THE final stop and the best polling station, the beautiful RADA Studios at the Drill Hall. Yes, yes – I know the tour did not reach Kentish Town, Somers Town, King’s Cross or Holborn, but if you don’t know what is going to happen there, then I’ve probably not been writing this blog properly over the last four years. And Camden is quite big stretched out from Kilburn to Covent Garden. Bloomsbury is a more interesting ward. Here, the Tories, as said earlier in the week, have long held ambitions for a solid blue ward, one day, some day. As demographics change, maybe this willcome to pass, but they need a breakthrough to get the ball rolling. It’s been quite a streetfight over the final few days, if the Tory account is to be believed. Quiet confidence is the line from Labour. At RADA, there was one guy with a red rosette left standing. He said it was better when the other parties were there standing with him, as they had earlier in the day, just on the basis that he didn’t look so dodge asking for polling numbers on his own. There were a few facial expressions which seemed to say, why are only the Labour Party asking me for digits? The Tories were whizzing around trying to get the vote out, hoping for another Hossack… Or were they in West Hampstead. Apparently, everybody was in West Hampstead (or Haverstock) for the final knockings.
20.00 REGENT’S PARK
HERE’S a new face who might have the prefix ‘Cllr’ in front of her name this time tomorrow. It’s Nadia Shah, who won her place on the ticket after Tulip Siddiq withdrew to spend more time on her parliamentary contest in Hampstead and Kilburn. She was at the polling station at Christchurch School in the Regent’s Park ward, an area usually regarded as a safie for Labour. Surrounded by people in red rosettes, she certainly seemed pretty calm about how things will pan out. The Tories have tried to build here, they are often predicting a brighter future; don’t be misled into thinking they were not working ward today. “It was quite vigorous at one stage,” a source claims. And as tellers turned into door-knockers as the evening wore on, there was still a blue rosette to be seen at another polling station at the Surma Centre, man-marking Heather Johnson at the front door.
A HALF-SHOWER of rain came down when the election day tour reached Cantelowes this evening. Rain = poor turnout, sun = good turnout etc etc, so what will we get from today? Candidates have been drenched and sunbeat at different intervals. At the London Irish Centre – side entrance, folks – there was still a Lib Dem presence, holding out hope that Paul Braithwaite will not be squeezed out. A big issue man, stuff like HS2, Labour feel they can nevertheless outflank PB on the doorstep and have been seen knocking up hard in the area today. While we wait for the result of a duel that fits into this campaign drive for Labour bosses hoping to take the entire southern half of the borough, is this your cat?
19.00 CAMDEN TOWN WITH PRIMROSE HILL
PUNTERS turning up at the Cavendish School in Inverness Street to vote found a knight taking the numbers: Sir Keir Starmer. You need no more innuendo on this subject, you all know the score there. Maybe more interesting was the lack of Lib Dem teller in the playground, apparently absent all day and not just for the evening rush. That can’t be a great omen in a ward in which the party has lost Chris Naylor, who is stepping down after eight years. He was actually seen in Haverstock this evening, which might tell a story about where priorities lie when the crunch comes. He had been the last trading chip for the Lib Dems in Camden Town with Primrose Hill and the response to his exit has been tepid, with a feeling that this seat could be sacrificed if manpower could be better used in more unpredictable battlewards. I’ve just made the word battlewards up, by the way. It wouldn’t be the craziest strategic decision given Labour won a by-election here in 2012, streets ahead of their rivals and with the Lib Dems polling in third. What they must watch out for, however, is that third does not become a fourth should the unpredictable independent Phil Cowan draw a surprise figure. He might just poll highest out of all the independents standing this year.
A MAJOR irritation for Labour is the way the Lib Dems have hung about in Haverstock. It’s on the list of wards they feel silly for losing in the first place, back when the Labour council had lost its touch with the Camden public and the Blair government seemed like it was doing everything it possibly could to tee off the local electorate. It will be another heap of deflation if they cannot prise at least one seat back. The hardest to dislodge is likely to be Jill Fraser. You know in Piers Wauchope’s pulped history of Camden’s politics, he wrote that “a decade or two ago, would have been seen as a natural Labour vote”. She always disputes this and will tell you about the time she made strides in the Holborn and St Pancras constituency when she was thrown into a parliamentary fight against Frank Dobson. The tellers in the Salvation Army hall looked sleepy from the slow turnout this afternoon but it will be a grower when people get home from work.
* Unrelated, first celeb spot of the day: Outside, Mary ‘Queen Of Shops’ Portas strolled by with her dog.
ANOTHER spin on the Jubilee Line and to Belsize, where one of the main argument seems to be who had a more vital role in getting the new school open there: Lib Dem Tom Simon or Conservative Leila Roy. Hard one to call, isn’t it? They actually seemed to work together and with others. Although this is a bit of a battleground, we were back with joshing among the tellers on the door at Belsize Library. Turnout looked decent-ish. It’s Leila’s birthday, by the way. Cllr Simon is a polite young man, but he’s looking to ruin her celebrations.
AT the Kingsgate Community Centre I ran into a real live candidate, Jack Holroyde who is standing in Kilburn for the Lib Dems. He’s trying to get the vote out by scooting around the ward on a one-gear bike as they compete in perhaps the only ward where the party is looking for expansion rather than defence. The ‘J’ on his t-shirt is the uniform for the ward candidates today: (J)anet Grauberg and (J)ames King have one too. But you know it’s not all nicey nicey and twee over there. In fact, it might be the ward where things are most tetchy. A Twitter spat between the Labour and Lib Dem candidates was raging last night and there have apparently been legal threats. Lib Dems won here in 2006, Labour in 2010.
15.15 WEST HAMPSTEAD
YOU would’ve thought I was asking for the recipe code to a nuclear bomb when I asked the folks outside the West Hampstead polling station how it was all going. I checked for obvious triggers for a cold stare, but no – there was no ketchup spilt down my shirt, no split trousers and no second head. “We don’t know, of course we don’t, we don’t know, how people are voting,” one of them mumbled. Another one looked away. So I left them to it, the Labour guy sat next to a Conservative guy sat next to a Lib Dem guy on garden chairs outside St James Church, thinking to myself that such coolness might only just mean that the rumours this ward has switched been switched up to ‘all to play for’ mode may just be right.
14.30 FORTUNE GREEN
THE jubilee line to Kilburn, but when you step outside you’re actually in Flick Rea’s Fortune Green. I say Flick Rea’s Fortune Green because for all the whispers about the potential for an apparent Lib Dem bloodbath, nobody is ever willing to count out Flick. At conference time last year, these pages described her as an immovable boulder and her opponents know her immense local profile may be a cliff face too tough to climb. But former Tory leader Andrew Mennear had left his F&F ward – remember there’s only Tory tellers in F&F – to stand outside the polling station at Templar House in Shoot-Up. His claim, and it may be disputed, is that one of the tellers on the scene earlier in the day was not even a member of the Lib Dem party, and more a friend of the candidates. Such comments must be digested with a pinch of salt on election day and besides Heather Thompson, the former councillor with the cool 1970s clothes, was soon on the scene to take over. Labour’s man on the door had come from Islington, by the way, which might say something about what’s going on over there, For the Tories, Ian Cohen, a self-styled dry cleaner to the stars, who in the distant past had been thought of as a friend of some of the Lib Dem members around here, is being touted threat if things get tight. He is consistently being described as somebody who has been ‘working it hard’. Don’t ask fore predictions, it’s squeaky bum time here.
14.00 SWISS COTTAGE
THE rain came down, absolutely sheeting, as the tour reached Swiss Cottage Library. It was a dismal scene. Dismal, not just for the showers but the lack of intrigue in what is considered safe Tory territory. The tellers had gone already, presumably called to more doubtful battles elsewhere.
13.00 FROGNAL AND FITZJOHNS
AT the polling station tucked behind the Godzilla movie sign at the Everyman Cinema in Holly Bush Vale sat just one teller, small business campaigner and lawyer Jessica Learmond-Criqui. She has been coveted by the Tories as a possible council candidate for a while, but she has resisted their advances, citing her hectic life of combining community campaigns with raising two children. The fact she’s all alone there says it all about Frog & Fitz, however. The Tories are the only game in town here. It’s always been that way. So while other London boroughs may talk about the possibility of a Labour whitewash (*cough Islington*), such a scenario would never be countenanced here. The safest seat in the chamber for the Conservatives, exiting councillor Laura Trott, a Downing Street adviser disappointed colleagues over the last four years by not being a little bit more vocal meetings. Ok, a lot more vocal, given this is not a paper candidate ward. Her certain replacement Siobhan Bailie, the newbie, has heard the story on the election trail and has been told to do things differently.
12.30 HAMPSTEAD TOWN
All very sedate here in Hampstead Town, which is kind of odd, given Conservative councillor Chris Knight has billed himself with a new nickname: The Chung Slayer. He is actually leaving the council but there is no rivalry like his and Lib Dem Linda Chung in this split ward. He is burning to see her lose. And yet, a stroll up to the rather picturesque polling station at Fitzjohn’s School finds Labour, Tory and Lib Dem tellers very calm, sheltering from the rain and on very cordial terms. Maybe it will liven up later.
11.30 GOSPEL OAK
There were some pragmatic faces in Gospel Oak among those with blue rosettes today. Here, there was an earthquake – in local Camden politics terms – back in 2006 when Labour lost all three seats to the Tories. It was meant to be a fortress. There were lots of reasons for that embarrassment for Labour: unpopular national politics, candidates who were concentrating on other words and a protest vote which saw Lib Dem and Green picks split the Labour vote. The Tories took their chance, working it with future MP Chris Philp, Lulu Mitchell, who has since moved to Barnet, and the badgering campaigner Keith Sedgwick. Labour has wrested it back since then, though – and are in control to hold it again today. Watching the back door at the polling station at Gospel Oak was 92 year-old Michael Hawthorn. Yup, 92. He’s pictured with Tory candidate Steve Adams, below. Keith, meanwhile, may be not standing again this year – too busy is his excuse – but was ‘doing my bit’ at the Fleet School polling station.
AND we’re off, well some people have been voting since 7.00am. After the weekly New Journal press night last night, it’s a slower start for me, but Highgate ward seems a good place to start as Labour and Greens argue it out. There was a bustling flow through the doors of the Highgate Library, and the same at Parliament Hill School. Only Labour and Green tellers here, which shows that the one-seat Tory win here in 2006 is lost to the past and this one is now a two-horse race. As you walk around, you’ll see more than one house window has both Labour and Green posters up – and that’s the tale of the tape here. A lot of papers are expected to be split.
The Greens are fighting for survival having clung on last time with just one seat. That one, Maya De Souza, is stepping down, which is bad for the party due to her local profile but if she and former London Mayoral candidate Sian Berry had both stood they may have split the split votes (if you see what I mean). The theme here is that people may well vote 2:1 Labour, Green, with the ones heading to the Greens concentrating around Sian, the figurehead of their campaign in recent months. Should the Greens hold here or even expand, it’s going to be tough for the slate of Labour candidates where three doesn’t fit into two. Councillor Sally Gimson in a bright red dress was working the Whittington Estate with Oliver Lewis, while Sian was at Parly Hill talking tactics with MEP Jean Lambert. Every vote looks like it’s going to count here. Walk down Croftdown Road and there is a mass of Green posters. Try Woodsome road and the windows are red for Labour.