UK election: Can Tories take remainer land?
In the first part of his UK election road trip, FT political leader writer Sebastian Payne travels in an old Morris Minor to Hampstead and Kilburn - a key marginal target seat for Conservatives, who just missed winning it at the last two elections.
Filmed by Petros Gioumpasis. Graphics by Russell Birkett. Produced by Daniel Garrahan
Britain is heading to the polls once again. There's a general election approaching. So I'm getting out of the office and on the road to find out what's happening at this volatile political time. Over the next few weeks, I'll be travelling across the UK in this trusty old Morris Minor for the FT's 2017 election road trip.
Our first stop is Hampstead and Kilburn, which is a key marginal seat in North London. This is one that conservatives almost took at the last two general elections. And given their 20 point lead in the opinion polls, they're pretty hopeful of taking it this time.
It's currently held by Labour's Tulip Siddiq who won it by just over 1,100 votes two years ago. Given her party's current poor rankings in the opinion polls, it's going to be a struggle for her to hold on. Our chat was interrupted by a violent hail storm, a reminder of Labour's gloomy position.
I guess people have to vote based on my record. I've always put the constituency first, ahead of the party.
So your basic strategy is to ignore Jeremy Corbyn and pretend he doesn't exist?
No, you can't ignore Jeremy Corbyn. He is the leader of the Labour Party. But at the end of the day--
But you're not mentioning him on the doorstep.
Well, at the end of the day, if people want to talk about Jeremy, I'll bring it up. But if you go around canvassing all morning, like I have done, what people bring up, actually, is the cuts to the local schools. They bring up the cuts to national health service. They bring up the fact that they are worried about high speed rail too. They're worried about Brexit Britain. That's what people are bringing up on the doorstep. And that's what I'll be fighting this election on.
But, I think this is an area where Brexit will come into play. Three quarters of Hampstead and Kilburn voted to remain in the EU. And the conservative's pitch is well, pretty Brexit-y. It's also somewhere where David Cameron was far more attuned to than Theresa May. Convincing voters to believe in that Brexit pitch is the challenge for the Tories.
I'm a natural labour voter. But they're so ineffectual at the moment, I am leaning towards the Lib Dems.
Did you vote remain in the EU referendum?
I'll be voting labour. But for my local MP, and understanding that regrettably, it endorses Jeremy Corbyn.
Tell me how you're planning to vote in this general election?
Because I couldn't possibly vote for Jeremy. I couldn't vote for him.
And how did you vote in the EU referendum?
I have voted Labour in the past.
Yes? How'd you vote in the EU referendum?
I ended up voting, at one stage, leave. Remain. Remain.
Claire Louise Leyland, a local counsellor, is the conservative challenger. She supported remain in last year's EU referendum, and wants to fight this seat on leadership and local issues. Theresa versus Jeremy, not remain versus leave, which she thinks is already settled.
In 2010, this was a three way marginal, with about 800 votes between the three parties. So any one of them could come along, pull away some of your remain votes, and you might not make it.
But in 2015, we fought Labour head on--
And you didn't win.
But the Lib Dems didn't make any ground then. And right now, we have what it takes to take on Labour.
The Liberal Democrats are also hopeful to make gains in Hampstead and Kilburn. Like many seats across the UK, their strategy is to seize on the anxiety over Brexit.
A lot of people went into the vote last year believing that we were going to remain in the single market. It was in the conservative manifesto. And I think they deserve an opportunity to make a decision about what they want based on the facts rather than what they were told during the course of the election last year.
So your band says Liberal Democrats here. What you're really saying is, you don't respect the will of the referendum. So you're not really a Democrat.
I think that's entirely not what I'm saying, actually. I think I'm saying that we're so Democratic that we want to take this back to the country.
Hampstead and Kilburn, in a way, symbolises the Conservative Party struggle in this election campaign. It's a metropolitan liberal seat. It's always been just outside of its grasps. If they win it this time, it shows they really can win all across the country. But if the remain vote rises up, and something unexpected happens, then it shows the country really is still divided by Brexit.
So that's one seat down. Join us again for the next instalment of my election road trip.