IN DEPTH: Chris Philp - Voters can determine national picture

I won t forget the first time I met Chris Philp, writes Katie Davies. Having taken on the Ham&High s local government brief in 2006, my first major task involved covering Town Hall election night. As the new candidates stood around in party political cl

Katie Davies

I won't forget the first time I met Chris Philp, writes Katie Davies.

Having taken on the Ham&High's local government brief in 2006, my first major task involved covering Town Hall election night.

As the new candidates stood around in party political clusters, like suspicious teenagers at their first dance, one of the fold was already throwing himself into a second campaign more assiduous than the first.

Here was a new type of council ingenue, replete with pristine blue rosette, bounding around setting up his own photo opportunities and starting to sell the win that the others were only now coming to terms with.

He greeted me with a firm handshake and a perfectly coiffured soundbite explaining that he had A) just won in a seat deposing then-Labour leader, Raj Chada; B) just won in an election that marked the first Labour defeat in Camden for 35 years and C) - this time with feeling - just won in the ward where Alastair Campbell lives.

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For the national press in attendance, here was a dream come true. Back then people cared where Mr Campbell lived and, at 2am, reporters - unbriefed and uninterested in finding a story in Camden Council - were happy to take the one Cllr Philp was peddling.

Four years on, he claims there was no plan that night to start his bid to become Hampstead and Kilburn's first Conservative MP. Yet more or less since then, the 33-year-old has been running a ceaseless campaign to get himself and David Cameron elected.

"The issue in this election, more than any other election, is who runs the country," he says. "This is a key marginal seat. How people vote here will directly determine whether Gordon Brown or David Cameron runs the country. We are one of a handful of seats, 50 or 60, which will be able to do that. It's not for quite a while we've had a choice like that."

This relentless drive has seen Cllr Philp emerge as a trusted Tory lieutenant, but his campaign can also give off a dogged, must-win approach. It sometimes carries an impersonal air which may turn off some voters, particularly those who for the best part of two decades have come to enjoy the familiarity of having an Oscar-winning actress and household name as their parliamentary advocate.

In response, Cllr Philp says there's nothing wrong with driving through his point to make sure he's heard, even if it comes at the risk of being more politics than personable.

"If by direct you mean not beating around the bush, yes I am," he says. "I think there is a fatigue with politicians who are all talk and no action. If you want people who will get things done, I guess they will have this more direct approach.

"I have been an entrepreneur for the last 10 years and you need to have a direct approach to getting things done, but I think that is probably quite refreshing. People want results."

Cllr Philp's journey to the frontline certainly represents a rapid rise to political prominence.

In 1997 he says he was uninterested in politics to such an extent that in "youthful folly" he voted Lib Dem. Just five years later, he was working on Andrew Lansley's election campaign and was chairman of the Bow Group, a centre-right think-tank previously run by Michael Howard and Geoffrey Howe.

He has since co-edited Conservative Revival, which has been described as David Cameron's "little blue book" and a brand manifesto for modern Conservatism.

It all sounds like the career path of another Bullingdon Club boy who was spoon-fed Herbert Spencer from birth, but Cllr Philp came from more humble surroundings. The son of an insurance clerk and a primary school teacher, he was brought up in South London and attended a local grammar school before earning a place in Oxford.

"Some people have been into politics since they were 16 years old - I'm not like that," he said. "I first took an interest in politics when my dad was in hospital for a heart operation a few years ago and ended up getting MRSA. I thought, 'we pay a lot of money in taxes - there has got to be a better way of running the health service.'

"I started working in policy research for the Bow Group and started to get interested in the local community. I ran for the party in Gospel Oak and ended up becoming a councillor."

He puts the speed at which he's become such a true blue down to the fact that he doesn't "do anything by half measures". After graduating from university, he set up his own delivery business, which he eventually grew to a value of �100million and floated on the stock market.

He has since set up another two businesses - one training and finding jobs for low skilled workers, the other a property developing firm in the former Yugoslavia. It's the latter that explains why he's been able to live off South End Green for 10 years and drives a Porsche and a Land Rover.

He claims the cars don't devalue his eco-credentials: "Buying a new car consumes a lot more materials and causes more pollution. My mileage is negligible and I carbon offset."

The environment is important, he says, alongside education and the NHS.

"One of the things I am most passionate about is education," he says. "I am painfully conscious that had I ended up in a normal comp in South East London, I wouldn't have made it to Oxford, set up a company when I was 23, or be running for parliament. I'd like to see a totally reformed education system that makes sure kids from all backgrounds like mine can make it.

"I think David Cameron has ideas to reform the NHS which will give the power back to hospitals, doctors and GPs and patients. We are not going to see things like the Whittington A&E getting forcibly closed down."

But he also points out that there are hard times ahead. "Clearly we can't go on as we are, spending more money than we can afford or we'll end up in national bankruptcy. Glenda says we ran up huge debt in the Second World War and that wasn't a problem, but using a fight for national survival as a basis to plan your year-in, year-out economic strategy is just ridiculous."

On his co-candidates Cllr Philp is fairly adamant that the only one that matters is Ms Jackson, who he devilishly claims to have met only once or twice "despite 10 years living here", although he can't quite help pointing out that his Liberal Democrat opponent Ed Fordham is a "career politician" for a party which tends towards "negative, nasty, personal campaigning".

On the whole, he argues, anyone who doesn't vote either Labour or Tory is wasting their vote. "If people chose to vote Green or Lib Dem they are absenting themsleves from the choice," he says. "They will be observers."

Despite the fact he's already been labelled one to watch in a couple of national newspaper columns so far, Cllr Philp says he isn't eying a ministerial prize, even if he is successful come election day.

With seven weeks to go he's just hoping the cameras are pointing his way and to another victory that night as well.