Gloves are off in a royal rumble in Kensington – England’s most marginal seat

By Tom Holmes
December 6 2019, 22.15

It’s England’s most marginal seat and the battle for Kensington could be the most bad-tempered in the country too.

In the constituency where Prince William and Harry would vote – if they could – this is turning into a right royal rumble.

Labour’s Emma Dent Coad’s victory in the traditional Conservative stronghold was one of the stories of the last election.

Her winning margin was just 20 votes, with the result not declared until almost 24 hours after polls closed.

Back then she thanked Lib Dem rival Annabel Mullin for ‘stealing some Tory votes and letting me through’ – this time around she is threatening her successor, former Tory minister Sam Gymiah, with the long arm of the law.

It’s fair to say that Christmas goodwill is in short supply when it comes to Ms Dent Coad and Mr Gymiah.

And that could be great news for Conservative candidate Felicity Buchan, who is doing her best to stay above the fray as the Labour and Liberal Democrats split the Remain vote in a constituency that voted 68.8% in favour of staying in the European Union.

“The issue is Labour are splitting the vote,” insisted Mr Gymiah, who just five months ago was campaigning to be leader of the Conservatives before defecting to the Liberal Democrats.

“Their vote is collapsing because Conservative remainers and a lot of soft Labour supporters will not vote for a Corbyn candidate.

A vote for Labour is a guarantee that the Conservatives will romp home.”

Ms Dent Coad – an ardent Republican in an area rich with the trappings of monarchy – insists tactical voting websites put her ahead in the race.

This is a constituency of London’s extremes – from the gilded elegance of Kensington Palace to Grenfell Tower, where 72 people lost their lives just weeks after the last election.

“I have not changed party. I haven’t changed my mind about things. My politics has been pretty solid for as long as I can remember,” she said.

“Everybody knows me round here and I work incredibly hard.

“Even people who may not be sure about other aspects of my politics are very happy to have a constituency MP who works like a dog for them. I don’t think they’ve ever had that before.”

Mr Gymiah has already argued his rival was part of the discussions on the lethal clad ding used on Grenfell Tower while she was a councillor.

She insists the allegations are false and, after unsuccessfully calling for an apology, has reported him to the Metropolitan Police under the Representation of the People Act.

Mr Gymiah released polling he says shows the Conservatives are edging the three-way race, with a 36% vote share compared to 33% for the Lib Dems 33% and 27% for Labour.

But, he claimed, in a two-horse between him and Ms Buchan he would win with 56% – he did not reveal the result of a two-way battle between Labour and the Conservatives.

“There is nothing opportunistic when an MP leaves a safe seat to run in a marginal,” he said of his switch from East Surrey.

“There are voters who are making the same political journey, either from the Conservative Party to the Lib Dems or from the Labour Party to the Lib Dems.

“I expect my political opponents to try and portray it as something else. And while Labour and Liberal Democrats slug it out, Ms Buchan is hoping for third time lucky – she campaigned unsuccessfully in South Down and South Shields at the last two elections.

Two years ago she called for ‘a tough Brexit deal’ – language she’s been keen to soften given the politics of the area.

“The vast majority of people are realistic in that we’ve now gone three years on from the Referendum. I don’t think it’s helpful to be labelling people as Brexiteers or Remainers,” she insisted.

“We are confident that we will retake Kensington.

“It is critically important that we do.”

Read more about what’s important to south west London constituencies in our 24-page General Election preview special.

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