THE big update today is the arrival of Tulip Siddiq in the national press. It’s not that she has not had mentions here and there over these last few years, but, more often than not, she plays catch-up in the battle for column inches to her Lib Dem rival Maajid Nawaz. But this morning she wakes up to her face on the front page of the Independent and a three-page feature dig into bits of her background she has not always rushed to talk about. Namely, her aunt being the Prime Minister of Bangladesh and a youth which saw Bill Clinton come around for tea.
The family link is not a revelation but when Tulip was running in (and winning) Labour’s selection contest in Hampstead and Kilburn there seemed to be a keenness not to stall on the connection. The picture of Tulip standing in a smiley photo with Vladimir Putin featured an international leader but suddenly gained local infamy with naughty speculation that she was trying to scrub it from the internet. The Labour members not convinced by Tulip’s offer in that contest believed she was trying to soak up the Red Kilburn votes, play to the union-led left, while self-censoring a rich background. None of this mattered on voting day, of course, when she was the emphatic winner in the race to follow in Glenda Jackson’s footsteps. Tulip’s response to the innuendo that she was being deliberately secretive and telling only half her story was always that she wanted to be chosen on her own heels, so that she could never be accused of an unfair leg-up.
The flipside to all of this, ironically, is that the idea of having a candidate with an interesting, and rather grand, background actually appealed to many Hampstead members, who back in 1992 had felt similarly fortunate to have had a two-time Oscar winner land in their streets. The worries that she was somebody who would be asked to accuse the Tories of being elitist after an upbringing of some privilege of her own (she went to the private Royal School in Hampstead) had actually been no hurdle to selection at all. The great unsaid is that there are a fair few members who still feel a lordy old constituency like Hampstead warrants an extra sparkle from its candidate.
And now a national journalist, Simon Usborne at the Indy, has asked the questions, and the tales have tumbled out. The bloodshed that haunts Tulip’s family tree, the assassinations and assassination attempts, show her story is not all about palaces and presidential meetings. It also shows her family’s rule in Bangladesh has been divisive and there are plenty of Bangladeshis in London who, to put it politely, will give a less than flattering view of Sheikh Hasina’s rule. Tulip understandably doesn’t want to fight her election on those politics, and to be fair she shouldn’t really have to.
In the interview, Tulip herself sticks to the role of local champion, reflecting on that selection contest with a classic line for fans of north London cliches, combining a pursuit with a presumed although not exclusive middle class intake – pilates – with the travails of Camden’s housing politics.
The quote: “If we had parachuted someone in, that disillusionment would have worsened. I can be, like, mid-Pilates in the gym and someone next to me will say: ‘You’re Tulip, right, can you help me with my housing case?’ It helps when people see politicians as human, because I don’t feel that they do anymore, and it’s our fault.” It is actually reflective of how nearly everyone has housing woes in London, and it is not just a queue of requests for council homes than now stretches out of local politicians’ surgeries.
Tulip’s steady rise within the party is well known. Her phone is full of selfies with all the right people in Ed Miliband’s party, and notably heads on both side of the old Blair-Brown fault lines. She has been trusted to hold a constituency which is important to the election numbers, and could be an even closer constituency in the years to come. But Simon’s piece is timely; it will be noted by Westminster journalists who previously have only been vaguely aware of something that may only be at its start in Hampstead and Kilburn.
PA estimate that Camden will know its next MPs at 3am on May 8. Beats 9.30am.
Hampstead & Kilburn and Holborn & St Pancras’s new MPs will be announced at around 3am on May 8th.
— Oliver Cooper (@OliverCooper) April 5, 2015