Hampstead and Kilburn: Gina Miller teams up with Tulip Siddiq as election race gets tactical
Conservative candidate says sticking to referendum result is mark of healthy democracy
18 May, 2017 — By Richard Osley
Gina Miller with Tulip Siddiq in Queen’s Park
GINA Miller, the businesswoman who took the government to court over Brexit, joined the Labour campaign in Hampstead and Kilburn on Tuesday evening as part of a tactical voting drive to support candidates she says are best placed to challenge Theresa May’s handling of Britain’s divorce from the European Union.
She was canvassing with teams working for Tulip Siddiq, who as an MP voted against triggering Article 50, the mechanism for leaving the European Union. The endorsement came after Ms Miller set up a new group, Best for Britain, which has selected 16 candidates who will be given campaign help ahead of next month’s general election.
It is a potentially awkward development for the local Liberal Democrat campaign. Ms Miller is backing their party’s candidates in other areas but not here, where they finished more than 20,000 votes behind Ms Siddiq in 2015. Ms Miller told the New Journal: “I disagree with the idea that you just back Lib Dems because it’s anti-Brexit. We are backing some Lib Dems but again it’s individuals who have got that track record of voting on their principles and that is what Tulip has done.”
Her intervention came with Ms Siddiq vulnerable to losing her seat to the Tories at the June 8 poll and amid warnings that this prospect has been made more likely by Ukip not fielding a candidate in the constituency. Her majority is one of the smallest in the country at 1,138.
Tulip Siddiq and Gina Miller pursued by a cameraman
While they have never threatened to win a council seat in Camden let alone challenge in parliamentary elections, some Ukip members have seen themselves as kingmakers in Hampstead and Kilburn after winning more votes than the final margin of victory at the last two polling days. Ukip has withdrawn from more than 200 constituencies across the country where it fears its presence on the ballot paper could water down opposition to candidates who could put the brakes on Brexit.
Here, the assumption is their supporters will now side with Tory candidate Claire-Louise Leyland. Although she supported Remain in last year’s referendum, she is now backing Mrs May to negotiate Britain out of Europe in the crunch talks that lie ahead.
In a constituency where the difference between winning and losing has in the past been fewer than 50 votes, even the movements of the fifth-place party could be relevant. Asked what voters should do who admired Ms Siddiq’s stance on Article 50 and Brexit but found it hard to support Labour as a party or Jeremy Corbyn’s quest to reach Downing Street, Ms Miller said: “On this one occasion, please try and put your tribalism aside, because Brexit is going to blight everything, the economy, everything you can think of will be blighted by Brexit. “This is a very unusual volatile electoral situation we are in. Because of that, just for this one time, go with your local candidate and not the central politics.”
Ms Siddiq has also won an endorsement from Camden for Europe group and Open Britain, due to her decision to rebel against her own party and vote against Article 50. Best for Britain is the highest-profile backer yet, however, having raised £400,000 to support its candidates, who include Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas, trying to hold Brighton Pavilion, and several Liberal Democrats, including former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg.
Ms Miller, who has been cast as both a heroine by Remain supporters and the “wrexiteer” by unimpressed, Leave-supporting newspapers, said her group was not about being anti-Brexit but ensuring that there would be a “meaningful vote” once the country knew what the terms of Britain’s departure would be.
“If you believe in democracy, you can’t try and undo the vote. You’ve got to say this is the reality of where we are now. What we can do is make sure the process going forward is one that is scrutinised. It’s not this inflexible May’s way or no way,” said Ms Miller, who was helping to knock on doors in Queen’s Park, seen as a key battleground within the Hampstead and Kilburn contest. “It’s on a knife edge here and every vote will count.”
More than 75 per cent of residents in Camden who took part in the in-or-out referendum last June wanted to remain in the union. One of the great unknowns, however, is how many voters in the constituency are so-called “re-leavers”, people who wanted the United Kingdom to stay in the EU but now want Brexit to be finally resolved with a smooth departure and a fair settlement. This has led to warnings that simply trying to transpose the local referendum result percentages into a general election contest will not make predicting the end result any easier.
Kirsty Allan, who is standing for the Lib Dems on an anti-Brexit ticket, said: “People will make up their own minds in the privacy of the voting booth. But when I’m out on the doorstep or at street stalls I hear from Labour voters that, while they respect Tulip’s position on Brexit, she is standing as a representative of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, and they are really struggling to vote for a party that backed the Tories on Brexit and has committed to ending freedom of movement and leaving the single market.”
She added: “I am also struck by the number of Conservative voters, particularly those who voted to remain in the EU, who are telling me that they feel their party has lurched to the right and no longer represents their views. The decision of Ukip to stand down in this constituency to help Tories makes the point very clearly. I think that many Conservative voters who voted Remain will be lending the Liberal Democrats their vote this time.”
Asked about what she thought of Ms Miller’s intervention, Ms Leyland “There are people for whom the decision is hard to sit with but it was a democratically made decision and I think we have to respect that. If one doesn’t like the result that makes it harder for people to accept the change that’s coming. But in a society like ours, what keeps us together is having clear structures that govern our lives – and one of those is the democratic process. I voted for Remain and I was disappointed, but you can’t pick and choose the bits of democracy that you want. If you start to unravel the edges of our society, it’s very troubling.”
She added: “We had our chance to vote. Voting again and again would bring a lot of uncertainty. We all know Theresa voted Remain, so this was not the path that she chose, but she’s working very hard to make the best of it for all of us. She is the most qualified to lead our country and I do think she can get us the best deal.”
Claire-Louise Leyland campaigning in West Hampstead with Justice Secretary Liz Truss
She questioned whether Ukip had the manpower to field a candidate in Hampstead and Kilburn, and that claims of electoral tactics could be masking that. She added: “Ukip’s party structures are falling apart. They don’t have the activists to put up in some places. It’s not like the Greens where they had candidates and decided not to run them in some places.”
On Friday, Ms Siddiq, who resigned from her frontbench post when she disobeyed the party whip to vote against Article 50, held a surgery at Swiss Cottage Library for EU citizens living in the constituency who are worried what Brexit will spell for them – providing free legal advice through two volunteer lawyers. There are around 17,000 people in the constituency with this status.
“The turnout was massive because people are worried because Theresa May hasn’t made it clear. And telling them ‘I don’t know what may happen’ is just going to increase their uncertainty,” she said.