Outsiders fighting it out to become Harpenden’s next MP


Harpenden - Credit: Archant

The battle for Harpenden is heating up as candidates come forward to fight the seat vacated by long-term incumbent Peter Lilley - but none of the hopefuls are from the town.

Bim Afolami, originally from Crowthorne in Berks is the Conservative party’s choice to defend the 20,000 majority Mr Lilley achieved at the last election.

He attended Bishopsgate prep school, Eton and Oxford, studying modern history and was vice president of the Oxford Union Society.

He was then a political advisor at the House of Commons and worked in corporate law before moving onto finance as a senior executive at HSBC.

The 31-year-old father of two is also a school governor and has mentored teenagers.

Bim Afolami

Bim Afolami - Credit: Archant

He lives in Northampton and has previously contested the Lewisham Deptford seat in 2015, where he achieved 15 per cent of the vote, gaining 7,056 votes in a Labour stronghold. He is described as an ‘astute public speaker’.

In 2011 he said it was important to “push further and faster on education reforms. The Big Society is a really important concept – all we need to do is develop it over the next five to 10 years”.

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He has also been quoted as saying: “Education is the main vehicle people have for personal advancement. Get rid of grammar schools and you remove that opportunity. The closure of grammar schools is one thing that Labour should look back on as a big mistake.”

The Lib Dem candidate is Hugh Annand, who was born in Welwyn Garden City, going to school in Lemsford and Hertford.

Hugh Annand, Lib Dem candidate for Hitchin and Harpenden.

Hugh Annand, Lib Dem candidate for Hitchin and Harpenden. - Credit: Archant

As a senior translator at the European Commission, he is also exceptionally knowledgeable about Brexit and its implications.

He said: “Peter Lilley’s resignation means that this seat is genuinely competitive for the first time in 20 years. Locally, the election will be a clear fight between the Liberal Democrats and Peter Lilley’s anointed Conservative successor.

“Over 60 per cent of voters in Hitchin and Harpenden supported Remain in last year’s referendum. They feel let down by a Conservative Party that has ignored their concerns and embarked upon a brutal and dangerous ‘Hard Brexit’. Over the coming weeks I will be appealing to everyone across the constituency to put their faith in me, and in the Liberal Democrats, to provide effective opposition to that agenda.”

Standing for Labour is Hitch Labour chair John Hayes, a Camden primary school teacher.

Richard Cano

Richard Cano - Credit: Archant

He said: “A lifelong Labour voter, I decided that I needed to stop shouting at Question Time and do something that might make a difference for people.

“Life for the most vulnerable in our society is steadily getting more difficult. This picture is increasingly what can be seen across our nation and it is true for many of the people of Hitchin and Harpenden. The policy of austerity, underfunding our NHS and cutting school budgets is just as big an issue for all of us as it is across the UK.

“When the election was called I saw it as the opportunity to step forward and do my bit. With the support of family, colleagues and officers in the branch I put myself forward to be our candidate.

“I am a realist. I know that the task we face is a big one but, with a solid unified campaign that focuses on the impact that national policy will have on local services, and the life chances of all our constituents, I know we can take the fight to the opposition and win.”

Headteacher Richard Cano, of Purwell Primary School in Hitchin, will be standing for the Green Party.

He admits he has only been involved in politics for a couple of years but decided to run after he says he felt increasingly uncomfortable with the direction our country is going – and has felt motivated to do something about it.

“I love Britain and I’m proud to be British, but I have a young family, with three children, and I am increasingly worried about the state of the world being created for them.”

Mr Cano was born in Hitchin and is well aware of the challenges in education faced by schools in the area.

“For me, everything changed when the Tories slashed education budgets and went after the schools.

“Extra curricular activities, vocational subjects, pastoral care for young people are all likely to go in the next few years.

“For me, a government failing to invest in its own children is a government failing to invest in the future of Britain.”