Hampstead and Kilburn: Parties in final push to secure voters' support on last Saturday before polling day
PUBLISHED: 12:38 09 December 2019 | UPDATED: 12:57 09 December 2019
The four main parties hoping to win in Hampstead and Kilburn were out in force in West Hampstead on Saturday morning, as just a handful of days remained before polling day.
Shoppers and locals in West End Lane were targeted by the Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, Conservative Party and Green Party, with all of the parties' candidates, apart from Tulip Siddiq, in the area trying to persuade voters.
Camden's two Green Party hopefuls, David Stansell and Kirsten de Keyser took to West Hampstead Farmers Market to try to win round the electorate.
When the Ham&High met Mr Stansell outside Cafe Nero on the morning, he complained that he was having trouble introducing his new kitten to his cat.
"It makes her jump every time she sees her reflection in the fridge," he says. You only have to hope he'll have better luck bringing people together over Brexit.
The duo pin on rosettes and head down the street towards the market. Ms de Keyser, a former journalist from Denmark, says that they're an object of curiosity for her, and jokes that it reminds her of prize horses or livestock at an agricultural show.
The reaction for them is warm - they manage to shift their stock of leaflets and get some positive feedback from voters - but many say they'll be backing Labour. The duo even help clean up the environment as they campaign, disposing of a smashed wine glass dropped by a reveller the night before. The cause never sleeps.
One voter to whom Mr Stansell speaks, Dr David Tucker, seems open to the Green Party's ideas, but says he'll be backing Labour's candidate.
"She's a successful MP, just like Glenda Jackson was. It's the most important election in 70-80 years, and that's an American saying it."
Mr Stansell bumps into a friend, Lorraine Neville, who said she was undecided about who she was going to vote for.
"Brexit seems to be a huge mess. [Boris Johnson] is going for it without thinking about the consequences. People are saying the Conservatives are going to get in."
The West Hampstead local tells this newspaper she would consider voting Lib Dem, but doesn't think they can win in the area so she is looking to back Labour.
"It's the most critical election ever," she adds.
Back up the street at the Tory Party's stall, Johnny Luk and a clutch of Conservative campaigners are distributing leaflets to rebut a letter from the party's former Bracknell MP, Phillip Lee, urging residents to back Lib Dem candidate Matt Sanders. The party is keen to convince voters that the Lib Dems can't win in the area, as they seek to stop a flow of Remain-backing Tories switching to support Mr Sanders.
There's a relaxed mood among the group with Mr Luk having not lost any of his enthusiasm throughout the campaign. Leader of the Conservative Party on Camden Council Oliver Cooper arrives with the rebuttal leaflets and they settle in to speak to passers-by.
One man, William Appiah, who seems likely to back the party on December 12, tells Cllr Cooper that Mr Johnson should be talking about a trade deal with the Commonwealth after Brexit.
"We have a country like St Lucia, which exports bananas here and they're subject to tariffs. Nothing has been mentioned. When I talk to my colleagues, nobody has said this. All we talk about is trade but not with the Commonwealth," he said.
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Mr Appiah, who is originally from Ghana, said it wasn't the most important issue for him in this election, pointing out concerns about the health service - having worked in it - crime and the "crisis of homelessness".
The Tory group packs up at lunchtime to join other activists from Camden in Chipping Barnet in the afternoon, a common theme as Theresa Villiers defends her 353 majority and Labour fancy their chances of winning. Veteran campaigners from other parties point out that it's the lowest profile Conservative campaign in Hampstead and Kilburn for a generation, and they wouldn't be surprised if support in traditionally Tory areas such as Hampstead, Frognal is set to collapse.
Yards away the Lib Dems are in an upbeat mood. Mr "Stop Brexit", he with the loud hailer on every TV broadcast from parliament in the last two years, Steve Bray, has turned up to back Mr Sanders.
They seem to be making ground and leaflets are flooding into letterboxes from Lib Dem activist and pollster Mike Smithson, neighbouring candidate Luciana Berger and party leader Jo Swinson, among others.
Campaigner Mike Poulard said some traditional Labour voters are being put off by the scale of the party's spending promises, a situation on which his party hopes to capitalise.
"People know how to manage their finances. They know these plans don't make sense. They want to vote for a sensible candidate like Matt with good policies."
On a unseasonably mild December afternoon, the Ham&High joined Mr Sanders during a campaign session across the borough border in Brent. Campaigners gathered at the house of activists Virginia Bonham Carter and Charles Brand, perched on the edge of Queen's Park, and headed out into nearby streets.
At an election which the electorate has, at times, seemed to resent - it seems electioneering is alive and well near Salusbury Road. A handful of houses in each road either have Labour or Lib Dem stakeboards and posters up. One activist is hard at work putting another stake board up in Kingswood Avenue as canvassers hit the pavement.
"It's my favourite bit about elections, speaking to people face-to-face," says Mr Sanders. His energy seems to have kept up throughout the six weeks, and an activist tells me his door knocking sessions are fuelled by cheese straws from Gail's Bakery.
The aim of the afternoon is to try to speak to voters they haven't managed to contact so far, to try to find out whether they are backing his party. In an area that last elected Lib Dem candidates to the council in 2010, voters seem to be responding to the party's message.
As Christmas songs waft through the air from a Christmas fair at Salusbury Primary School, a couple of voters seem to waver between the Green Party and Mr Sanders over concerns about climate change, but on the doorstep at least, the candidate manages to win them around.
Others face a dilemma about whether to continue to back the Conservative Party or switch their vote to the Lib Dems, with an "anyone but [Jeremy] Corbyn" feeling present. After their conversation, it wouldn't be a surprise if they too backed the candidate stood in front of them on Saturday.
Mr Sanders reveals that the Labour leadership has been an asset to the Lib Dem campaign, and said voters have moved on from the coalition years.
He said: "It's one of the biggest boosts to our campaign, even voters here. They know that every vote is an endorsement for Mr Corbyn and his policies.
"Doing this a few years ago, people didn't want to listen. People are now really happy to do so. We've got a clear position on Brexit. We are all creatures of habit. The European elections were a way to get people to vote Lib Dem again, and we can absolutely win this seat if they do so again."
The Labour Party were also out and about on Saturday, with the usual army of activists meeting in West End Lane that morning before dispersing to knock doors. Cllr Richard Olszewski was on the street stall, and said the party's position has improved since the vote was called, despite initial concerns about how the party's position on Brexit would go down.
Ms Siddiq was engaging in pre-arranged visits with voters and groups so this newspaper was unable to join her on the campaign trail this weekend.
During a previous visit to the Chalcots Estate, the vote in the traditionally Labour-backing area seemed to be holding up. Ever comfortable in front of a crowd, she came to life selling the party's policies on education and Brexit on the doorstep.
As the campaign starts to draw to a close, and local parties will be shoring up their vote, the question will be how much of the Liberal Democrat vote has recovered since the low-points of 2015 and 2017, and whether it'll be enough to run the Labour MP close. Based on Saturday afternoon, the question doesn't seem to be whether they will finish second, but rather how far off Tulip Siddiq they will be.