Tories face rush to choose candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn election battle
Conservatives look to central office for guidance on how to pick challenger to Labour MP Tulip Siddiq
20 April, 2017 — By Richard Osley
Theresa May with Siobhan Baillie and Claire-Louise Leyland last year
THE Tories are facing a dash to choose their candidate to take on Labour MP Tulip Siddiq after being caught as much by surprise as everyone else when Theresa May called a snap general election on Tuesday.
Insiders have tipped local group leader Claire-Louise Leyland and Siobhan Baillie, two serving councillors, as early favourites for the task, but party organisers were last night (Wednesday) still waiting for full guidance from central office over how the final choice would be made.
Both already feature on a pre-approved list of potential parliamentary candidates held by the party centrally having been interviewed and tested on an away weekend. Several other local figures in the party are not in this pool of cleared candidates and were this week ruling themselves out of trying to find a fast-track way of qualifying. Oliver Cooper, often talked about as a rising influence in the council group, said he was happy working as a councillor.
Cllr Leyland and Cllr Baillie, meanwhile, were this week both diplomatic in their answers when asked about their intentions ahead of the June 8 election, insisting that they could not comment on the internal process. Cllr Leyland stood in a no-hope seat in Northern Ireland in 2015, but her endeavours there were seen as a commitment to the cause. Cllr Baillie is feared by Labour councillors who have watched her gain in confidence during three years as a councillor at the Town Hall and see her as a “soft Tory” and disarming.
Both were pro-Europe at last year’s referendum, a key point among many sources inside the group, locally, who are questioning whether a hardline Brexiteer could realistically expect to win in a constituency which voted heavily to stay in the union. The pair, however, are not likely to be the only party members interested in the role, which has been a Tory target seat at the last two general elections.
The party has made no secret of its ambition to win in Hampstead again for the first time since Glenda Jackson’s first win for Labour in 1992, coming within just 42 votes in 2010 with the then candidate Chris Philp. There are mixed feelings within the party about its performance here two years ago, and insiders have talked about learning from their mistakes after watching Ms Siddiq extend Labour’s lead. Cllr Leyland said members were waiting to see how the process would work, while Cllr Baillie added: “Whoever is chosen as the candidate, it will be a privilege to stand for election in such an amazing constituency.”
The Greens are also yet to choose a candidate and supporters may have to wait another two weeks until they know who will be on the ballot paper. While the Liberal Democrats will not have a candidate commanding the same profile as Maajid Nawaz, the LBC broadcaster who stood for the party in Hampstead and Kilburn last time, nationally they have had candidates in place since September after the party forecast an early election. And as the New Journal reported last year, Kirsty Allan will stand in Hampstead and Kilburn.
“This election is a huge opportunity for voters in Camden to change the direction of our country and prevent a disastrous hard Brexit. Sufficient votes for the Lib Dems nationally could even halt the process entirely,” she said. “People in Camden voted decisively to remain in the EU, and certainly did not vote for the extreme form of Brexit that Theresa May has imposed on us, which is being remorselessly backed by Corbyn’s Labour.”