CONSERVATIVE CONFERENCE: - Sketch - Richard Osley on the 'guess who?' for Hampstead and Kilburn

Published: 06 October 2011
by RICHARD OSLEY in Manchester

THERE’S a bit of a game of Guess Who? going on in terms of who will emerge as the Conservative candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn at the next general election.

There’s a long way to go yet, but the proposed boundary changes have created a dilemma.

Why would Chris Philp, who worked the area so well in a near-miss against Glenda Jackson last year, want to try again in a constituency without Belsize and with a Labour stronghold like Kentish Town probably included?

He was hardly bounding down the steps to announce plans to stand again and possibly feels he deserves a safer bet next time around.

As much as he may like his local area, there are plenty of MPs who live in Hampstead but represent somewhere far bluer.

The group leader Andrew Mennear wasn’t up here in Manchester, so not shaking the right hands to get the task.

Andrew Marshall, a former group leader, expresses no appetite for the idea.

Yet another group leader, from a few years ago now, Pam Chesters walks past and insists: No way.

That’s a few flaps down on the Guess Who? board for starters.

It leaves questions like: Do they wear a hat? Do they have brown eyes? Do they have a beard?

To that last one the answer is a “yes”, “no” and “maybe”.

Gio Spinella, for example, had shaved off his trademark beard and ‘tache before heading up North – look at his bare cheeks in the main picture – leading to silly jokes about him preparing for an assault on Hampstead and Kilburn.

Remember those Labour spin doctors who told Frank Dobson he was more electable without his whiskers?

Banter aside, Hampstead remains an area that, if the Conservatives really want a thrashing majority at Parliament, they need to find a way to conquer for the first time since the 1980s.

And yet, from the feel of the conference this week, you could be forgiven for thinking that they were already in complete control.

There was little sense that they are a party sharing power.

While the Lib Dems had a nagging sense having to ask mum and dad before making announcements at their conference, the Tories were just laying down whatever they wanted.

They seemed oblivious to the whistles and foghorns from anti-Tory protests in the city centre, out of sight behind conference banners and security barriers.

Across the courtyard outside the Midland Hotel, the Tory stereotype bears itself out with a pride of suits marching from one meeting to the other.

That’s not to say women don’t attend, but they are not the loyal grey rinses that used to wave union flags in the good old days, when conference was on normal television to the disgust of children home from school.

The uniform these days is not cardigan and pearls, it is spiky heels and suit jackets.

They all spend less time tweeting.

More time being serious.

So much so that after the Camden group photoshoot on the steps of the conference centre was over, the group hurriedly dispersed in different directions.

A team made up of strangers in the night – they are still busy, busy, busy.

What could they all be up to?


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