General Election 2015: Dispatch From Hampstead And Kilburn

General Election 2015 Hampstead and Kilburn Candidate Hustings - Maajid Nawaz - Magnus Nielsen - Tulip Siddiq - Simon Marcus - Rebecca Johnson

 

The northwest London constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn was the tightest three-way marginal seat in the 2010 general election. Given the fact that the 2015 campaign is so closely-fought with none of the parties enjoying a clear path to outright victory, this should – on paper – be a fascinating local campaign to watch as general election 2015 approaches and Labour (minus current incumbent Glenda Jackson MP) attempts to hold and increase their wafer-thin majority of 44 votes.

But by and large, both the sense of anticipation and the bad tempered name calling or “low skulduggery” of the national campaign are entirely absent here. Local journalist Richard Osley attributes this to a form of “Stockholm syndrome” among the candidates, who have now appeared on stage together so many times that to begin tearing chunks out of each other a la Cameron and Miliband would somehow feel unseemly, and acutely embarrassing.

Says Osley, in a report from a previous hustings in the constituency:

The fact each candidate knows they have another set of evening dates ahead of them in the next month, events at which they will have to share tables together and say hello and goodbye nicely, means they have become all very pleasant to each other. It’s as if they don’t want to bring the big weapons out, because they know the person they are bazookering will be sat next to them again 24 hours later.

Last Wednesday saw the candidates participate in hustings organised by the local West Hampstead Life blog. I attended to watch and conduct interviews, and was struck by the quality of the local candidates (ideology aside, all have the potential to be good constituency MPs) but also the differing degrees to which the candidates were willing to deviate from their approved national party talking points.

The overall effect is one of a constituency expecting a Labour hold, but with all candidates willing to criticise the compromises and trade-offs of the current coalition government, and in some cases (particularly Simon Marcus, the Conservative challenger) quite happy to jettison fairly central policies and beliefs in pursuit of a more liberal but less overtly tribal local vote.

My interviews with the candidates, and thoughts on their respective campaigns, are shown below.

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Dispatch From Hampstead And Kilburn – Interview With Simon Marcus (Conservative)

 

When asked to name the current coalition government’s finest accomplishment, Conservative Party candidate Simon Marcus said “changing lives”, making reference to the economic recovery and welfare changes which Conservatives say have increased opportunities and life chances for many people.

The subject of welfare reform evinced some real passion; Marcus spoke about people who had been out of work for months and years finally receiving the counselling they need from Job Centre staff – “they’re in the business of turning lives around”.

On the NHS, Simon Marcus insisted that a state owned and operated healthcare service is still sustainable and financially viable in the twenty-first century: “There’s no question whatsoever, but you have to make efficiencies”. Marcus said that “free at the point of use is here to stay”, and spoke of his commitment to the NHS – “my children were born on the NHS, my dad was an NHS doctor – it’s in my blood”.

Simon Marcus also drew attention for opposing several key elements of government policy – he stated his firm opposition to the bedroom tax, but also to the renewal of Trident, the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent.

 

Click here for interviews with each of the 2015 candidates standing for election in Hampstead and Kilburn, and a summary of the recent hustings organised by West Hampstead Life.

Simon Marcus - Conservative Party - Hampstead and Kilburn - General Election 2015

Dispatch From Hampstead And Kilburn – Interview With Tulip Siddiq (Labour)

 

Tulip Siddiq displayed her knowledge of local issues (she is local resident of Kilburn) when responding to my question about gentrification in the Hampstead and Kilburn constituency and its implications for affordable housing, proposing a national register of landlords to help safeguard the interests of people who rent privately.

When asked to look back at Labour’s most recent thirteen-year spell in government (1997-2010) and identify their greatest achievement, Tulip Siddiq highlighted “the NHS” and referenced the treatment that her father received on the NHS as her personal inspiration to join the Labour Party.

Surprisingly, Siddiq is Labour’s sole ethnic minority candidate in a currently Labour-held seat, though her chances of election are strong and (as this recent profile in The Independent suggests) she is well positioned to rise up the ranks of any future Labour government,  especially having been an early supporter of Ed Miliband.

 

Click here for interviews with each of the 2015 candidates standing for election in Hampstead and Kilburn, and a summary of the recent hustings organised by West Hampstead Life.

Tulip Siddiq - Labour Party - Hampstead and Kilburn - General Election 2015

Dispatch From Hampstead And Kilburn – Interview With Maajid Nawaz (LibDem)

 

Maajid Nawaz is by far the most high profile of the candidates standing for election in Hampstead and Kilburn, perhaps befitting the seat currently held by Labour’s Glenda Jackson. But Nawaz was adamant that his high profile and personal causes (such as the Quilliam anti-extremism think tank, which he founded) would dovetail closely with his work as a constituency MP, not distract from it.

On the LibDem’s performance in coalition, Maajid Nawaz emphasised the “stabilising effect” that the Liberal Democrats have had, softening the “harder edges” of an outright Conservative government. The LibDems have been “a moderating influence on some of the more ideological elements of the Conservative party”, says Nawaz.

Maajid Nawaz spoke most passionately on the subject of mental health, claiming that the LibDems have introduced measures to ensure that “people who go to a hospital complaining of anxiety or depression are treated exactly as somebody who complains of a physical ailment”.

 

Click here for interviews with each of the 2015 candidates standing for election in Hampstead and Kilburn, and a summary of the recent hustings organised by West Hampstead Life.

Maajid Nawaz - Liberal Democrats - Hampstead and Kilburn - General Election 2015

Dispatch From Hampstead And Kilburn – Interview With Magnus Nielsen (UKIP)

 

UKIP candidate Magnus Nielsen is perhaps best known for his eyebrow-raising comments on Islam, proposing that mosques should only be able to hire imams from a government-approved register of non-extremist preachers. When interviewed prior to the candidate hustings on Thursday, Nielsen stated that he is in favour of peoples’ right to practice religion freely, so long as it does not “intervene on the human rights of other people”.

Nielsen also defended UKIP from what the party sees as media obsession with the misdeeds and wacky opinions of some of their “loose cannon” candidates, pointing out that “UKIP is the only party which will not allow you to become a member if you have been a member of the BNP. That is not true of the Labour Party”.

Interestingly, Magnus Nielsen did not have a ready position to take on TTIP, declining to say whether he was for or against the trade deal currently being negotiated between the European Union and the United States until he researched the issue further.

 

Click here for interviews with each of the 2015 candidates standing for election in Hampstead and Kilburn, and a summary of the recent hustings organised by West Hampstead Life.

Magnus Nielsen - UKIP - Hampstead and Kilburn - General Election 2015