27 days to go
SUPER Saturday for the Hampstead and Kilburn constituency brought both Jo Swinson’s big yellow campaign bus and London Mayor Sadiq Khan to the battle front. Labour has insisted that this area is a two-horse race between them and the Tories, but are not always acting like it. Was it official strategy for the party to have a handful of members barracking Ms Swinson and the Lib Dems as she planted a tree in the back garden of the Razumovsky Academy on the Brent side of the constituency? Apparently not, Tulip Siddiq’s team said they did not recognise any of them.
Nevertheless, while all candidates here have pledged to have a clean fight so far, there the hecklers stood with Labour branded placards accusing Ms Swinson of being funded by frackers, for having a hand in austerity and shouting: Don’t vote Jo Swinson.
This all led to one of the Lib Dem campaigners to show his frustration by aggressively calling them supporters of an anti-semite. There was a bit of jostling, pushing placards… although nothing on the scale of the 2010 battle outside the North London Tavern.
The shouting outside was in complete contrast to the cello playing inside. In the garden, Ms Swinson pledged to plant 60 million new trees if the Lib Dems are elected.
IT had all looked like it would be a smooth visit for Ms Swinson after a calm bit of troubleshooting beforehand. What could have ended up with a street confrontation between a man in a blue wig and red shielded glasses demanding to know what Lib Dem policy on solar power was and the leader of the Liberal Democrats was narrowly averted when team players working for candidate Matt Sanders were able to shuffle the disturbance away before the bus arrived. The chap’s only request before agreeing to leave was that everybody looked him up on Facebook.
SHE’S ON THE PHONE
I’M not saying she’s Mariah Carey or anything but Ms Swinson does like to keep her fans waiting. The Lib Dem faithful had been waiting for half an hour in the cold outside Kensal Rise station – it’s a place in Brent, I almost got a nosebleed – with their orange diamonds. There was a whoop of expectation when the bus did come into view but it turned out Ms Swinson was engaged ‘on the phone’. Cue lots of standing around, dodging passing red buses, for another ten minutes before she finally stopped talking to Obama, Madonna, whoever it was, someone important, and stepped into the cheers.
If the party’s leader has made H&K a campaign stop, does it mean everything is in play? Sure, high profile visits are usually an indicator of priorities, but don’t forget north west London is not the hardest place to drive to.
Would Hampstead and Kilburn, where the party starts more than 30,000 votes behind Ms Siddiq, be a must-do stop if it was 200 miles away from London Maybe, maybe not. There are Lib Dems in the pack, however, who are convinced that large strips of London could turn yellow on December 12, with this patch being one of them.
More on Ms Swinson visit coming on the New Journal’s website and Thursday’s print edition.
THE MAYOR ARRIVES
GIVEN he is up for his own election next May, there is a bit of quid pro quo in Sadiq Khan’s guest appearances in constituencies across London before December 12. In West Hampstead Square, he did a sort of cheesy call and response to the crowd – ‘Can we do it? Yes we can’ – as he asked for them to “work their socks off” for candidate Tulip Siddiq.
There is a sort of see-saw to the Labour campaign locally: they are desperate for people, despite the 15k majority, to think that Hampstead and Kilburn is not a dead cert safe seat, just in case past supporters think they ‘can afford’ to vote for somebody else this time, opening up a trapdoor. At the same time they want to say over and over again, as the game demands, that the Lib Dems can’t win here.
Ms Siddiq and her close team don’t really know what it’s like to go into an election with a big lead; their two victories in 2015 and 2017 were set against warnings that Labour would be pushed to the wire or lose. So they play every one like they’ve got their backs to the wall. Everybody was urged, then, not to wake up on December 13, to see that Ms Siddiq had lost, and find they regretted that they hadn’t done that one extra canvass, or made that little extra donation to her campaign fund.
Afterwards, I asked Mr Khan why people were being urged to work this constituency hard, when other seats looked more vulnerable or potentially there to gain.
“We will go to marginal seats as well, but we must not take things for granted,” he said. “What we know is that every vote matters, so what you’ve got is, across London, teams canvassing in every single constituency.”
More on the Mayor’s visit to West Hampstead coming to the CNJ’s website and Thursday’s print edition
JOHNNY HAD A SPECIAL GUEST TOO
ALSO insisting that he was chasing every vote, was Johnny Luk – the Conservative candidate who was just a little bit up the road from Mr Khan’s visit, standing behind a stall in West End Lane. By the time I got there after Ms Swinson and Mr Khan’s set pieces, he said ‘how were the warm up acts?’.
Some Conservatives reading the CNJ wonder why there are not more pictures of people in blue rosettes; whenever they ask why, I tell them to ask the local association which events they have invited us to.
Earlier, Mr Luk was saying that he’d had a “20 minute phone call” with Boris Johnson last week and the Prime Minister was right behind him. Would that mean he would be coming to the constituency? ‘He’s a very busy man…’
Just for comparison: former Tory candidate Chris Philp had a different secretary of state down every week during his close call second place in 2010.
Mr Luk said: “Well, Lord Bates is with me.” And sure enough he was: Lord Bates, who was in the government until last year when he arrived just one minute late for a question in the House of Lords and more promptly resigned.
Mr Luk said he was off to do more canvassing in the constituency later in the afternoon, although the Twitter ‘good turnout’ photos later in the day placed him a little further afield, in Chipping Barnet, where Theresa Villiers needs protection.
In the meantime, we await Mr Johnson’s arrival. I’ll be there with pad and camera.