The Parties | 15th October 2014

Hampstead & Kilburn: Lib Dem collapse to hand Labour closest marginal

Like much of London, Hampstead & Kilburn straddles great affluence and great deprivation. The […]

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Like much of London, Hampstead & Kilburn straddles great affluence and great deprivation. The chichi cafes and blue plaques of Hampstead village are a life away from the payday loan lenders and chicken shops of Kilburn high street.

Hampstead’s leafy residential streets and neatly-trimmed hedgerows are home to London’s liberal intelligentsia, first satirised by the Daily Telegraph in the 1960’s. Lady Dutt-Paukar, the “Hampstead Liberal”, was a wealthy aristocratic socialist who lived in Marxmount House, a palatial Hampstead mansion.

Not only did her house contain an original pair of Bukharin’s false teeth, it also had a range of neo-constructivist art and precious Ming vases, alongside the complete writings of Stalin. Today the area still brims with ageing actors and playwrights, and the Hampstead Heath Society still refers to itself as the “literartti”.

Home to our city’s champagne socialists, Hampstead has been a Labour stronghold for more than 20 years. But with house prices rapidly rising, the area is changing. Hampstead village now has more millionaires than any other part of the United Kingdom.

The opulent houses and quick route to central London have made it a home to the city’s financiers and celebrities. In turn, the area has become more conservative.

The chichi cafes of Hampstead village are a life away from the payday loan lenders of Kilburn high street.

Away from the rolling green hills of Kenwood and Holly Lodge lies Kilburn, or County Kilburn, home to the largest Irish population in London. Kilburn is one of the few places in the capital where you can buy an Irish newspaper, read it in an Irish pub and watch a Gaellic football game.

13 per cent of those in the area were born in Ireland and even more are second or third generation Irish. But over the past few decades Kilburn has also become home to large Caribbean, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Somali communities. The high proportion of social housing and relative deprivation have made it a Labour area, although Kilburn is also slowly changing as the wealth of its affluent neighbours trickles down.

Not only is the South Kilburn Estate being redeveloped, it now has its very own “Marks & Sparks”. Nevertheless Kilburn retains its gritty exterior; pawn-brokers litter the high street, and are only outmatched by betting shops, of which there are 16.

Labour won the seat by just 42 votes in 2010. It was the most closely-fought in the country, and the only one which all three main parties nearly won. The Tories and Lib Dems both came within 900 votes of victory.

According to Lord Ashcroft’s latest poll of the seat, on 20 August, Labour are set to hold on in 2015. As it is nationally, the Lib Dem vote looks likely to more than halve, with Labour taking nearly half of those voters – even more than the national Lib-Lab swing. Things could yet change, but Labour are favourites.

Tulip Siddiq is the woman responsible for ensuring that victory and replacing Glenda Jackson on the Labour benches after what will be 23 years. Jackson, who we recently profiled after her acerbic attack on the government’s welfare reforms, has a “huge personal vote”, according to Siddiq.

Moments like these show why. The Oscar-winning actress may be a hard act to follow but Siddiq has all the exuberance of a young politico; conscientious, earnest, optimistic.

In the first footsteps of her thirties, Siddiq spent her twenties helping to elect Ed Miliband, advising Tessa Jowell and working as a press officer for London Labour. As the niece of Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, she left London when she was five, living in Singapore, Brunai, India and Bangladesh for the next decade. In her mid teens, she moved to Hampstead: writing for the Ham & High, volunteering in Oxfam, and joining the Labour Party.

The NHS motivated her. “Growing up with a disabled father, we were very dependant on their support”. A local councillor, she is now married and lives in West Hampstead. “I would never want to represent anywhere else, this is the area which inspires me”, she insists. She is equally adamant that she will speak to all 80,0000 of her constituents by May.

According to Siddiq, the NHS, bedroom tax and education are the three issues which repeatedly come up on the doorstep and have pushed constituents towards Labour.

The local authority has had to cut £80 million since 2010, she tells me, which is felt differently across the area. Left-leaning Guardian types are frustrated by the impact on arts and culture, while the concerns of those in South Kilburn are more fundamental. “I have mums asking how their child can be expected to concentrate in class when they are hungry. And what am I supposed to say to that?”

Siddiq might be well-acquainted with the area, but Simon Marcus, the Conservative candidate, is a lifelong resident and product of the local prep school St Andrews. “When you live somewhere your whole life, you really get to know it. I even played all my rugby and cricket here with the UCS old boys”, he tells me.

Marcus: “One of the greatest pleasures of campaigning is going to the top floor of a council flat and saying Conservative policies work for the poorest.”

Fittingly for the left-leaning area, he was once a Green. But in 2006, “I was no longer young and idealistic and wanted to get things done”. His narrative starts with him as a sports coach in deprived areas: “It became clear that Labour and socialist policies were failing young people”, he says, although it’s not clear how well Marcus’ views of Labour as socialist will play in an area where six in ten voters back them or the Lib Dems.

But Marcus is a softer strain of Tory, and is really campaigning on not being a “professional politician”. Perhaps unlike Siddiq, who has long been a part of internal Labour politics, Marcus plans to be independent. “I would vote for who I think is right and wouldn’t simply follow the party whip.”

He has also sworn not to have a second job while in parliament, accept a second home or take money from lobbyists. He thinks his message can work anywhere. There should be “no no-go areas” for the party.

“One of the greatest pleasures of campaigning is going to the top floor of a council flat and saying we are here for you as Conservative policies work for the poorest.”

Marcus may think so, but in South Kilburn, one of the seat’s poorest areas, all three councillors are Labour. Affluent areas like Brondesbury Park are where Tories win. Nevertheless, Marcus thinks “People are genuinely okay with what the government’s been doing”.

At 21 Nawaz joined Hizb ut-Tahrir, a revolutionary Islamic group.

He is right that the Tories are scarcely suffering in the polls, but the Liberal Democrats are. Their candidate, Maajid Nawaz, would be one of the most atypical members of the House if he won here. Born and raised in Southend, he grew up in a middle-class Anglophile household and attended his local grammar school.

But after endless encounters with racism, from skinhead gangs to the police, Nawaz became radicalised. He moved to London, first to Barking and then central London, studying at SOAS. At 21 he joined Hizb ut-Tahrir, a revolutionary Islamic group that wants “to convey the Islamic da’wah to the world…[when] the Islamic State is established”.

By 25 he had been arrested in Egypt for trying to overthrow Mubarak. After a five year prison sentence, he revoked the ideology and returned home. “I hope that people will appreciate the fact that I bring real life experience to politics”, he tells me.

Nawaz established the Quilliam Foundation, the anti-extremist organisation which Tommy Robinson partnered with when he quit the EDL, and has briefed both Blair and Bush. He has long odds here but is convinced “anything can happen”.

In all likelihood, however, Hampstead and Kilburn will be a stark example of one of election night’s stories: the Lib Dem collapse is going to hand Labour 15 or so seats. As May2015 has detailed, Ed Miliband’s party are likely to hold onto the vast majority of the 258 seats they won in 2010 – unless Ukip prove more of a force than marginal polls have shown. Winning seats like these from the Lib Dems will bring Labour within 50 of a majority, before they take a single seat from the Tories.