43 days to go
7.30 AM. October 30. 2019. Here we go again. Again. Yet again.
Although in a stuttering state of late, this blog turned ten years old this month and long-serving inmates will know, fearfully, that when an election is called… out comes the fancy ‘election daily’ logo and I have to do a bit more work to do. The ED is a quick (usually morning) update on how things are shaping up. It was of course a really good idea when covering Camden’s more marginal contests but perhaps may not be as exciting as other areas of the country this time around. We shall see. In any event, you can get the ‘something new has gone up’ alert by putting your email into the new subscribe box on the side of the page.
BATTLE FOR SURVIVAL?
THE curses of the electoral system where only some constituencies produce a genuine battleground has a knock on effect for all your hard-working local journalists around the country. The lucky ones get to report on suspenseful showdowns, while others are left going through the motions. We were, of course, spoilt by the three-way thriller in Hampstead and Kilburn in 2010 – there may never be another election here like that again – but covering, say, Holborn and St Pancras has always been a little more straightforward. Lots of words and photos, but you all generally knew what was going to happen. Sir Keir Starmer, again, will not be losing much sleep in terms of his own seat at the December 12 election.
But what of the Labour MP in Hampstead and Kilburn, Tulip Siddiq? In 2017, we started off the election coverage billing her campaign as a ‘battle for survival’. It was said that unrest over Brexit and anti-semitism controversies could spell a quick end to her time at Westminster. For a mixture of reasons, she ended up increasing her slim majority to 15,560. The early election also saved her constituency from boundary changes which may have provided more favourable conditions for the Tories.
While Johnny Luk, her latest Conservative challenger, has made an energetic start in his new role, there’s no doubt that Ms Siddiq’s team are more wary of the Liberal Democrats due to the European election results which saw Jo Swinson’s party top the polls in nearly every council ward across Hampstead and Kilburn. There was, of course, as illustrated by Alastair Campbell and others, some lending of votes among passionate Remain voters who have been unhappy with Labour’s stance on Brexit. Ms Siddiq has her own position, a refusal to vote for any Brexit deal, which may still inoculate her from the threat which Labour MPs face elsewhere. Remain alliance tactical voting may be an aid; Gina Miller campaigned with her last time with the message that Ms Siddiq was one of those who could be trusted by anti-Brexit forces to fight against it.
Ms Siddiq also, beyond her overall majority, held a lead of more than 30,000 over the Lib Dems at the last general election, which is a big hill for candidate Matt Sanders to climb even with a ‘stop Brexit’ wind behind him in Camden. In the former councillor’s favour, however, is that the party is not only welcoming new enthusiasm from left-leaning voters in Camden who more often than not have voted Labour in the past but it’s also attracting support from soft Conservatives who also have Brexit concerns and will not be inspired by the installation of a candidate who insists the divorce must go ahead. Not a huge number, perhaps, but it could all add up in the Lib Dem run chase.
In the battle ahead, then, expect then some heavy reminders of past Lib Dem pacts with the Tories, and that Mr Sanders was in the mix of it as Nick Clegg’s special adviser. But if this dark-nights election does turn out to be a discussion about Brexit to the absolute exclusion of everything else, the simple messaging which has worked to detoxify the Lib Dems among some of those in Camden who felt betrayed by the coalition in the wake of the Clegg-o-mania, I agree with Nick campaign of 2010, could be powerful again. Certainly, the Lib Dems are enjoying door-knocking and shovelling leaflets around here once more.
WE covered Johnny Luk’s arrival on the scene in the CNJ but not on these pages. In the main, Conservatives are happy with who they have ended up with in Hampstead and Kilburn. Someone not connected (or embittered) by the disputes inside the local council group; an outsider who feels, to them, more spirited than Simon Marcus did in 2015 when the seat really was up for grabs. A recent Brexit party candidate, Mr Marcus was described during the campaign as ‘tired’ by the Evening Standard, a paper the Tories normally expect a kinder ride from. Mr Luk is also unlikely to go the full Mark Francois on Brexit, insisting he can explain to H&K residents why, as a remain voter, he now feels the UK must leave Europe to preserve democracy. Expect some fancy vids too, as he is handy with a film camera.
The truth is, however, that the Conservatives were sweating a little over finding a candidate at all. At the final selection hustings, there were only two contenders: Mr Luk and former council candidate Ben Tansey, who at some stage should be allowed to take references to croquet lawns out of google searches. Three other shortlisted candidates dropped out; two of whom appeared to find better offers in other constituencies.
This is in contrast to 2017 when Claire-Louise Leyland was selected ahead of Henry Newman, the high profile adviser to Michael Gove whose political appointment has at least prevented us from getting super sloshed when playing the ‘Is Henry Newman On TV?’ drinking game, and Kemi Badenoch, who benefited from her defeat to CLL by being free to stand in Saffron Walden where she was swiftly elected as an MP. It’s not that Mr Luk would have not still won with a wider field to choose from, but the apparent fading interest in the Hampstead and Kilburn constituency among potential candidates could be a sign of what’s ahead.
[INSERT CONSERVATIVE CANDIDATE HERE]
DESPITE the endless trails for this upcoming election, the Conservatives still do not have an official candidate in Holborn and St Pancras to take on Keir Starmer. Will Hall, son of BBC director-general Lord Tony Hall, has been tipped as a possible runner for several weeks but, with the official starting gun about to fire on this election, the party needs to get a move on. Of course, the constituency isn’t a stunning proposition for anybody in blue colours – the writer AN Wilson once said that you could dress a pig up in a Labour rosette and it would still be elected – but it has been good training run territory for ambitious Tories. These include former prime minister John Major and Margot James, one of the whip-losing Brexit rebels readmitted to the party yesterday. Theresa May, famously, was turned down for a candidacy in Holborn and St Pancras because the selection panel thought her silver bangles and leather skirt she wore to the interview were too trashy.
George Lee, who stood for the party in Holborn and St Pancras in 2010 and started getting teased for the sheer number of times he referenced his childhood growing up in a ‘pig shed’, has more recently joined the Liberal Democrats and is taking on Labour’s Karen Buck in Westminster North.
KING OF BLING BACK ON YOUR SCREENS
ICYMI Brian Coleman, Camden’s former London Assembly member and an ex-Barnet councillor, was back on telly yesterday on the Victoria Derbyshire show in a segment about poor housing conditions on a block which has been earmarked for demolition at some stage. The host seemed shocked by his bluntness. Nobody who has come across his past work will be.
Longer clips of this studio discussion vs Ken Loach and a woman living in a flat full of cockroaches have been widely shared online.
A COUNCIL VOTE AS WELL?
THE announcement of a general election date opens a window for easy-to-arrange council by-elections on the same day. As much as Conservative Gio Spinella has entertained the opposite benches with his rebellious tweets and unwhipped voting, the former group leader is not giving up his seat in Frognal. There could be a poll in Haverstock, however, should former licensing chair Abi Wood decide to call it a day. As always, the chatter has it that one or two more are lightly considering whether they want to serve all the way up to the next council elections as personal lives and expectation of the role change.