Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Living in a marginal (3): Hampstead & Kilburn - the final showdown

So, this is it. In 24 hours time, there will be little that any of the pretenders to the various thrones up for grabs across the country can do any more. Even now, much of the campaigning being done is too little, too late - there simply isn't enough time for any important messages to filter down to the mainstream electorate any more. Instead, the only effective tactics now must be micromanaged local efforts to get out the core vote, make last minute efforts to firm up any "soft" voters and perhaps tempt a few stray leaves in the wind to land on the right side. At this stage, that will depend almost entirely on having quality, comprehensive local canvass data and a well managed logistical plan for addresses to target, a plan for lifts to polling stations, and other things that may seem insignificant but could play a vital role in the overall election result.

Well, here in Hampstead and Kilburn, one of the tightest three-way marginals in the country and focus of not only a great deal of media attention but also visits from many political heavyweights, nobody will knock on my door to tempt me out to vote, because nobody has bothered to canvass my vote. Do I take it personally? Only a little, but it seems that I'm not the only person who hasn't had a knock. It strikes me that candidates' priorities have been slightly amiss in this constituency. I've had debates with people about these issues on other blogs, but I maintain that there has been an over-emphasis on social media with a limited audience (Youtube videos are all very well, but with only a few dozen views, are they worth it?), too much focus on West Hampstead, and a shortage of canvassing (admittedly, my only evidence for this is extremely limited and anecdotal!) Especially since the TV debates, there are suddenly hundreds, perhaps thousands, of potential voters sitting at home who would otherwise have abstained but are now prepared to vote, have maybe made up their mind, but are a very soft vote indeed. My feeling is that the candidates should have redoubled their efforts on actually speaking to these people face-to-face, and perhaps enticing people who otherwise wouldn't have voted - or registered - to do so, and to do it in that candidate's favour.

A quick further word on the social media aspect of things. As Paul Waugh of the Evening Standard correctly predicted at the Lewis PR Social Media Summit (where I came closest to meeting any of the candidates as I chatted to one of Tamsin Omond's team), this hasn't turned out to be the election where it was social media wot won it as I wondered in January, but locally I've really enjoyed keeping up with things via the active blogs and Twitter people locally. Special mention in particular to  Jonathan's West Hampstead Life blog or Dan's Kilburn-based NW6 blog, by the way, both of which are excellent and have provided me with much of my keeping up to date from an "outsider's" point of view (ie independent of any party). Both of those pulled off nice coups with interviews with the main characters, and provided a lot more since. In addition, there has been full-blooded banter on Twitter, some fairly robust debate on Jewish issues on the OyVaGoy blog, live Twitter commentary on hustings from the Ham & High, and some cracking Youtube work from Nathan Williams debunking the myths from ALL the parties about who can and can't win the seat (something that has enraged quite a few people, not least me). All put together, it's enriched the whole experience and so thanks to everyone who's argued and worried over the local issues, whatever side of the lines you fall on. And while  do feel that the candidates themselves might have spent their time more productively, I've certainly enjoyed having little Twitter tussles now and again with Ed Fordham, Tamsin Omond and Chris Philp.

What of the candidates themselves? I've been saying since the beginning that we're fortunate enough to have three individual candidates who are very strong in their own way and on a local level, I won't be unhappy to see any of them as my MP.

Chris Philp has run a straightforward campaign. It seems that with Chris, what you see is what you get - he has his core message and sticks to it. He comes across as strong, personable and dedicated. He also seems very committed to the Tory message; I have a strong hunch that he'll go far in the party - whether as MP for Hampstead & Kilburn from 2010, or somewhere else somewhere in the future, but my feeling is that he can really go places. It's been a campaign built on local issues, and his straight-talking approach will, I think, have impressed people on the doorsteps, especially the floating voters.

Ed Fordham's campaign has been more touchy-feely. He comes across as a sensitive individual, not afraid to explore a question when he's asked it and doesn't know the answer at first! He comes across as adaptable and flexible, and perhaps most importantly, the most natural and human of the three main candidates. His campaign has gathered momentum as time has gone on, gaining flattering reactions from both local media and, by the sounds of it, local voters. Chris Philp apparently thinks that local Lib Dems have rigged the bookies' odds by placing massive bets on their man in order to shorten his odds; I wouldn't go as far as that, although I would say that 2/5 is far too short a price and if you're into betting, there's better value to be had putting money on Philp, although I still expect Fordham to squeak home.

Glenda Jackson is an enigma. Derided as "London's laziest MP" and with no campaigning whatsoever, I knew nothing about her until my first hustings, where she came across as by far the most profound and thoughtful of the camdidates. I was really impressed. Her voting record (or lack thereof) and absence of local presence count against her, which is a shame, as her values seem spot on to me. I have no idea what the local party have been playing at; three days before the election itself I received my very first hand delivered Labout leaflet, which sems too little too late, as do the last-gasp visits from Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown to the constituency (joining the illustrious ranks of heavyweights to visit the area: Osborne, Johnson, Clegg, Cable). Labour's resources have, understandably, been stretched with so many seats to contend, but these visits seem an afterthought and I'd be very surprised if Labour didn't finish in third in H&K, which would be a shame for Jackson, whose values and dedication to democracy impressed me greatly at the hustings and since.

Last word must be dedicated to the unexpected star of this area - Tamsin Omond. I must admit, when I first heard that she was standing, I agreed with an article describing it as "an act of epic narcissism" but have been proved wrong many times over. Reading her Twitter feed and occasional blog posts, you get a real sense of her joys and pains, the rush of jousting with opponents mixed with the depression faced after having a string of doors slammed in her face, exhaustion mingling with adrenaline. Her campaign has been unerringly positive, and, refreshingly, she holds no beef with any of her opponents. I hope that, after a break, she'll decide it's been worth the effort. I also hope that she'll carry on with politics in the future, but would urge her that while someone of her talents can clearly make big waves, she won't do it all on her own and while starting a new political party may have seemed like a fun idea at the time, she may be better, as she gets older, deciding to make compromises on her beliefs and join a larger, more mainstream group in order to try and change things "from within". Sharing her journey, albeit online, has been a pleasure though, bringing laughs aplenty and close to tears on other occasions. Good luck to her for the future.

As for my own vote. Well, I've tried, as much as possible, to give objective thoughts throughout, although I've known all along who will get my vote and it won't be hard to read between the lines to work out which box my cross will appear in. This election is the most exciting in my lifetime and it's going to be on issues different to the last elections. 2001 and 2005 were public services with a little bit of Iraq thrown in. In 2010, suddenly the goalposts have shifted. We have a clued up electorate who actually have opinions on taxation and public service cuts, in this era of financial uncertainty. This election won't just be about the economy though - since the TV debates, the polls at one point indicated that we could end up in the bizarre situation of the Liberal Democrats winning the popular vote, with Labour in third...yet translated into seats Labour would win the largest share with the Liberals miles behind in third.

Suddenly, decades overdue, the electoral reform bandwagon began to roll. Along with climate change, electoral reform is one of the few issues that won't just affect us, but will have a lasting impact in fifty years time. A fair voting system is something I've believed in since I was a kid, although I only became fully clued up since I became a paid-up member of the Electoral Reform Society at the start of the year. The ERS have been at the forefront of the calls for change and I applaud the work they've done, although "helpfully" pointing people to vote for a hung parliament at the expense of considering other local factors was a mistake. Even so, when we live in a country which is so hypocritical to invade Iraq in the name of promoting democracy while having an electoral system that is so blatantly and cripplingly unfair, then it's time to take a bold stand against the archaic system and move onto something fairer and more positive. For me, this is an absolute dealbreaker.  I can't think of any other issues that is so important to our country at this time. We'll ride out the economic storm - this may be our only chance to save the voting system. That is why, for me, only a party that can deliver electoral reform will get my vote.

The Labour Party is a funny old beast. It's by far the hardest to pin down. There are hoary old socialists, vile Blairites, some truly dire individual MPs and a core of fundamentally decent people who believe in the right thing for society. I believe that small group includes Gordon Brown. He's had a rough time since he came to office, has made some appalling decisions, and has terrible mannerisms which make him unsuited to this new era of TV soundbite politics. But of all the party leaders, he comes across as the most heavyweight. His economic pedigree, while not untarnished, is still strong and along with the brilliant Peter Mandelson (you can hate him, but anyone must respect that Mandelson the most glitteringly talented politician of our generation by miles) is one of Labour's best assets. He has the execrable Ed Balls, Harriet Harman and the not-much-better David Milliband around him, so his team stinks, but if Labour get a whipping, I hope Brown doesn't take all the blame (although he will).

The Conservatives are always a party who I think have some terrific local MPs, but the further up the party one goes the more rotten it becomes. The old schoolers - Ancram, Rifkind, Hague - are superb, and I am a fan of Michael Gove (although he has become unbearable recently; probably a consequence of shadowing Ed Balls). But for every Rifkind there is a Fox and for every Gove there is a Pickles. Their "Big Society" concept is admirable, even if it does feel like a panicking afterthought, and they have some nice touches on pensions and education. But their environmental record is woeful, their commitment to inheritance tax cuts for the wealthy are worrying and opposition to any sort of electoral reform most backward of all.

The Liberal Democrats are finally hitting the mainstream. Nick Clegg has ousted Vince Cable as the politician du jour and Ed Davey's star has risen significantly. Their economic policies are bold, they have consistently superior environmental policies and their pro-Europe stance appeals to me. Only blanket standing up for civil liberties, no matter what the cost, and the rather unworkable regional immigration scheme, seem suspect. Their lasting contribution to this election will surely be electoral reform and a fairer voting system, assuming the Tories fail to gain an overall majority. Once again Nathan Williams sums it up best, with this brilliant little video.

Can't wait for Thursday. I think I'll go for BBC TV coverage, with half an eye on a list of swing seats and another half eye on my favourite blogs (UK Polling Report, Iain Dale, Mark Reckons, Guido, and probably Left Foot Forward and Lib Dem Voice) and Twitter. And hope I don't fall asleep at the crucial 4am moment. I don't think I will.

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