IN DEPTH: Ed Fordham The outsider who could shine through

Everyone s agreed – Ed Fordham doesn t have a chance. At least, that s what his opponents in Hampstead and Kilburn are saying. Certain factors seem to bear it out. The national polls point to a straightforward Labour-Conservative tussle with the Liberal

Katie Davies

Everyone's agreed - Ed Fordham doesn't have a chance.

At least, that's what his opponents in Hampstead and Kilburn are saying.

Certain factors seem to bear it out. The national polls point to a straightforward Labour-Conservative tussle with the Liberal Democrats scratching around for 17 per cent of the vote.

First on the local political scene by running for Hampstead and Highgate in 2005 and coming a dismal third, Mr Fordham, a Local Government Association worker, doesn't seem like someone who the big boys should be scared of.

People most often use the adjective "nice" when describing the 38-year-old - with the most negative comment so far being "na�ve", as one constituent observed this week.

Most Read

In Camden Council's elections in 2006, he couldn't even win a ward seat in Hampstead Town.

But the fact that Glenda Jackson and Chris Philp are at such pains to erase Mr Fordham from the local picture is focusing attention his way. They are protesting so much that perhaps the old adage that the nice guy always finishes last is about to be knocked on the head.

"I wouldn't say, 'We're going to win', if I didn't think we would," he says.

"Most of the seats in Britain are between Labour and the Tories - but this one's changed. We're in the game here. They can try to dismiss it, but we're here to win and we're here to stay."

He is certainly the man most helped by the boundary change.

The new Hampstead and Kilburn constituency has subsumed a large part of the Lib Dem heartland of Brent East. There, Sarah Teather - another candidate dismissed as a third-party underdog - stormed to victory in 2003 and has done little to make her popularity plummet since.

By 2005's results, this makes the seat a straight Lib Dem-Labour war and, although figures will be quoted about London Assembly elections and other votes which give the Tories a stronger foothold, it certainly shows Mr Fordham is no rank outsider.

"There's a slight problem with the Labour-Tory thing which is Sarah Teather," Mr Fordham smiles. "I think there is an attempt to be slightly condescending and dismiss the Lib Dems.

"It didn't work in 2005 in Sarah Teather's seat or in 2006 in the Camden and Brent council elections and I don't think it will work in 2010.

"Camden Council has come on for the better since Labour lost and the work that the team in Brent has done is phenomenal."

In the model of most Lib Dem electoral fights, Mr Fordham is tirelessly fighting a grassroots campaign. "I don't know if there's a door I haven't knocked on or delivered a leaflet to," he says.

In the Camden Council elections in 2006 the loser's refrain was repeatedly that the Liberal Democrats were too forceful in their campaigning.

One thing for sure is that, if there are any leaflets swamping the doormats of Hampstead and Kilburn in the coming weeks, a substantial number will be yellow - Lord Ashcroft or not.

And when it comes to winning over hearts and minds, Mr Fordham thinks he has got it down pat.

"I think very few people understand the size of the seat.

"Hampstead has about 20,000 people in it, West Hampstead 20,000. But Kilburn has 40,000.

"I see the air war of my opponents but I reckon I am the only one in the tower blocks of the South Kilburn estate or on the Rowley Way.

"There are a series of little villages. Belsize is distinct as are Hampstead and Fortune Green - so you have to have 30 different hats. The detailed knowledge I absolutely love and the local history I thrive on.

"People who know the seat won't be surprised by the election result but for others it may be a bit of a shock."

National personalities, or what few the Lib Dems have, will also be lending a hand in the seat which is fifth on their target list.

Mr Fordham's long career in politics [he was asked to run in the 1992 elections at 21 and ran for Stoke on Trent in 1997] means he has worked with figures like Nick Clegg, Paddy Ashdown and Vince Cable. This has led some to describe him with that much maligned label a "career politician" and, indeed, he admits he isn't a conviction one in the old-fashioned sense of right and left.

"I am trying to offer something different based on the Lib Dem model," he says.

"If you get a Labour or Tory MP, they may be able to help pass grand legislation.

"What people need is not that first. What they actually need is someone who can help them when a problem arises or to be proactive to make something better.

"I am Hampstead and Kilburn first. I absolutely want to walk down the high streets and know people and talk to them and feel like I am accessible for them."

Mr Fordham has been a party member now for more than a decade inspired by David Steel, if not by their then successes.

"At that very point, we had six per cent and 18 MPs with it all collapsing around and I thought that's the party for me," he says.

He claims the lack of breakthrough Lib Dem success isn't his motivation, nor does he want power for power's sake - even if he has now tried his luck in upwards of four elections [winning one and being a councillor in Stoke on Trent from 1998 to 2002].

"If you want power, don't join Lib Dems," he laughs.

"Politics is about people. I am saying I have a set of principles, a set of opinions, and you need to know those. But it's about you, not me.

"That's why the career politician label doesn't stick. I just started when I was young and have been consistent."

He refuses to be drawn on what he would do if there was a hung parliament and his party superiors were asked to form a Conservative coalition.

"Regardless of what happens in Westminster, I think I would have my hands full," he says.

"There are plenty of things to worry about - be it trees, basements, empty shops on the Finchley Road or transport closures.

"If there is a hung parliament, I will do my bit to help make it work for the country. But right now, I think there is plenty to do here."

He thinks that Ms Jackson has failed in this community model and that's why people will choose him.

"We haven't had an MP in Hampstead and Highgate for a long time," he says.

"Speak to councillors and some have never even met the MP although they've been there for three and half years. That means something."

The Lib Dems have made significant inroads in north London over the last 10 years - including in Hornsey and Wood Green with MP Lynne Featherstone.

But in an election which is so close in deciding the next government of the country, whether people will make their voice heard locally before nationally remains to be seen.

Mr Fordham is certainly optimistic - maybe it's na�ve, only time will tell.

"It will be one of the most exciting elections and all the TV cameras will be looking to Hampstead and Kilburn on the night," he says.

"I think we will get council majorities in Camden, Brent, Haringey and Islington.

"Sarah Teather will be re-elected, I will win Hampstead and Kilburn. Lynne Featherstone will take Hornsey and Wood Green.

"Frank Dobson will lose to Jo Shaw and Bridget will win in Finsbury Park. It's exciting times.