FOR a man who lost by just 42 whiskers, Conservative Chris Philp proved a very good loser on Friday. There was no kicking and screaming, or blaming the Camden North media (did you see what happened in Karen Buck’s Westminster North seat when the results were read out…?). Chris’s speech was so gracious that even left wingers who scowl at the Tories for being Tories were gulping as if they felt for sorrow for his near miss.
Later on Friday, when he might have wanted a break from it all to take stock, he was at the council count in support for the Conservative candidates. There were warm handshakes with the press. The smiles didn’t seem fake.
But what must he have been thinking inside? He could have won here. He was 42 votes from a life-changing victory that he had been working for three years towards. It must be churning, like losing to a last minute goal. It can’t be possible that from the moment returning officer Moira Gibb told the school gym that Glenda Jackson had survived in the new Hampstead and Kilburn constituency to now, that he hasn’t thought what could I have done to get those extra 42 votes. More billboards? More leaflets? A megaphone? Could he have frog-marched people to the polling stations? Could he have drawn 42 voters at some stage during the campaign from the 408 who marked their cross with UKIP.
And when he mulls over his spirited campaign, surely he will wonder: Why didn’t central office send David Cameron down? Could a personal appearance from the man who might be Prime Minister have been worth 42 votes? We will never know – but Chris’s campaign, fairly high on the Tory target list, warranted Cameron’s closer attention.
Instead, Cameron seemed to almost skirt around the edge of Hampstead and Kilburn during the campaign, never actually breaking cover to step along West End Lane or Hampstead High Street. What about that night Cameron was at the Wellcome Institute in Euston – couldn’t he have just popped up for a quick runaround NW6 on his way there? There were surely other chances for him to visit. His sister-in-law is one of Jackson’s constituents.
Hundreds of floating voters don’t vote on the basis of whether David Cameron smiled at them one day in the high street during the campaign or not, but maybe 42 might be swayed by the face-to-face charisma he is capable of turning on at campaign events. Cameron’s appearance would have shown the party had the patch at the top of the agenda, and importantly it would certainly have stopped a Conservative supporting newspaper like the Daily Mail from suggesting, as it did days before the vote, that people should vote tactically for a Lib Dem candidate – a challenger who ultimately came third.
Instead, Philp got everybody but Cameron – Osborne, Boris Johnson and so on. Who knows what a personal appearance from the man at the very top counts for? It’s not quantifiable like that. We could ask Glenda, though. She, after all, enjoyed the man at the very top of the Labour Party visiting her in the final few days of campaigning. Aligning herself so closely with Gordon Brown and what was a gaffe-marked election campaign seemed like a gamble seven days ago (was it really only last week?). But if it revived enough interest in her to secure 42 extra votes, well,the risk paid off.