Boundary changes could throw up all kinds of surprises across the country and one of the most unpredictable seats in the country is my own constituency, Hampstead & Kilburn, where we'll see a three-way dogfight between incumbent Glenda Jackson, Conservative Chris Philp and Liberal Democrat Ed Fordham.
The literature from both the Philp and Fordham camps is dominated by arguements of which party is favourite to actually win. Due to the boundary changes, we are left in an odd situation where the two parties most likely to win are trying to put the squeeze on each other and presenting themselves as the alternative to Labour. Voters must be confused by the conflicting messages saying "Lib Dems have no chance here" and "Tories have no chance here"; presumably whoever gets their message across most clearly and convincingly will win the seat. The Lib Dems are using actual general election data from Thrasher & Rallings figures, including the "Lib Dem" wards from the old Brent East constituency - which suggests that it's a straight fight between Jackson and Fordham. That, of course, depends on Fordham & co getting the "westerners" out to vote, and tapping into the "Sarah Teather effect". Meanwhile Philp's camp denounce those figures as "old" - there hasn't been a general election since, so of course they're up to date! - and use more recent London Assembly figures instead. Given that the London Assembly votes were dominated by the Boris-vs-Ken struggle, he may be optimistic. Anyone with an ounce of sense can see that both camps are using the figures for political advantage, and the bookies may give an idea of the true state of affairs: in general the Lib Dems are even money, the Tories about 2/1 and Labour 5/2. There's a lot still to fight for. Don't for a minute think that Philp or Fordham are naive enough not to know exactly what the score is; they know what's going on, but are trying to take advantage of voters' ignorance. Who can blame them?
Promisingly, the campaigns so far have mostly been based around local issues such as the Royal Free, post offices, police stations and so on. Both Philp and Fordham have bickered over who has the better track record on local campaigning but that's politics; a rival candidate distorting the words you used about a particular issue isn't negative campaigning at all, it's healthy. It'll have to get a LOT rougher before either candidate can describe the way they're being treated as "a personal slur". Happily, there's been no talk of whether someone is local or not, over their family history, over what they might have said 20 years ago. Let's keep it that way.
Both Fordham and Philp have had high profile faces join them, of course; Fordham entertained Vince Cable at a private function this week and Nick Clegg has been in town recently, while Philp took the rather more risky strategy of letting Boris loose, although admittedly in (presumably) staunch Tory country.
What of Glenda Jackson? She is as invisible on the constituency as A friend of mine, who is a prominent Labour activist in the area, told me that Labour had high hopes in North London. When I joked that they had no chance in Hampstead & Kilburn, he looked at me oddly. "Of course not, H&K is gone," he said. "We're concentrating our efforts elsewhere." Jackson herself has hardly been seen in Parliament for years and is being described by opponents as "the laziest MP in London". At present, her team seem to be making similar efforts in retaining the seat.
The latest twist is that ecowarrior Tamsin Omond is standing with a new party called "The Commons" on a one-trick-pony trip. Denounced as an act of vanity by some, I don't have a problem with it - it'll make things just that little bit spicier. And at least she's chosen her own patch to stand in. Although taking on the Greens, she's actually perfectly amenable to helping them out in Brighton. Neither Omond nor the Greens have much of a chance in H&K, and the Lib Dems will need to be effective with a Green squeeze and not let themselves be distracted by Omond. They will also need to be effective in making sure that the Lib Dem wards in the western part of the borough are mobilised and not subjected to squeeze from Labour and the Tories.
As I have mentioned elsewhere, and many other commentators have noted, social media is having a huge impact on this election. Fordham, Philp and now Omond are all active on both Twitter and in their own blogs (and commenting on other blogs). As such, they're not afraid to confront the rumours head-on and deal with their own word-of-mouth coverage. I'd argue that certain blogs have as much, if not more, influence than the likes of the Kilburn Times, Willesden & Brent Times, Ham & High and Camden New Journal these days, and Fordham and Philp, in particular, have both shown that they are not afraid to engage directly with the voters online. The flipside, of course, is that social media can easily be a breeding ground for rumours, personal attacks, and shady anonymous negative campaigning. Thus far, we've seen little of this in H&K; hopefully, we'll see more of the positives and less of the negatives.
H&K is spicy already and will only get hotter. With Lib Dem-vs-Conservative seats possibly critical in determining whether we see a hung Parliament or and outright Tory majority, expect to see a LOT of attention here. I can't wait.