Profile: How Tulip Siddiq did it again
Written off at the start, Labour MP brings out her ruthless streak in six-week street fight
09 June, 2017 — By Richard Osley
Tulip Siddiq with her mother Sheikh Rehana at the general election count in Somers Town
SHE had two speeches prepared.
One was the celebratory toast which she delivered in the early hours of this morning, having expanded her grip on Hampstead and Kilburn. But having been told so many times that she was at risk of being one of the Labour victims of Theresa May’s snap election, Tulip Siddiq had naturally considered what she would say if she had been unseated, just two years into her life at the House of Commons.
The polls had apparently shown a yawning gap between the Conservatives and Labour nationally – why else would the Prime Minister take the nation to the ballot box again? The bookmakers had started Ms Siddiq as a 5-1 shot, a huge price for a contest effectively squeezed into a two-horse race. Even last week the Evening Standard reported that the “numbers stack up” for a Conservative gain after visiting the constituency.
Apparently, if she had lost she would have gone down with a defiant speech about where Brexit would lead the country and the cynicism around the calling of the election in the first place. We will never know the full content of a speech now consigned to the dustbin. The New Journal has reported from day one that, for all the talk of the Tories finally ending their wait for an MP in Hampstead and Kilburn, Ms Siddiq had shown her ruthless streak before and was capable of assembling a stubborn campaign unit.
Her closest aides are understood to have told her the cold truth when the election was called – that the figures were not adding up favourably – but then they resolved to organise a fightback, harnessing the energy which had propelled her to parliament in the first place. The myth about Ms Siddiq is that she is a lightweight politician because she makes self-deferential jokes about her height, or is often ready with one-line, radio-friendly zingers, and has yet to turn up on the TV bear-pits of Question Time or a one-to-one with Andrew Neil. She is actually a street fighter, perhaps the antithesis of her opponent this time around.
Her challenger, Claire-Louise Leyland, gives long, considered replies to policy that are more tailored to longer discussion. This style is often seen as a virtue, rather than a fault, but in the bloody world of adversarial politics spun across an election reduced to a six-week grid, Ms Siddiq is a bulldog in disguise.
During her rise through Camden’s politics, one of her strongest skills has been to pull support from the different wings of the Labour Party, even at times when it has been fractured. Even those who haven’t always seen eye to eye with her on the way up, have marvelled at her ability to get people to coalesce the Labour cause in Hampstead and Kilburn.
With Labour seemingly divided in the past two years, at parliament at least, she was slow to criticise Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership when others were diving in. But when internal critics of Corbyn raised his name on the doorstep this year, she could also point to her rebellions against HS2 and, crucially, Brexit. Her vote against Article 50 – a move against the Labour whip – may be the moment she saved herself.
Gina Miller, the businesswoman who had taken the government to court over the way it had handled Article 50, pledged support through her new campaign group Best For Britain, while other pro-EU groups committed help too. Ms Leyland was left insisting Theresa May would lead the UK through Brexit negotiations but large numbers in Camden, where around 75 per cent voted against the divorce from the EU, seemed to prefer Ms Siddiq’s pledge to try and put the brakes on the process, regardless of what the party was saying nationally.
It is a bittersweet irony for Ms Leyland that she too had campaigned for a Remain verdict last year.
Ms Siddiq has been described as a “friend to all”, but within the party people are wary of not being friends with her. They feel a sting if, come election time, they are not pounding the street in her marginal territory. She was permitted to throw some criticism at Camden Council during the campaign. Council leader Georgia Gould smiled and offered more help on the doorstep while Ms Siddiq was telling her the Town Hall had got it wrong on bin collections and closing a dementia care centre.
After some of her confidants briefed that local members should spend less time in safe Holborn and St Pancras and head north to help save Hampstead and Kilburn, the troops duly came. Some had tortured smiles, but they came. By polling day yesterday, more than 1,000 were on the streets working to save her place in the Commons. Packs of eight were streaming through key areas such as West Hampstead and Fortune Green. In reply, the Tories had around 100 on the ground. The Conservatives’ chance was slipping away. Not since 1992 have they held a seat in the area.
The victory here is part of a national trend, of course, a Labour rearguard that kicked into action behind Jeremy Corbyn. The young came out to vote in Hampstead and Kilburn as they did elsewhere in the country, many of them actually pounding the streets here in support of the Labour manifesto. Ms Siddiq had started the campaign running a personal campaign but by the end of it Mr Corbyn was no longer being seen as a liability by those plotting her campaign.
Instead, Mrs May, to whom the local Conservative campaign had handcuffed itself, had her own struggles, some of which have been seen as unenforced. She refused to join television debates and stuck narrowly to her “strong and stable” slogan. The polls closed after her plan to charge a dementia tax on homes, after death, to pay for care for those suffering from degenerative diseases was announced. Ms Siddiq immediately attacked the policy.
Ms May never reached the campaign frontline here. Instead Justine Greening, the education secretary, arrived in the middle of a campaign against school cuts. Another open goal for Ms Siddiq.
So what’s next? Local Conservatives have a couple of reasons to feel cheerful once the pain of shipping more votes to Labour has dulled. The demographics of London continue to change and with it they hope the constituency will drift in their favour. More pertinently, boundary changes always hang in the background. The irony of this poll is that if there had not been a snap election, the alterations would have been introduced, exposing Ms Siddiq to a new constituency involving Tory wards in Barnet. She was heading for defeat.
Playing the election on the same pitch means she has potentially extended her time as MP by five years. Once again she has landed on her feet.