Matt Sanders: ‘I’m proud of what I did in the coalition goverment’
Former councillor takes on Labour MP Tulip Siddiq
19 September, 2019 — By Richard Osley in Bournemouth
Matt Sanders has been selected to stand against Tulip Siddiq
SIR Nick Clegg’s former special adviser will take on Labour MP Tulip Siddiq at the next general election, insisting that voters in Hampstead and Kilburn were no longer hung up on the party’s government pact with the Tories.
Speaking to the New Journal at the conference hotel in Bournemouth, Matt Sanders said: “Yes, people are going to talk about the coalition – my opponents are going to do that – but when you speak to people on the doorstep, it’s a bit like standing on the decks of the Titanic and having a chat about the cold snap last winter.”
During his time as a councillor in Camden, Mr Sanders was part of the largest group at the Town Hall with the Liberal Democrats leading a local power-sharing partnership with the Conservatives. But soon after they brokered a national coalition with David Cameron, the party was decimated at council elections, and reduced at one stage to just a single seat.
A recent revival in fortunes, including topping the polls across Camden at May’s European elections, has been credited to an unequivocal Remain stance and a familiar “Bollocks to Brexit” slogan.
Mr Sanders said: “’Obviously the coalition made mistakes but I’m proud of some of the things I did in the coalition – if you look at the things I was responsible for, it’s things like the pupil premium or a billion pounds on free school meals for all infants. Those are good, social democratic investment policies.”
Mr Sanders in 2007: congratulated by former mayor Jill Fraser after a council by-election win in Haverstock ward
He said his role put him in direct conflict with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s chief confidant Dominic Cummings, who he shared an office with when they were both special advisers on education policy. “I was going in every day and fighting Dominic Cummings’ agenda and standing against him,” he said.
Ms Siddiq saw her majority expand to more than 15,000 at the 2017 general election as Lib Dems attempts to outmanoeuvre her on Brexit failed to ignite.
Around three quarters of voters in Camden who took part in 2016 European referendum had wanted to stay in the union, and Ms Siddiq was praised by Remain campaigners for breaking the Labour whip to vote against the triggering of Article 50 at the outset – the mechanism which kickstarted negotiations over a Brexit deal.
“The Labour MP has tried to do the right thing but I think the problem is Labour’s remainers have failed to make their party a remain party,” said Mr Sanders, who won an internal selection contest earlier this month. “As a Liberal Democrat MP, I’m not going to have to choose between my conscience, my constituents and my party on Brexit in a way that our Labour MP has had to.” He conceded that he had to try and keep voters who “lent” the party support in the European elections.
The guessing game over when the country will be asked to go back to the polls is ongoing and with Mr Johnson insisting Britain will leave the EU on Halloween – “do or die” – the election could come after Brexit in some form has been implemented.
This has left the question for the Lib Dems over how they will fight a campaign with a “stop Brexit” message if the UK has already left.
“No one knows when the election is going to come but it’s obviously right that the dynamic of the election is going to be totally different, depending on when it’s fought. But I think something bigger is happening in British politics, so remainers as a tribe of people, which I am one, think, see the world in a similar way,” he said.
“It’s not actually just about your Brexit vote, it’s about whether you are an open, outward-looking tolerant person. Whether you are a citizen of the world. And most people in Hampstead and Kilburn would see themselves in that way.”
Former council candidate Matthew Kirk has been selected to stand in Holborn and St Pancras.