoJo-ness to come along (lets remember this is by far London’s most marginal seat), so The Wet Fish Café was half-full of local businesses and half of local Tory supporters and hangers on. And me.

I was tasked with chairing the debate, which in reality meant trying to keep some control of Boris. To his credit, he did actually try and answer almost all the questions that I and other local business people put to him. And to their credit, the local Conservatives didn’t interrupt or whoop or make a nuisance of themselves. The result was a meeting that although predictably light on meaningful dialogue, was both entertaining and engaging.

We opened by asking the Mayor what City Hall could do to help small businesses. Boris of course takes the extreme laissez-faire approach to economics, putting him to the right of many in his party (by contrast, he’s socially relatively liberal). So the answer to the question – if you read between the lines – was really that local businesses needed to help themselves.

That of course is exactly what forming a business association is all about. He also suggested the WHBA looks at forming a BID (Business Improvement District), although West Hampstead would be quite small for a BID, and the scheme has come under some criticism for ultimately driving rents up. But it’s something no doubt the WHBA will look into.

There were questions of course about the extent of development in the area – and the type of development. With such a heavy focus on small one- and two-bed flats being built, it’s hard to see how the area’s weekday daytime economy will benefit as the occupants of these flats will be off to work. Boris countered that there was a mandatory quotient of three-bed properties in any new development and that Camden must be delivering this. Of course, one only needs to look at West Hampstead Square or the Mill Lane Apartments to see that the 3-bed properties are more “luxury penthouses” than “family homes”.

Boris also returned to a theme he’d addressed in his controversial speech the night before. He suggested that there was too much paranoia about foreign investors buying London property and that the money coming in was helping fund major schemes such as those around the Olympic village, Battersea, and Brent Cross. None of which particularly helps businesses in West Hampstead of course.

It’s not helpful to be over-parochial about such things, but high streets generally need support so they’re well placed to rise as the economy recovers. One of the mayor’s more practical thoughts was that some high streets – and he clarified this didn’t apply to West End Lane – were simply too long. If, he said, councils sought to concentrate long strung-out high streets using planing and zoning laws, then it would be easier to keep them vibrant. This strikes me as generally being a good idea – it might even help make a tiny dent in the housing shortfall if property on the fringes of these high streets could be converted into residential. Kilburn High Road is probably about as long a high street as is viable without splitting into separate sections, but it’s possible to think of others in the wider area that lack any defined central point – Harrow Road, for example.

Lorraine from Mamacita asked Boris what City Hall could do in terms of reducing red tape for smaller businesses. This turned into a bit of a convoluted conversation, but ultimately the mayor said he was in favour of loosening employment restrictions for businesses that had five staff or fewer. He struggled to understand why any business owner would have any problem firing anyone though. “I fire people all the time”, he said with gusto.

And with that, he trotted off with his entourage down West End Lane, first calling into West End Lane Books, where he (reluctantly, apparently) bought a copy of Zadie Smith’s NW. He was heading for St James’ Church where he met with Father Andrew Cain who explained how the post office was going to fit into the buidling. He then detoured to café Wired and Rock Men’s Salon on Broadhurst Gardens, where despite owner John’s best efforts, Boris couldn’t be persuaded into a chair for a trim of his white locks.

Photos by Andre Millodot and David Matthews

Grill your councillors on local issues

Every few months, each ward in Camden holds the sexily-titled “Area Action Group”. It’s hard to imagine a less-suitable title. I think we should borrow from the Americans here and use the more appealing “Town Hall meeting” idea… but I digress.

The AAGs are a chance to catch up on the latest issues in the area. Next week, this includes the rubbish/fly-tipping problem that you’re all so worked up about. Gary Borg – one of Camden’s street environment officers – will be present.

The evenings are hosted by the local councillors but they are explicitly not allowed to be party political (although that doesn’t stop one or two of the more boistrous councillors from making a few choice comments from the safety of the audience from time to time). They often invite officials from other public bodies to come and be interrogated by feisty residents. Turnout varies, but 80 people would be a rough average.

Don’t dismiss these meetings as not for you, at least not without coming to one first. They can be quite revealing and offer a chance to ask questions that often otherwise aren’t asked. I’m not going to pretend they are a laugh-a-minute and, as regular readers of this website, you are already up to speed with much of what’s going on locally.

But… but, my friends…

Once in a while it does no harm to see who the people are who represent you locally; and it does no harm to see the residents who are most vocal in such meetings and whether or not they broadly articulate your views. Then you can decide whether you’re in the Russell Brand or Robert Webb camp (I walked past Robert Webb on Tuesday night, he was heading to the tube station in quite a hurry – running late for his Hampstead Theatre production I wondered?).

I must also give credit to Keith Moffitt, the councillor who normally chairs the meetings. He does a good job of keeping the agenda moving along and not letting ranters get overly ranty (this can be a challenge).

Keith Moffitt, West Hampstead councillor

West Hampstead and Fortune Green wards hold a combined meeting. The next one is on November 13th – the day before #whampgather (still sold out, sorry). They are held at the synagogue community hall on Dennington Park Road, just off West End Lane. Wear warm clothes.

Here’s the agenda:

7pm Opportunity to meet ward councillors informally over tea/coffee

7.30pm Start of meeting and introductions

  • Transport for London – 139 bus route and other issues
  • Refuse collection and street cleansing – new service launched
  • Thames Water – Cllr Moffitt to give verbal update on feedback to date
  • Neighbourhood Planning Forum update
  • Any other business

See you there?

Rubbish problems blamed on budget cuts

We’ve discussed the rubbish problems recently; here’s what Cllr Phil Jones, Camden cabinet member for the environment, wrote in response to WHAT‘s recent enquiries about the problems both with recycling and fly-tipping. He cited three issues and mentioned a new initiative starting next week to help tackle the fly-tipping:

The introduction of the wheelie bins combined with changed collection days and new recycling arrangements (co-mingled recycling) impacted negatively on the service. Complaints rose significantly, as anticipated, in line with experience in other boroughs, as the Veolia staff didn’t know the rounds and were dealing with a new system. This should now have settled down. I can tell you that we are on track to make our anticipated financial savings and are already seeing increased levels of recycling.

Street cleansing budgets were cut 40% due to the £83.5 million of cuts targeted at Camden by the coalition government (far higher than richer, rural areas). This means streets are swept less often that they used to be. Additional money for street cleansing must be taken from other services. The council is now expecting £70 million of additional cuts to be found over four years from 2014/15 due to further extra cuts targeted at Camden by the coalition government (again far higher than richer, rural areas). The extra cuts will be front loaded and will have a big impact on services from 2014 onwards.

Street environment services staffing has been revamped in the last few months. The objectives included a) creation of a new education and enforcement team, b) increasing the skill levels of staff, c) improving contract management of Veolia. This meant that some staff were made redundant, others were demotivated for a period, and new staff had to get used to their roles. This process also had a negative impact on the services provided but is also now nearing completion. Officers should be responsive to problems and respond when issues are identified.

We are launching a new ‘Clean Camden’ enforcement campaign on 6 November. This will target fly tipping, dog fouling, littering etc. Officers will be targeting hotspots to fine people caught doing any of these environmental crimes. It will not stop these problems from occurring, so it is important to be realistic. It should highlight the unacceptability of such actions and send a warning to those who flout the law. We also need to gain more evidence on who is committing these crimes so people will be encouraged to send information to the council.

This last point is encouraging for people who are sick of their streets being strewn with debris. I think it’s easy to understand that budget cuts will have an impact on all manner of services, but when there are already laws in place that are meant to prevent some of the resulting problems, it seems strange that it takes a special initiative to enact them.

Camden says no to school on Fortune Green

The lack of a convincing transport plan meant that Camden threw out the proposals to turn the empty ground floor units of Alfred Court into a branch of Abercorn private school (that’s the modern block of flats that looks over the park).

Abercorn School in Alfred Court

Camden cited five reasons for refusal, of which four are related to the transport issues that had local residents understandably up in arms, and which you can read much more about here.

1) The proposed private school, by reason of its catchment, reliance on private transport, unsatisfactory arrangements for on-site servicing and parking for the proposed use, would result in an unsustainable development, detrimental to the operation of the site and contributing to congestion in the local area and highway safety impacts on and near to the site.

2) The proposed development, in the absence of a legal agreement requiring a management plan for the school, would be likely to result in unacceptable impact on the site and local area

3) The proposed development, in the absence of a Workplace and Student Travel Plan, would be likely to give rise to significantly increased car-borne trips and would result in a unsustainable form of development

4) The proposed development, in the absence of a legal agreement to secure a delivery and servicing management plan, would be likely to contribute unacceptably to traffic disruption, and would be detrimental to the amenities of the area generally

5) The proposal, in the absence of a legal agreement securing contributions towards Camden’s Pedestrian, Environmental and Safety improvement initiative would fail to undertake external works outside the application site, and would fail to secure adequate provision for the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles

Abercorn School could appeal of course, but even back in August it seemed as if this location was a hedge rather than the preferred strategy.

Local residents will be pleased. Bafflingly, the local Conservatives are trying to take some credit for the council throwing the idea out despite a extremely high number of comments from individual residents and collectively from the residents of the block itself.

NW6 School campaign: Camden vs. parents

The debate over whether West Hampstead does or doesn’t need an additional school – likely a free school – has been raging on for some months. I have found the claims and counter-claims hard to track and harder to verify as both sides draw on various sets of data to prove their point.

The story took an unnecessarily personal turn on the front page of the Ham & High a couple of weeks ago when an unnamed Labour source described the parents campaigning for a free school as “snobs”. The argument was that Hampstead School, which is to the north-west of our area, is a perfectly good school and parents who wanted a state education for their children should send them there.

Rather than wade into the debate myself, I thought I’d let the two most important people have their say on these pages. First, Dr Clare Craig. Dr Craig has been the most public face of the NW6 School campaign team. After she sets out her stall, Cllr. Angela Mason, Camden’s cabinet member for children, explains why the council believes there is no need for an additional school. (If you’re familiar with the story, you can jump straight to the debate in the comments section).

The campaigners

Dr Clare Craig

After being called “middle class, church-going snobs” in the Ham & High last week by a ‘well placed Labour party source’, I would like to explain the real reasons we are going to open a new school and why it needs to be at the heart of West Hampstead. The unnamed source implied that we put the needs of our own children above that of our community. This could not be further from the truth. Ours is a large group of concerned parents, from all walks of life, and from varied religious backgrounds and ethnic groups, who recognise a problem that Labour does not seem to want to acknowledge: there simply aren’t enough secondary school places to go around.

Only a handful of constituencies have fewer secondary school places than Hampstead and Kilburn across the UK. Against this background we can add two straws which will break the camel’s back: the first is a dramatic population boom that will launch us into the top 20% of constituencies for number of 11 year olds by 2016, and we’ll still be climbing that league table thereafter; the second is the arrival of new children due to the unprecedented level of housing developments planned in and around our area.

Current situation
The Hampstead and Kilburn constituency has only three state secondary schools: Hampstead School, UCL Academy and Queens Park Community School. They are all oversubscribed and the latter two have tiny geographical catchment areas. Brent and Camden Councils are responsible for ensuring enough schools across their boroughs but both have neglected our area. The distribution of Camden schools shows the black hole that has been allowed to develop.

Camden schools. click for larger version