“A lot of people assume Labour and Conservative activists actively dislike each other, but however much you get into arguments on Twitter, that’s not really true,” says Daniel Paterson, the campaigner manager for Simon Marcus, who is standing as the Conservative candidate in Hampstead and Kilburn. “You’re doing the same job fundamentally, so you do end up quite friendly.”
“It’s more mutual respect,” suggests another activist.
It is not hard to see why. On behalf of their candidate, Simon Marcus, Paterson and a group of other Conservative activists have been trudging round a rather beautiful part of Hampstead and Kilburn, in north London, knocking on warm and cosy-looking houses, while the rain drizzles, then pours, then drizzles some more – aided and abetted by a rather sharp wind.
A tricky task anywhere, canvassing in this constituency is made more difficult by the large number of apartments and gated communities: the problem affects activists when faced with mansion flats worth millions as much as council-built social housing. In the case of flats, activists are frequently limited to conversations over intercoms, without any face-to-face interaction – which can hardly be an effective way of changing anyone’s point of view. In the case of gated communities, most porters will turf campaigners out as soon as they are identified as non-residents – which is, again, perhaps something of a hindrance to the democratic process.
On top of this, another challenge is that Londoners spend so little time at home. Will Blair, the Conservative candidate for neighbouring Holborn and St Pancras, a constituency so left-wing that the Green Party leader, Natalie Bennet, is standing there, explains: “I’m from Dorset, and there on a weekday evening 90% of people are in. But Londoners are so busy it’s almost impossible to catch people.”
Blair and his team spend a lot of time campaigning in Hampstead and Kilburn – on the day Adam and I were there, Blair, his campaign organiser, and his deputy head of membership had all come along. “All PPCs not in 40:40s are expected to support their neighbouring marginal,” he explains, referring to the Conservatives plan to retain 40 marginal constituencies and win 40 more.
Blair tells me about another key difference between canvassing in London and other parts of the country: “people rarely talk about immigration: you’re in central London, people just accept it as part of life. You had Irish immigrants in the nineteenth century to build the railways, Bangladeshis in the fifties, and there’s a large Greek population, too.”
About half-way through this very damp door-knocking session, it was pointed out that, however much these buildings look like houses, they are in fact mansions – at least according to the proposed ‘mansion tax’ on properties worth over £2m. Actual mansions (in Scotland) that will escape the ‘mansion tax’ include Lickleyhead Castle, the baronial mansion Orchardton Hall, and Ethie Castle, according to an Evening Standard report.
“Hampstead and Kilburn has more properties that will be affected by the mansion tax than all the Midlands, the North, Wales, and Scotland combined,” fumes one activist. “In fact, Hampstead and Kilburn has more flats that will be affected by the mansion tax than all properties that will be affected in the Midlands and the North.
“It’s not a tax on mansions… The Lib Dems, to their credit, have started calling it a high-value property levy.”
Given that of the three parties that put in strong performances in Hampstead and Kilburn in 2010, only the Conservatives are currently opposing the mansion tax, you might have thought the Conservatives would be well ahead in the polls.
However, Lord Ashcroft’s polling for Hampstead and Kilburn shows that Labour are significantly outperforming their Conservative – as well as their Lib Dem – rivals. In fact, support for the Conservatives has slightly decreased from 33% in 2010 to 30% in April of last year. Another factor that perhaps should, but seems not to have dinted Labour’s success in the seat, is that Glenda Jackson, the current MP, is not seeking re-election, so her replacement, Tulip Siddiq, does not benefit from the valuable ‘incumbency effect.’
In any case, for the Conservatives to win here, they’ll be doing plenty more door-knocking, come rain, and more rain…