Johnny Luk: Tory candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn says its time for moderate Conservatives to ‘step up’

Ham & High's Hampstead and Kilburn Hustings at UCS Frognal on 02.12.19. Conservative Johnny Luk. Pic

Ham & High's Hampstead and Kilburn Hustings at UCS Frognal on 02.12.19. Conservative Johnny Luk. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

Johnny Luk has been twisting arms inside the Conservative Party.

He's gained a slew of high profile video endorsements for his campaign, including from prime minister Boris Johnson, who wasn't immune from his persuasion.

"The advisors thought it was unusual, but I wanted to talk about the moderate, liberal Conservativeism that Boris and I believe in," he said.

The 29-year-old has quit his job at recruitment firm Adecco to throw himself into a campaign that he insists he can win, despite himself and activists being diverted to try to shore up Theresa Villiers' vote in Chipping Barnet.

It's not the only effect the campaign has had on him. He's lost 4kg since it started. "If we banned eating on tubes, like we'd said once, then I'd be screwed," he jokes.

"We have more activists here than some target seats. It's important that we hold seats, we don't want a repeat of 2017. If you vote for the Lib Dems, you will get Corbyn," he said. Mr Luk adds that the Lib Dem vote is "vapourising in front of his eyes."

The Remain voter, who is a former Department for Exiting the EU (DEXEU) official said Brexit wasn't the hottest topic on the doorstep, and people are unsure which way they will vote.

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On what is the election's defining policy he admits it's going to be a challenging year for the country, but said a Conservative majority will lead to progress. Despite once sounding comfortable with the idea of No Deal, he now says it would be a disaster.

Mr Luk said the European Union doesn't want Britain to become an economic rival next door, with "lower taxes and more dynamic regulation."

He said his party wasn't looking to reduce workers rights and environmental rights and hopes to "do it in our own way and do it better." Yet he slammed the EU Working Time Directive, a policy which says people should only work a maximum of 48 hours a week, as "rubbish". He is also critical of Labour's plans for a four-day working week.

"I've signed it when I joined some corporations, and I said I'll opt out of this clause," he said. "It's unenforceable anyway. I don't understand why we should have the EU telling us what to do."

When pushed on how this would be better for workers, Mr Luk said it would mean they can work longer if they want to. "That's why there is space for regulation with zero hours contracts, such as there isn't an exclusivity clause," he said.

Mr Luk, who was born in Hong Kong, also calls for the playing fields for immigration to be levelled. He said: "It's also liberal and moderate to say why are we discriminating between EU citizens and non-EU citizens when it comes to immigration.

"Why not have some Hong Kong nurses, my auntie is one, she's very good!"

Both the Labour and Conservative parties have had to defend themselves from accusations of racism throughout the campaign.

Newspaper columns written by Boris Johnson have come back to haunt the prime minister, including calling women wearing burkas "letterboxes" and calling black people "piccaninnies".

At the Ham&High's debate on Monday night, an exchange between Labour activist Sandrine Siraju-Kasongo and the Tory candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn over racism turned fractious. He said it had upset and shocked him.

He said: "My instinct was to listen, but she was saying that antisemitism has been overplayed. I feel that's a terrible thing. Who is she to judge that? It's for the victims to judge.

"When I was at [Bedford School], the English Defence League organised crusaders who surrounded me saying 'Go back to China'. I grew up in Western culture, I didn't have many Chinese friends, that was horrifying. I will never forget that and will carry it with me for the rest of my life.

"I got quite upset, I tried to give my piece. I thought as she was a Labour supporter, Tulip would step in, she didn't, she actually doubled down on how Boris was a racist and that there shouldn't be one in number 10. I just thought 'How can you do this?'"

He said the Tory Party needed to "stamp down" on Islamophobia and there should be a zero tolerance within the party, but admits it has a "general brand problem" when it comes to racism and inclusivity.

"The Conservative Party has been extremely inclusive and supportive," he said. "I came into the party because of David Cameron. He was a moderniser, and leaders are trying to continue that.

"Many of [Boris Johnson's] quotes are taken out of context, or propagated from other Labour activists, of course they are concerned. I believe he has apologised for them.

"A lot of comedians laugh about the British Chinese communities when they are not from that background themselves. There are moments where it's uncomfortable, but their goal isn't to attack the community but to laugh at the society we live in. That was the same when Mr Johnson made those comments."

Mr Luk also accused Tulip Siddiq of trying to get into the shadow cabinet after the election by embracing Jeremy Corbyn and his manifesto, and said he "despaired" when Ms Siddiq said she had fought hard to tackle antisemitism.

Speaking to this newspaper at the Coffee Cup in Hampstead, the Conservative candidate reveals his friends were horrified when he said he was running for parliament in this election.

"It's a complicated set of circumstances where those with extreme views have a louder voice. It's a self perpetuating cycle.

"My friends were like Johnny Luk, why are you jumping into an election now, you're going to be butchered. I said: 'This is precisely the time when moderates need to step up'."

He criticised Labour's spending plans as "ridiculous" and said they risked the country losing its AAA credit rating.

He said: "Leadership is about making tough decisions on spending. [Labour's] solution to everything seems to be a big state. Civil servants in an ivory tower don't have all the answers. Ours is that let's take less of your money in the first place, so you'll have more of it to spend."

As the Labour Party linger at the mid-30s in the national polls, he says he understands why people are attracted to them, but blames it on voters not remembering the financial crisis.

"Free broadband, a discount on trains, it sounds really enticing. It was really bleak, I was at university and was just getting into the jobs market. I don't disagree with the challenges, homelessness, poverty. Our way of tackling it is different, and is rational."

When pointed out his party has had nearly a decade in government, he said that it had made progress with the backdrop of the crash.

He said: "We are now finally at the point where we can reinvest, but you don't overdo it which Labour will, which will tip us back into the black hole. You don't pay off your credit card to max it out again."

Mr Luk said he got into politics as a student at Durham University, studying natural sciences "like a good Chinese boy". He worked as a teacher in a local primary school during his final year. "I witnessed first hand it is to educate a rural community with young people that face all sorts of challenges. Personal challenges, addiction, parents who are not around, but the teachers are amazing. I had a contract to join a bank and I turned it down and joined the civil service to see how we can help society. I'm a do-er, I put my money where my mouth is."

The candidate said his British-Chinese background makes him a pioneer in getting involved in politics in Britain, a journey which can sometimes be a lonely one.

"It has shaped my views massively," he said. "I'm trapped between two generations. In America they're a generation head. The first generation set up the takeaways, the laundries. The second are focused on making as much resources as possible, bankers, safe careers, the third generations are the ones in civic society. I'm caught between that."

Even if he doesn't win on December 12, he said he will be delighted and relieved if his party get a big majority. The Conservative Party has not won in Hampstead and Kilburn since its predecessor seat in 1992.

"The stakes are so high. We are fighting for our democratic institutions, against antisemitism, for our financial wellbeing. I've got friends who are running, and they deserve to win," he said.