The Lib Dems are considering scaling back their fight for Maajid Nawaz to win the Hampstead and Kilburn seat after the row about his ‘Jesus and Mo’ tweet, I have been told.
This very marginal seat, which Labour’s Glenda Jackson holds with a majority of just 42, had been one of the Lib Dems’ key target seats. But a very well-placed senior source tells me that after the ‘Jesus and Mo’ row (which Nawaz had an extremely bad-tempered debate about with Mehdi Hasan and Mo Ansar on yesterday’s Newsnight), those involved in the party’s campaigns have privately concluded that the candidate has seriously damaged his chances of winning the seat and that ‘chucking the kitchen sink at it might not be worth the effort’.
The Lib Dems defended Nawaz when a petition calling for his deselection was set up. But they did emphasise the importance of candidates being sensitive to their constituents. They were also surprised to have come third in the seat in 2010, having expected to win it.
‘We’re all for defending his right to say what he did,’ my source says. ‘But Maajid should really have known better than to do what he did: it was deliberately provocative and he knew that while Hampstead has got lots of liberals in it, there would be people in his constituency who would be deeply offended by it.’
A party spokesman tells me that ‘there’s no change in the party’s support for Maajid in Hampstead and Kilburn’. He also points out that both Nick Clegg and Paddy Ashdown have publicly backed Nawaz in recent weeks, although that is quite different to concluding that Hampstead and Kilburn isn’t worth chucking the kitchen sink at.
UPDATE, 6pm: Another source with knowledge of the campaign gets in touch to tell me that ‘they see there is not enough impetus to get him over the line. Nobody is really sure if he wants to be an MP.’
UPDATE, 6.30pm: Paddy Ashdown rings to say that ‘the idea that money is being withdrawn from his seat at this moment because of this row over the cartoons is completely untrue’. I asked whether money or resources were being withdrawn for other reasons, and Lord Ashdown said they were not, adding: ‘The resources are constantly kept under review, there will be decisions that will be made according to how a seat is progressing.’ But he is adamant that there is no plan to withdraw any support. I stand by my sources on this.