DEFENCE secretary Gavin Williamson became the biggest name to land in the mix of Camden’s council election battleground so far yesterday, as he helped with the Conservative doorstep campaign in the streets close to the Chalcots estate. He is a camera-ready guy who Tories on the ground like to have on board and there were lots of warm guffaws as he gamely handed out manifestos. He stopped for the customary ‘famous faces reading the CNJ’ pic.
For our part, we appreciate an opportunity to question a Commons front-bencher at these events, albeit only for a couple of minutes. On this occasion, however, the fairest thing to do would probably be to serve up the whole transcript of our meeting. I asked about how Labour had managed to turn the marginal Hampstead and Kilburn into what looks like a safe seat at last year’s general election, and how he thought local authorities could cope with the largest ever cuts to their budgets; not the most exciting questions, granted, but relevant to these elections.
I came away a little deflated, thinking he had got nowhere near to answering either of those, as if the party has still not analysed why Labour did well in areas like ours. With answers like these, he also comes across, unintentionally no doubt, having recognised that local councils have shouldered unprecedented cuts in recent years. It reminded me of our previous exchange when he crowbarred Jeremy Corbyn’s name into every answer; the Labour leader was then seen as a weak heal for Tulip Siddiq’s campaign by her rivals (and some of her own supporters). You may think otherwise about yesterday’s conversation and it’d be interested to hear what people think: so here is the tape transcribed, unedited. You be the judge. Mr Williamson’s aides had a recorder running too, so would be able to confirm its accuracy.
You were down here last year, in the Kilburn High Road [for the general election] and you were saying there would be ‘chaos with Corbyn, it’s going to be terrible’. The constituency went from a 1,000 vote marginal to a 15,000 Labour majority. What went wrong there? Why is Corbyn winning in a place like this?
Well, I think, I think that we obviously sort of saw during the general election that in different parts of the country, the message worked in different ways. I think what people want to do is to see government getting on with the serious job of work, of making sure it delivers for the country, bringing stability in terms of the economy and investing in public services, which we can only do through having a strong economy. And making sure that we deliver Brexit. Obviously, different parts of the country took different views in terms of exiting the European Union. That was something you probably sort of saw, in terms of being reflected in the results in this constituency.
So you think they [voters in Hampstead and Kilburn] blamed the Conservatives for Brexit?
I think people just had and took different opinions on the issue. What we are doing though, which we are very proud of, is we are actually, you know, in the process of negotiating our exit from the European Union. Major progress has been made and hopefully further progress will be made over the coming weeks and months. It’s about delivering a strong economy so we can continue to invest in the public services that people value so much.
These are local elections and the local council here will say ‘the Conservative government has given us nothing here’. Just £80 million of cuts and £40 million more coming after these elections. Who is to blame for that?
I think what you see actually, is you see a poorly run local authority. You see Conservative councillors representing local people in a vocal way, making a real difference. In terms of.. after the tragic tragedy of Grenfell you saw local [Conservative] councillors being involved in properly representing their local community and making a real difference, where frankly the local council seems to turn its back on many local people and not make the difference that people expect them to.
Sorry, just one more, they’d find it easier if they had more money wouldn’t they? I mean… You think they have plenty of money for these services?
You know, the government continues to support all councils. What you saw is you saw local councillors make a real difference as a local Labour council messed things up in the area, not properly representing their local residents