Every loser wins: Defeated ‘open primary’ candidates head to Westminster

THE Hampstead and Kilburn Conservatives were unable to run one of their so-called ‘open primaries’ in time for the general election, the US-style process of inviting every elector in the constituency to come and pick a candidate. As nice and democratic as this all sounds, just as mentioned on these pages a couple of posts back, you always felt you knew who the winner was going to be before you stepped through the door. This was certainly the case in 2013 when you’d stake your mortgage on Simon Marcus, then a councillor in Hampstead, to come through the primary to win the candidacy in Hampstead and Kilburn. He was always the hot favourite.

But isn’t it funny how it turns out? The winner that night didn’t make it to the Westminster, but the two overlooked by the constituency have had the opposite fortune.

Simon, as we all know, lost to Tulip Siddiq two years later, despite only needing to overturn a 42 vote majority. The internal Conservative post-mortem questioned the lack of sparkle in what was meant to be the number one target seat campaign for the party. Different accounts of what went on behind the scenes fly about but offers of set pieces with high-profile Tory politicians were oddly rebuffed, while there was some napping, literally, on polling day. When Simon moved out of the area almost as soon as the final vote was counted, it only served to irritate some of his Camden colleagues even more.

“The truth is that I was totally committed to winning in Hampstead and Kilburn as anyone in our campaign knew. I thought we could win against the odds, and for a time so did Labour,” he nevertheless insisted. Claire-Louise Leyland is likely to handle things a little differently.

Then we come to the two candidates that the Tories could have had if the open primary result had been different. Seema Kennedy looked elsewhere and scored a Conservative-held seat in Lancashire, South Ribble. She increased the majority and is expected to hold her seat on June 8, even if it was a Labour seat back in 2005.

And there was Alex Burghart, who had a bit of a following at the open primary held at the Hampstead Synagogue hall in West Hampstead back in 2013. He found somewhere else to stand too: against Jeremy Corbyn in Islington North. He’s been rewarded for taking on that thankless task for a Tory trying make an impact in Corbyn country, however, after tonight winning the selection in Brentwood and Ongar where Sir Eric Pickles is standing down. He can start sizing up the curtains in his Commons office already. A seat for life, some might suggest.


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