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Tight constituency holds the key

Published 16/04/2015

Hampstead's cobbled streets are a byword for the liberal intelligentsia, with their multimillion pound townhouses, private schools, and independent coffee shops
Hampstead's cobbled streets are a byword for the liberal intelligentsia, with their multimillion pound townhouses, private schools, and independent coffee shops

This General Election is expected to be the tightest ever and pollsters say it will be won or lost at the margins - and no seat is more marginal than Hampstead and Kilburn.

The constituency in North West London was the closest-run contest at the last election, with Oscar-winning actress turned Labour MP Glenda Jackson claiming a wafer-thin majority of just 42 votes.

But the 78-year-old is stepping down and with just 841 votes separating the main three parties, activists have been working these streets for some time hoping to claim her crown.

Labour candidate Tulip Siddiq's HQ in Kilburn High Road is busy with volunteers working amid piles of leaflets, while Conservative candidate Simon Marcus says his army of volunteers has spent the past two years getting thousands of pledges from locals to vote Tory.

Hampstead and Kilburn have only recently been stuck together in the same constituency, and it would be tough to find two more unlikely bedfellows.

Hampstead's cobbled streets are a byword for the liberal intelligentsia, with their multimillion pound townhouses, private schools, and independent coffee shops.

Given the area's sky-high property prices, Conservatives believe Labour's plans for a mansion tax on homes worth more than £2 million could help turn Hampstead blue at the next election.

Mr Marcus said: "When Labour announced the mansion tax as one of their flagship policies it really became a huge issue because people realised there was a huge risk they would lose their homes.

"In terms of swing voters, yes, when people are going to lose out in their pockets, they are going to put their cross in the other box on the ballot paper."

Ann Broto, 74, a grandmother-of-three who lives in Hampstead, agreed.

She is one of the constituency's much-sought-after swing voters. Traditionally Labour, she switched to the Conservatives after Tony Blair and is unsure who she will vote for this time round.

Taking a break from walking her bichon frise dog on Hampstead Heath, she said: "I really don't agree with the mansion tax. Just because somebody has a property worth one or two million, it does not mean they are rolling in money."

The pensioner said she plans to sell her two-bed Hampstead flat to pay for her retirement.

"My flat is worth around £1 million but that doesn't mean I'm cash rich - on the contrary," she said.

But head down the road from Hampstead to Kilburn and the bustling boutiques give way to betting shops and pawnbrokers.

South Kilburn is ranked among the most deprived areas in the country, its towering housing blocks a looming reminder of the poverty that afflicts parts of this constituency.

You would be hard-pressed to find anyone concerned with the mansion tax here. Instead people are worried about having a job and somewhere to live.

Susanna O'Sullivan, 52, is standing on the busy Kilburn High Road with a group of friends who all proudly declare themselves lifelong Labour voters.

She scoffs at David Cameron's claims the Conservatives are "the party of working people". She said: "I'm voting Labour, definitely. I think they do the best for working class people."

The mum-of-five lives in a housing association flat in Kilburn, and could buy her home at a 35% discount under Tory plans to extend Right to Buy.

But she shrugs off the policy as "token". She said: "If you are a working couple on a low wage, you are not going to be able to afford it.

"These buildings are £500,000, even if you have 35% off it, you are still short. It is not for working class people, it's for people better off."

Pensioner Anne-Marie Morso agreed. She said: "I don't think the Conservatives will get votes around here, it's a poor people's area and we all vote Labour."

Voters are divided in Hampstead and Kilburn as they are nationally, and the Liberal Democrat candidate Maajid Nawaz says tight election races and coalition governments are here to stay.

Mr Nawaz is a former member of the extremist Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir who renounced his radical views and founded the anti-extremism think tank the Quilliam Foundation.

He said coalition governments put a stop to this "pendulum swing" between left and right.

He added: "That's why I think coalitions are a good thing, and actually they are here to stay. There will be another coalition whether we like it or not."

In an unusual twist, it could be a late singer who clinches victory in Hampstead and Kilburn.

Ronnie Carroll, who twice represented Britain at Eurovision, died just days after getting his name listed as a candidate in the constituency, and his name will still be on the ballot paper on polling day.

Listed as "The Eurovisionary Carroll", the singer had contested elections before, winning 29 votes in the Haltemprice and Howden by-election - despite campaigning for a record score of 0.

Right or left, one thing this election promises is a healthy dose of the maverick.

:: The other candidates are Rebecca Johnson for the Green Party, Magnus Nielsen for Ukip and Robin Charles Ellison for the U-Party.

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