Monday afternoon at Ciao Ciao on Kilburn High Road, and the staff are enjoying some quiet time between lunch and dinner. Sitting across the table from me is Ed Fordham, a regular here, and looking quite at home, sitting back, relaxed and enjoying the occasional sip of his cappuccino. Ed is the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate in the new Hampstead and Kilburn constituency, and he certainly looks the part: cheery-faced, smartly suited, and with his oft ringing but, for politeness’ sake, ne’er answered blackberry sitting beside his coffee on the table. Likes: diversity. Dislikes: Tories.
He stood for election unsuccessfully in 2005, but now, only a few months away from the next general election, and with the constituency boundaries having been redrawn in the Lib Dems’ favour, Ed is quietly confident about his chances: “I’ve been involved with the Lib Dems for nearly 20 years, and we’ve never run a campaign on this scale, that wasn’t a by-election. For the first time in a century here in Hampstead and Kilburn, the Lib Dems are at risk of winning.”
There are, however, two large obstacles in his way. The first is current Labour MP for Hampstead & Highgate, Glenda Jackson, who has been MP here since 1992. Ed is conscious of not making this a personality-based election campaign, as Jackson is a household name and two-time Oscar winning actress. However, she is also the least active MP representing a London constituency. Ed, on the other hand, hopes to be an active voice for the community.
“I hand sign about five thousand letters a week, and when people pop up on Facebook or Twitter, I reply.” Keeping the conversation between himself and his potential constituents open is crucial to the future success of his campaign. Former US governor of Vermont, Howard Dean, compared Fordham’s use of social networking sites, and his understanding of the importance of grass roots politics, to one Barack Obama. I think that’s about as far as the comparison could go, but Ed was understandably flattered nonetheless.
The second obstacle is the campaign of Tory candidate Chris Philp. According to projections by Rallings & Thrasher, the Lib Dems would only need 474 votes to defeat the Labour party in Hampstead & Kilburn. The conservatives are way down in third, some five thousand votes behind. However, the Tories are using figures from the Ken vs Boris mayoral elections, an entirely different contest, which put them ahead of Labour and Lib Dems both. Ed sees this as a final role of the dice for the Tories: ”There is a level of panic in the Tory campaign the likes of which I’ve never seen before. I think they’re pushing their luck and they’re panicking, using figures which favour them.”
Ed reckons that the Lib Dems’ strong presence on local councils along with Sarah Teather having consolidated her 2003 by-election victory in Brent East sends a message to voters, “I’m going to point out that there’s a pretty high chance that if they vote Lib Dem, they’ll get a Lib Dem MP.”
And what if they do? There’s a great deal of speculation at the moment on what would happen in the event of a hung Parliament. On his hopes for his party at the coming election, with a wry smile, Ed acknowledges, “the only answer I’m probably supposed to give is a Lib Dem majority. But if no party has a majority, then there will be intensive negotiations based, I hope, on policy, as in Scotland, where the Lib Dems hammered out an agreement with the Scottish Labour Party.”
But on a personal level, he makes it quite clear where he stands: “ABC – anyone but Conservatives.” When discussing the Conservatives, Ed’s usually unwavering smile fades, “I suppose that’s the driving force in getting me started in the first place. I saw what they did to my own community and my own family when I was growing up, which I haven’t really forgiven them for…”
The Lib Dems are currently seeking legal advice on one particular element of the Tory campaign, namely claims made by Chris Philp’s newsletter that the Lib Dems supported the closure of the Royal Free Hospital’s stroke unit. Onto his second cappuccino, and Ed Fordham is now visibly annoyed. “I completely take issue with the cheeky sodding Tories saying we supported the closure of the stroke unit. The stroke unit was never under threat of closure.” In a decision supported by clinicians and medical staff, a new acute stroke unit will be opening at UCLH instead of the Royal Free, but no changes are being made to the existing stroke unit in the Hampstead hospital. Ed feels strongly about this, “so when the Tories say ‘save the stroke unit’ – there’s nothing to save. I think [Philp] is being a disingenuous, lying, cheating toad – he’s just trying a cheap trick.”
And what if he should defeat the Oscar winner and the toad? After a moment’s thought he answered, “if I win, I’ll want to walk down Kilburn High Road saying thank you to everyone, and go to my favourite Indian restaurant for a meal with my mates. If I lose, I’ll want to hide. I’ll grow a beard and go work on a farm in India.”
So, all you floating voters, come election day, if nothing else, consider whether you want Ed to support a local business by dining in Kilburn, or add to his carbon footprint by flying to India to sample the real thing…