Social networking sites are strange and wonderful things. But whereas for you and I they’re a way of keeping in touch with friends, or promoting our truly excellent blogs, for the modern politician, they’re a key campaign feature. They provide a quick and easy way to engage with (potential) constituents, addressing their concerns in an instant, and allow the dissemination of campaign messages around the clock. Facebook it was that helped me set up an interview with Ed Fordham. Then Twitter, somewhat unexpectedly, brought me tidings from one Chris Philp, Conservative PPC for Hampstead & Kilburn. Chris had read the interview with his Lib Dem rival and felt a little aggrieved by some of Ed’s comments. For balance, he asked, would I like to interview him? For balance, I agreed.
The Wet Fish Cafe on West End Lane played host to our meeting. Chris had called to warn that he would be late. He arrived before I did. Throughout the interview, he sat comfortably on the other side of our small table by the wall, legs crossed and top two buttons undone on his tie-less shirt. We drank tea.
Chris is a man prepared. All my questions, be they on policy, background, campaigning or anything else, were answered quickly, eloquently and with confidence. He has an impressive grip on facts and figures, which he can pull out to back up any of his points. I often felt, however, that he was drawing on a mental database of stock answers for anticipated questions. I don’t hold this against Chris – if you’re asked similar questions everyday, you’ll give similar answers – but it did give proceedings a more ostensibly on-the-record feel than I would have liked.
Still, Chris spoke openly about his motivations for entering the political sphere; a few years a go now, his father was taken to hospital, and whilst there contracted the MRSA ‘super-virus’. This was his first insight into what he saw as being the Labour government’s (flawed) centralised approach to running public services, and it led to his becoming involved in campaigning, eventually joining the Conservative party and being elected as a councillor for Camden. He was forthwith in revealing that he did not vote Conservative in 1997, as the previous Tory government had not properly funded public services. He now believes, however, that although these services are better funded than they once were, they are poorly run, and it will take a Conservative government to fix this.
Let’s not forget the reason for the interview: the accusations made against him during my prior interview with his election rival, Ed Fordham. Chris seemed genuinely shocked by Ed’s comments, saying, “I thought [his remarks] were just totally inaccurate, intemperate and uncalled for, and not the kind of thing you would expect from someone who is putting themselves forward for serious office.”
On the electoral figures used by the Lib Dems that put them 474 votes away from victory, Chris said, “the figures that [Ed Fordham] likes quoting are five years old, which he probably forgot to mention, and are based on a sort of theoretical projection. The figures that we look at are recent and are based on real votes. It annoys me, frankly, when the Lib Dems use these very old notional figures, because I don’t think it gives an accurate reflection of the mathematics of the seat.”
As for the accusation that the Tories campaigned to save a stroke unit at the Royal Free that was never actually under threat, Chris obviously disagrees. He tells me that the Royal Free was recognised as having one of the best emergency stroke units in the country, and that the ‘door-to-needle’ time at both the old facility in Hampstead and the new acute unit at UCLH is exactly the same, at 35 minutes, and thus for most people the journey time to the hospital will now be greater, but for no added benefit. He adds, “the Lib Dems were wrong to fail to support the Royal Free’s emergency stroke unit, and I think the reason that Ed used such intemperate and frankly immature language was he knows that he’s on the wrong side of the issue.”
The one thing that surprised me over the course of the interview was Chris’ assertion that the election in Hampstead & Kilburn would be a two horse race between the Tories and Labour, writing the Lib Dems off entirely - bearing in mind that the new mystery candidate had not yet put up posters in Hampstead. This is despite the Lib Dems being the bookies’ favourites, and despite the re-drawn constituency boundaries potentially favouring them. This is a key marginal seat, of great importance to all the major parties, hence the newsletters, billboards and flyering from all comers. But for Chris there is only one choice: “If you want to get rid of Gordon Brown, then voting Conservative is the only way to do that, both here and nationally.”
Chris insists that his campaign is not personal, but some of his comments show a clear understanding that this is a contest, and there’s no use in playing nice: “One thing that Ed probably didn’t find time to mention is that he’s targeting different communities with different messages.” Chris tells me that he is referring to the fact that Lib Dems in Kings Cross have sent out leaflets iterating Nick Clegg’s calls for the disarmament of Israel, a ‘rogue state’, whereas Ed Fordham has distributed leaflets in Hampstead, printed partially in Hebrew, saying that he’s a friend of Israel. Chris appears to challenge Ed, saying, “he hasn’t stood up and said Nick Clegg is wrong on the issue, which if he was serious is what he would do.”
Chris generally comes across as relaxed, but reticent. He doesn’t give as much away as I’d like him to. I’m not saying that (only) because I want more juicy blog-fuel, but because it’s refreshing to hear what someone really feels. Still, he seems to be smart, keen and competent. Also, he’ll be pleased to hear, he comes across as a nice guy. But this is a campaign that neither he nor Ed Fordham can afford to run on personality alone, with Glenda Jackson still in it for Labour, and a yet to be revealed mystery contender joining the race on February 25th.
One thing is certain: things are spicing up on the Hampstead & Kilburn election trail – stay tuned!