General Election 2017: Decision Time

General Election 2017 - Theresa May - Jeremy Corbyn - Conservatives Tories - Labour

The most depressing choice since I became eligible to vote

I feel a little bit sorry for the poor, eager young Conservative Party canvasser who buzzed our door just as we were sitting down to dinner on the eve of polling day for the snap general election of 2017.

Would I be voting for Theresa May and her team, he enquired after I scampered downstairs to speak with him.

Would I?

Must I?

Can I really?

Yes, I will be voting Conservative in my northwest London constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn, a tight two-way marginal. It will bring me absolutely zero pleasure to do so, and I expect nothing good whatsoever to come from my vote, or a Tory victory here. This is purely an exercise in damage limitation, and even then you could almost still flip a coin.

I told the canvasser as much, and sent him away with a flea in his ear about the fact that I will grudgingly, despairingly vote for Ed Miliband in drag Theresa May over Jeremy Corbyn given the lack of any better option, but that I will be gunning for May’s Coke Zero Conservative administration and watching our somewhat nondescript local candidate like a hawk (should she prevail) as soon as this wretched business is over with.

I analysed the dynamics of the local race in Hampstead & Kilburn soon after the snap general election was called, and I think that the analysis still holds up – though as with most pundits I am probably guilty of giving too much credence to signs of a LibDem revival. What should be an easy gain for the Conservatives with any national swing in their direction is complicated here by the Brexit factor, and the fact that Labour incumbent Tulip Siddiq was staunchly pro-Remain and has pitched herself as saviour of the many “citizens of the world” who live within the constituency. Hampstead & Kilburn voted 75% to 25% against Brexit, and unlike some areas of the country I sense no diminution of that zeal. EU flags still flutter from the windows of several flats along the high street.

The dynamics of the national race are much harder to discern, with polls all over the place and many pundits hedging their bets. We will know soon enough, so I see little point in exposing myself to ridicule by venturing a prediction of my own, but if I had to make one I would expect to see a solid but uninspiring Tory majority, well short of the fabled 100 seat level. Labour’s electoral floor was always higher than some of the more excitable commentators were willing to acknowledge, and after a terrible campaign the Tory majority will likely be dull, workmanlike, unimpressive and find its efficacy increasingly questionable, much like our prime minister.

I have already surveyed the utterly depressing vacuity of this general election campaign several times on the blog – most recently here and here – and have little to add to this gloomy assessment. Obviously the heinous terror attacks in Manchester and London finally succeeded in changing the tone of the race and pushing national security up the agenda. But as with every other subject, discussing which party was best placed to protect Britain from further Islamist terror attacks only served to highlight the ineptitude of both main parties – the Conservatives for having presided over a drop in armed police numbers at a time when events in mainland Europe cried out for large increases, and Labour for their leadership being utterly compromised when it comes to terror apologetics and support for odious, murderous foreign regimes.

Ultimately, we get the political leadership that we deserve, now as much as ever. If you watched any of the televised election debates, watched any of the party political broadcasts, read any of the party manifestos or read any of the campaign literature it cannot have escaped your notice that the vast majority of this campaign has been devoted – particularly among the Left – to bribing the people with the eternal promise of More Free Stuff, always paid for by someone else.

Until terrorism shook us out of our complacency, public services were king in this miserable election campaign. Who could be trusted to spend more on them. Who would better defend Our Blessed NHS. Which party leader would most debase themselves by promising not to be a world leader but a mere comptroller of public services, a glorified parish councillor whose job is to make our every petty complaint their overriding personal concern.

The closest that anybody has come to painting an optimistic vision of Britain’s future is Jeremy Corbyn, and his policies would take us careening straight back to the Winter of Discontent. Theresa May sounded like a malfunctioning android for much of the campaign (strong and stable, strong and stable, strong and…) which actually turned out to be better than what came next, because when the Manchester and London terror attacks finally jolted the prime minister’s operating system out of it’s infinite loop she started evoking a stark, dystopian portrait of a country where civil rights are burned in sacrifice for the chimerical illusion of perfect safety, while the state perches over the shoulder of every citizen as a perpetually watchful, auxiliary parent.

No party has properly got to grips with the challenge of Brexit, specifically the need to ensure that we do not crash out of the EEA with no deal and find ourselves paralysed by a million non tariff barriers that even now many ministers and journalists are cheerfully pretending do not exist.

No party has yet arrived at a sensible, proportional response to the attacks on our country by Islamist terrorists – Labour scored some opportunistic points at the expense of the Tories for presiding over a fall in total police numbers but cannot be taken seriously thanks to the views of their senior leadership, while the Tories under Theresa May have made a few encouraging sounds about finally confronting the Islamist ideology and its roots in Britain’s Muslim communities but then pivoted dramatically to draconian talk about squashing civil liberties in the name of safety.

But most importantly, not a single political party – not even the minor ones or the nationalists – have asked anything of us, the British people. Apparently our job as citizens is just to sit back and petulantly demand More Things while politicians scurry around making false promises to deliver them to us. Nobody has called us to anything resembling a higher purpose or a common endeavour – something which matters more than ever as we confront an Islamist terror threat which emanates from non-assimilated communities who presently feel little connection to the country which gives them life and liberty.

It has become fashionable among political commentators to drone on about how the new division in politics is not between left-wing and right-wing, small government or big government, but rather between globalist and nationalist, those who want to keep vesting power in the current international or supranational institutions and those who believe that the status quo is not working, either for them or for the country as a whole. And while I would quibble with the idea that the left/right dichotomy is no longer important or relevant, of course there is a superficial truth to the globalist/nationalist idea which makes it easy to analyse the likes of Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump.

(Perhaps one of the reasons I resist this new way of framing the debate is because it cuts people like me totally out of the picture – people who are open to the world, comfortable with globalisation and immigration but who recoil from the antidemocratic EU and efforts to foist supranational government on an ignorant or unwilling population by stealth. Voting for Brexit was perhaps the most profoundly liberal thing I have done in my life, and to see that most unexpected victory portrayed to the world by self-assured New York Times reporters as some kind of reactionary hankering for lost empire is immensely frustrating, as being slandered and misrepresented with little ability to correct the record nearly always is).

But British politics is currently so debased, so superficial, that we are not even really having this newfangled globalist/nationalist conversation in a serious way. Brexit, ostensibly the reason for having a snap general election in the first place, has been largely drowned out of the debate, first by the aforementioned tedious obsession with public services and what each one of us can get out of government, and then by the twin terror attacks and the pivot toward national security. And in place of this discussion we are wallowing almost exclusively in the politics of Me Me Me.

What will government do for me? What can this candidate offer me that the other candidate won’t? How will this manifesto affect my mortgage rate, my benefits, my private school fees, my inheritance, my commute, my GP waiting times, my ability to access WiFi on the slow train from Crewe to Stoke. It has all just been so desperately small and parochial.

Or as I put it the other day:

Vote for me, I’ll keep you safe from terror. Just gonna need your Facebook password, please. No, vote for me, I’ll keep the economy strong because we all know the only point of a strong economy is to raise more tax to spend on the NHS. Liar! You want to destroy Our Precious NHS! You want people to die in the streets when they get sick, just like they do in America. No, we are now the true party of the NHS! Anything for Our NHS, oh god, anything and everything, my very life for Our Blessed NHS.

Oi! Look over here, free university tuition! Yeah, it’s subsidised by the taxes of other people who never went to university and whose earning power has not been boosted through having a degree, but still. Fairness! Young people are the future! No, no, no, it’s all about the environment. That evil party wants to build an experimental nuclear fusion plant in your grandmother’s basement, and frack for oil in the middle of Lake Windermere. But we will bulldoze nasty, Brexit-supporting Stoke-on-Trent and replace it with a massive solar panel field. Much better.

No, look over here! We will bring back British Rail; remember how great British Rail was? Who needs Pret when you’ve got a trusty British Rail egg and cress sandwich? Nice and warm, of course, just like the good old days. Let’s have car-commuting taxpayers in Gainsborough subsidise the travel of London-based city commuters, because fairness. British Rail? Scoff. I’ll see your British Rail and raise you British Leyland! Woohoo – nationalisation, baby! For the Common Good.

All immigrants are a godsend, to the last man. If it weren’t for immigrants, your inflamed appendix would have been dug out by a native-born, chain-smoking school dropout with a can of special brew in his spare hand, and don’t you forget it. No, of course we should have a sensible, measured conversation about immigration. It’s just that I’ll stand here and shriek into the TV cameras that you’re an evil, divisive racist if you disagree with me. But please, go ahead. No no, we should listen patiently to people’s concerns and then carefully explain to them why they are wrong. People love that.

Oh, you? No dear, you don’t have to do anything. We, the politicians, are here to promise you stuff, to pander to your every passing whim. If I’m prime minister, I will make it my overriding personal concern to fix the broken chairs at your GP surgery waiting room – I’ll come round and do it myself, I’ve got some tools in the shed – and make sure that New British Rail adds free wifi to your single-carriage metro train between Stoke and Crewe. Seriously, no worries. I’ll call the boss at 6AM every day until it happens. NATO summit? Geopolitics? Statecraft? Boring! Why be a statesman when I can be a glorified town councillor for 65 million insatiable people? I’m on the case for you, and your every last petty concern. I’ll read foreign policy briefings when I’m on the can, that stuff doesn’t matter.

Heavens no, of course we don’t need to properly empower local politicians to make decisions in the local interest, raising and spending taxes independently of Westminster. For I am running to be Comptroller of British Public Services, and my sole job, my only care in the world is to make your passage through life as easy and painless as possible. You and 65 million of your fellow citizens. The buck stops with me, because public services are everything. After all, Britain didn’t do anything of value or renown on the world stage until we starting implementing the Beveridge Report. Not a damn thing. And now we’ve jacked up the size of the state so much and you have to deal with it so bloody frequently that we’d darn well better make sure you come skipping away happy from every last interaction – too many bad experiences for you are political suicide for us.

I just can’t get inspired by any of this transactional nonsense. Thanks partly to Brexit, but also to the general populist rejection of the former centrist status quo, we are living in momentous times. But our politics refuses to catch up with the moment, to acknowledge this break from the past and the need for bold new thinking, not tinkering around the edges and having the same tired old debate about Saving Our NHS.

I’m sometimes accused of being too down on politicians in general, of setting my bar of approval so high that everybody is doomed to disappoint. I think my critics are a little harsh. Who can seriously survey the British political scene and rejoice at the options before us as we go to the polls on June 8?

Who can take comfort from the fact that a Conservative leader facing a terminally dysfunctional opposition decided, inexplicably, to move panderingly to the Left rather than boldly to the transformative Right?

Who can take comfort from the fact that one of the few Labour politicians with anything approaching conviction is simultaneously rendered unelectable by those very same convictions and principles, disturbing as many of them are? Or the fact that the Labour Party has drifted so far away from its one-time roots that many activists now despise their patriotic, pro-Brexit former working class base?

Who can take comfort from the fact that the Liberal Democrats have decided to demonstrate their liberal credentials by standing in proud, unrepentant and implacable opposition to the greatest electoral mandate in British history?

Who can take comfort from the fact that Scottish Nationalists, despite having lost an independence referendum less than three years ago and pledged not to hold another in a generation, have decided to keep on trying ad infinitum to break up our United Kingdom, or that the people of Scotland look set to return a massive contingent of their dubious MPs to Westminster despite that party’s utterly appalling record in Holyrood government?

The only people who can possibly be mustering any enthusiasm for this election are the naive young lefties who truly believe that Theresa May is orchestrating a holocaust of the sick and disabled and that Saint Jeremy Corbyn is coming to cleanse us of our sins, or equally idealistic young Toryboys who hope that sharing enough “strong and stable” infographics on social media might one day lead to a job as an MP’s bag carrier.

I have nothing original to close with as I get ready to head to the polls, so I will recycle the conclusion of another piece I recently wrote:

Yes, I’ll vote Tory this time. But Lord knows I’ll feel unclean and deeply depressed while doing so, with zero expectation that it will result in anything positive for the country and with considerably more admiration for the man I hope to see defeated than the woman I barely want to win.

Britain, we can do better than this. Probably not much better realistically, at least right now – because as a society we have fallen and been infantilised to such a worrying degree – but still we can do better than these paltry political party leaders. They’re all just so very…small.

Somebody, anybody else, please step up soon. Deep down, as a nation we want more than is being offered to us by Jeremy Corbyn, his provincial Mini Me’s and a confused Tory leader who thinks the path to victory involves dismantling – rather than building upon – the legacy of our greatest post-war prime minister.

Step forward, find the spirit of public service and call us to action, too. Ask us to set our sights beyond our own narrow interests, beyond our bank balances, our bin collections, our next step on the property ladder, the feelings of our intersectional identity groups, the fate of our free mobile roaming calls in Tuscany. Help give us a new purpose, a common purpose, a higher purpose.

Set us a challenge.

 

I will be live blogging the election results and aftermath here on Semi-Partisan Politics from Thursday evening through to the next day. It promises to be a very depressing and underwhelming event. Do please join me.

 

General Election 2017 - polling station sign

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General Election 2017: An Unpredictable Race In Hampstead & Kilburn

General Election 2017 - Hampstead and Kilburn Conservatives attack leaflet - Tulip Siddiq Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn - 1

Game On in Hampstead & Kilburn

Today I received the above piece of campaign literature from the Hampstead and Kilburn Conservatives. It isn’t exactly subtle, and it perfectly encapsulates the problem facing incumbent Labour MP Tulip Siddiq, defending her slim majority of 1,138.

When Glenda Jackson was defending the seat in 2010, Labour squeaked home with a majority of just 42, making the seat the most marginal in England. And crucially, back then the seat was a tight three-way marginal, with the Liberal Democrats less than a thousand votes off the pace. In 2015, the LibDems suffered in Hampstead & Kilburn as they did nationwide, despite fielding an excellent candidate in Maajid Nawaz, and slumped to just 3,039 votes.

By way of further context, Hampstead & Kilburn voted strongly in favour of remaining in the European Union during the referendum, 75% Remain to 25% Leave,  with nearly 23,000 constituents signing an angry petition demanding a second referendum when things didn’t go their way with the first one.

So what will happen in the snap general election on 8 June 2017?

Given Labour’s current polling, and the personal polling of leader Jeremy Corbyn, by all rights Tulip Siddiq should be packing her office in Portcullis House and looking for something new to occupy her time. A majority of 1,138 puts Hampstead & Kilburn high on the Tories’ target list, and a few ministerial campaign visits and perhaps a drive-by from the PM herself ought to flip the seat, all other things being equal.

However, all other things are not equal.

 

The Brexit Factor

Brexit is a real factor here. Following the EU referendum I sat on the 139 bus from West Hampstead alongside numerous “March for Europe” protesters bearing placards weepily declaring themselves to be not British but European. Anger at Brexit runs deep here, as I discovered when I inadvertently carried a Brexit-themed shopping bag into the local Waitrose supermarket on Finchley Road during the campaign. The strength of pro-Remain feeling and the depths of the anger (and let’s face it – the arrogant refusal to even attempt to empathise with the opposing side) on display in this constituency throws everything up in the air when it comes to predicting general election results.

 

The LibDem Factor

To my mind, the key question is what happens to the Liberal Democrat vote. Nationally, the LibDems have come back from the dead, more in spite of Tim Farron’s leadership than because of it, and driven almost entirely by that party’s near-unambiguous anti-Brexit position. One knows that a successful vote for a LibDem candidate would result in an MP determined to delay or even scupper Brexit altogether were it remotely possible to do so, and this will be very attractive to a lot of voters here – the kind of people who abandoned the party in a hissy fit back in 2015 because of their coalition with the Evil Tor-ees, but who suddenly realise that they have common cause with Farron & Co. once again.

 

The Tory Factor

This is likely to see a number of voters – the “wetter”, less ideological and pro-EU Tories – switching their support from the Conservatives back to the Liberal Democrats. If your imagined “European identity” is the most important factor in your vote, then going LibDem is the only smart decision here.

In 2015, the Tories pandered to the constituency by running an extremely wet, centrist candidate – Simon Marcus was against the “bedroom tax” and welfare reform, and even against Trident renewal – and still came up short. I have yet to get a good sense of where 2017 candidate Claire-Louise Leyland stands on core ideological identifiers like tax policy, welfare reform, education, defence spending and civil liberties, but it seems likely that as an embryonic career politico (she stood for the Northern Irish constituency of West Tyrone back in 2015) she would generally toe the party line, perhaps diverging to the left on occasions.

Voters basing their decision on economic competence and basic credibility will probably therefore feel safe in voting Tory with Leyland on the ballot. Even though the Hampstead & Kilburn Conservatives probably don’t have any wiggle room to move further to the left, what else can centrist voters do – plump for Jeremy Corbyn? Hardly likely. That leaves the threat posed by the LibDems to the Tory europhile wing as the only real danger to be addressed.

However, just as Brexit is pushing some soft conservatives out of the Tory Party toward the LibDems, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party is likely to push a number of Hampstead & Kilburn voters away from Labour, also to the LibDems. Quite how much this will occur is hard to predict.

 

The Labour Factor

The more Hampstead side of the constituency has its share of trustafarian Corbynista types who think that reheated 1970s socialism is the best thing since sliced bread, but I suspect that there are far more young lefty creative professionals here who recoil from Corbyn’s haphazard management of the party and the very real chance that he will significantly hike their taxes given half a chance. There are a lot of people here for whom being seen as a “lefty” is important for social and professional acceptance and/or advancement, but who also quite like having disposable income and a functioning economy in which to spend it. Thus Jeremy Corbyn isn’t really their guy.

Meanwhile, the more Kilburn side of the constituency contains an awful lot of Corbyn true believers – as I saw when I attended a Corbyn rally at the Kilburn State Cinema during the post-Brexit leadership coup. However, there are also a number of working and lower-middle class constituents who might recoil from the kind of metropolitan identity politics that the Labour Party currently peddles, as Channel 4 news discovered when they trawled Kilburn High Road for vox pops.

In short, the Labour vote here is even more unpredictable than the Tory vote. The Guardian suggests that Hampstead & Kilburn may be part of a “metropolitan firewall” for Labour. Hmm, now where have I heard vastly over-optimistic talk of an electoral firewall before?

 

Too Many Moving Parts

While it is safe to say that the Liberal Democrats will exceed their 2015 vote total (despite fielding a candidate without Maajid Nawaz’s household name factor), it is hard to predict just how strongly the party will rebound, or at whose expense. Theresa May’s Brexit position (and revulsion at Brexit in general) will drive some Tory voters over to the LibDems, while lack of confidence in Jeremy Corbyn will drive some Labour voters the same way.

Will the combined effect be sufficient that the LibDems manage a miraculous come-from-behind victory, sneaking past the two big parties to snatch the seat? Unlikely. It would take an awful lot of defectors to bump up the LibDem total by such a large amount. But it is not impossible. The LibDem vote here fell by 13,452 between 2010 and 2015 just because their voters were in a strop with Nick Clegg for his decision to pragmatically enter a coalition with the Evil Tor-ees in the national interest rather than propping up the rotting carcass of Gordon Brown’s Labour government. Stung by Brexit, how much more reason have they now to return to the fold, more motivated than ever before?

However, I think it is more likely that the Hampstead & Kilburn constituency will be won by the party which manages to do the best job preventing their peripheral supporters from defecting to the LibDems. And it seems to me that the Conservatives have an advantage here.

While 2017 candidate Claire-Louise Leyland remains something of an unknown quantity (former Stronger In campaigner turned Theresa May supporter, passionate about mental health and otherwise fill in the blanks), she at least represents a party viewed rightly or wrongly as basically competent. This article is not the place to relitigate the many ways that Theresa May’s government is endangering our national interests through their glib and superficial approach to Brexit negotiations, but in a head-to-head between Tory ideologues and fratricidal Labourites you pick the swivel-eyed Tory every time.

Labour, on the other hand, risk losing their most pro-European supporters – the kind of tedious people who paint the EU flag on their face at public demonstrations and call themselves “citizens of the world” – to the LibDems, together with portions of their young professional vote and working class anti-Corbyn vote.

In other words, while even an ardently pro-European Conservative voter has many reasons to think long and hard before abandoning the party, pro-European Labour voters with little real expectation of a general election victory have every incentive to shrug and vote for LibDem candidate Kirsty Allan (while furiously humming “Ode to Joy”, naturally).

And that is why the piece of campaign literature which came through my door today should be extremely worrying for Labour’s Tulip Siddiq. The helpful chart on one side makes it look as though this is a straight-up fight between Jeremy Corbyn’s loopy, crackpot Labour Party and the Tories (thus underplaying the possibility of a LibDem fightback), while the reverse side trumpets three “damaging” headlines in which Siddiq proudly takes credit for nominating Jeremy Corbyn to the Labour leadership, refuses to concede that it was an error and then actually joins his Shadow Cabinet (while conveniently omitting the fact that Siddiq later resigned from the shadow frontbench in order to clutch the EU flag and vote against Article 50).

 

Where Things Stand

If this is indeed a scenario in which the two leading parties – Labour and the Conservatives – are attempting to win by losing the least number of votes to the Liberal Democrats, then the Tories presently have the advantage, and if they are smart they will do everything they can to tie Tulip Siddiq to Jeremy Corbyn in the public imagination. This will certainly be the advice/orders filtering down from Lynton Crosby and CCHQ in any case.

The more that Hampstead & Kilburn constituents are seeing and talking about how Tulip Siddiq helped inflict Jeremy Corbyn on the country and repeatedly enabled his chaotic leadership of the party (fair characterisation or not) rather than how the Tories have a childlike understanding of Brexit and an increasingly tarnished reputation for economic competence, the more likely it is that the Conservatives will prevail on 8 June and Claire-Louise Leyland will be returned as our new MP.

To survive and retain the seat for Labour, Tulip Siddiq must find a way of beating the Labour Party’s unbeatable Brexit conundrum while also distancing herself from Jeremy Corbyn – but not to the extent that it keeps the Corbynista vote at home or threatens any support she might need from the party leadership. In other words, Siddiq really has to thread the needle to prevail here.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats need to make the local race all about Brexit, and nothing else. Kirsty Allan needs to paint herself as the only candidate with the courage to stand up for all of Hampstead & Kilburn’s heartbroken “citizens of the world” by acting with other LibDems as a drogue parachute on Britain’s departure from the European Union. Then she must hope that she can tempt enough such people away from their 2015-era partisan loyalties in order to pull the LibDems back to their 2010 levels of support, plus a little bit extra. It is a tall order, but not quite an impossible one.

So, all to play for at the moment. Bring on the hustings!

 

Update – 30 April

This interesting analysis from the Guardian and Electoral Calculus uses ICM polling to suggest that the Liberal Democrat resurgence may be a paper tiger – an attractive theme (and one eagerly picked up by the Remain-sympathising Westminster press) but with little basis in actual reality.

In particular, it shows that while a number of previously Labour-voting Remainers are indeed likely to jump ship to the LibDems, the Conservative vote looks far stickier, with 2015 conservative voters far less likely to jump ship even if they disagree with Brexit. This would seem to pour cold water on any hopes of a LibDem resurgence here.

The upshot of their analysis:

Our model sees the Tories on 422 seats, with Labour reduced to just 150, and the Lib Dems declining from 9 to 6. The Conservative majority would be north of 190. Labour would be wiped out beyond what most people are currently predicting. Leadership candidates like Clive Lewis would no longer be leadership candidates, because they would no longer be MPs.

The Lib Dems could lose a third of their MPs even after gains in places like Cambridge, with seats like Carshalton & Wallington, Richmond Park and Southport especially vulnerable. The danger in these seats is pretty clear. In Carshalton, Tom Brake won a majority of 1,510 in 2015. If a fraction of the town’s 7,000 UKIP voters return to the Tories, that majority will be wiped out. Southport is almost identically poised. Unless a major influx of Remain voters arrives from somewhere – and there’s no indication in any of this data that it will – then these seats will be lost. The Lib Dems don’t face the same problem in Richmond Park, which only turned back to the Lib Dems in December; but with a majority of less than 2,000 and a recent history of flipping, you wouldn’t bet the mortgage on a hold.

Devastating if correct.

On the plus side for Labour, there is hardly any UKIP vote in Hampstead & Kilburn to drift back to the Tories, unlike some other constituencies where the potential backwash of ex-UKIP voters to the Conservative Party threatens to sink LibDem and Labour candidates alike. This means that Tulip Siddiq’s fate as the constituency MP is firmly in Labour’s own hands, and their ability to hold on to their vote in the face of Jeremy Corbyn’s broad unpopularity.

 

General Election 2017 - Hampstead and Kilburn Conservatives attack leaflet - Tulip Siddiq Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn - 2

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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