YOU know a general election is on the way when politicians off the telly roll into the town at an increased frequency. William Hague, you can bet, will not be the last Conservative big hitters to land in Hampstead and Kilburn over the next few months. Today the former party leader and ex-foreign secretary was at the JW3 community centre in Finchley Road, not just to tour the impressive facilities there but to give an early campaign bounce to parliamentary candidate Simon Marcus.
The Conservative strategists are in a funny position when it comes to this particular area, as they work out how far to extend themselves and where resources should be directed. With the result as squeaky as just 42 votes in Labour’s favour in 2010, the constituency would normally be one of the hottest territories in the country, the chief target in the overall quest to gain enough seats to finally form a majority government. But last time Labour’s support was soaked by a Lib Dem score which, if you go by recent local election results, Lord Ashcroft’s polling and bookmakers’ odds, is unlikely to reach the same heights as back then.
The Tories are right to think that sharp feelings over Labour’s mansion tax plans can cause pain in Hampstead and Kilburn for Tulip Siddiq; a ‘game-changer’, they hope. But at the same time, they will be thinking that Simon can only prevail here if Labour’s other rivals do well too. In a funny way, they would welcome the energetic Liberal Democrat candidate Maajid Nawaz to make a few more strides into the Labour vote, and a stronger puff from the Greens. Don’t be fooled, the campaign teams on all sides know the real numbers, they know what they are dealing with, but with the arrival of each high profile visit, the Tories have to stick to the script that they are only a tantalising 42 votes away from victory.
Below you can hear me asking Mr Hague, in this morning’s press session at the JW3, why the Conservatives have not been able to win a seat in Hampstead for more than two decades, suggesting that it might be seen as a natural territory for the party. I understand this is slightly tricksy wording, as the constituency is much more diverse than caricatures of life in Hampstead village and the idea that anybody with a half a crown automatically votes for the Tories. He didn’t answer why Labour has repeatedly won, though. An assured, if a little over cautious, interviewee, he wheeled out the mantra of the 42 vote near miss. We shall be hearing that a lot.
Then, after at least agreeing that the Lib Dem vote was a factor in how things pan out, he moved to lighten the mood with a line about him, Simon (and me) all having great baldy haircuts.