As the Labour leader visits Barnet, he talks to David Floyd about elections, ULEZ and tackling antisemitism
Labour leader Keir Starmer has called on the voters of Barnet to “make the difference” and help his party end “14 years of decline” in a visit to the borough last month.
Starmer talked exclusively to Barnet Post during a visit to Boots in Whetstone, where he met Boots CEO Sebastian James to discuss the role of pharmacies in reforming the NHS and talked to staff at the store.
He was accompanied by shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds and Labour candidate for Chipping Barnet, Dan Tomlinson.
Given that his party has been targeting the borough’s three constituencies, Chipping Barnet, Hendon and Finchley & Golders Green at the past three general elections, Barnet Post asked the Labour leader why he thought the result would be different this year.
Starmer highlighted the victory of Barnet Labour in last year’s council vote saying: “The exception of course is the local elections here in Barnet where I was very pleased that we made significant progress.”
He said Labour had: “a sustained plan for the future” adding: “We’ve had 14 years of decline, what we need to do is to turn a corner and usher in a decade of national renewal – and Barnet is absolutely critical to that.”
Praising Tomlinson, who will take on Conservative incumbent Theresa Villiers at the next election, he explained: “The power of the vote runs right through Barnet because it’s exactly places like this that will make the difference – with Dan as a brilliant candidate and I hope also a member of parliament.”
Mayor should look for “less impactful ways” to deliver clean air
Barnet Post asked Starmer about his position on the controversial ULEZ expansion. Opposition to the policy is widely seen as a big factor in Labour’s failure to win the Uxbridge by-election last year – and the policy has also been strongly opposed in Barnet by Chipping Barnet MP Theresa Villiers.
Starmer had criticised the scheme following the Uxbridge result and his answers suggested a desire to find a middle way between Labour’s environmental goals and the worries of outer London voters. He said: “Firstly, I think we owe it to everyone in Barnet to make sure we do everything we can to make sure they have clean air. I have two children, I don’t give them dirty water to drink and I don’t want them breathing in dirty air.”
He added: “I am concerned nonetheless about the impact this has on those that are struggling already to pay the bills. And that is why I’ve said we constantly need to look at alternative ways to ensure we do have clean air but without disproportionately burdening people.”
When Barnet Post asked whether the Labour leader had been pressing the Labour mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, to change his policy, he said: “Yes, I have been pressing him to look across the board. The schemes are in other cities as well, other ways of achieving the same end.”
Seeking to shift the blame slightly from the mayor, he added: “In the end, central government has failed to make the funding available for scrappage that they should have done but I’m not going to shy away from this – I don’t want schemes that disproportionately hit those that can least afford it. So we don’t back away from the ambition to have clean air but we’re constantly looking for other less impactful ways of achieving that end.”
He said that he would expect Tomlinson to be “in my ear” on the issue adding that: “with Dan as the MP here, voters have a direct line and somebody who will be on the case to me on behalf of his constituents.”
“Political dialogue is going to be needed” in Gaza
Barnet Post then asked Starmer about his position on the conflict in Gaza, which has affected many Barnet residents with relatives in the region. Given the dire situation in the area at the time of the interview, was the Labour leader reassessing the strong support he gave to the Israeli government following the terrorist attacks by Hamas on October 7th?
Starmer said: “In response to a horrific terrorist attack on October 7th – the worst [attack on Jewish people] since the Holocaust, of course Israel had the right to self defence. Not just in response to the terrorist attack but because at that stage [more than] 200 of their citizens were being held hostage at gunpoint. So I’m absolutely clear why we came out in support of Israel’s right to self defence.”
He added: “That must be exercised in accordance with international law and humanitarian law – and I am concerned about the extent of the conflict in Gaza and the sheer number of lives that have now been lost, particularly the percentage of children.
“That means that we need to get as quickly as we can to a further humanitarian truce to allow space for hostages to be released – imagine the concern and anguish that all those family members have in relation to the hostages. And I know that there’s extended family that are concerned about that here in Barnet.”
He highlighted the need for: “space for humanitarian aid to get into Gaza and space for the political dialogue that is going to be needed to find what in the end will be the only solution to this, which is a two-state solution.”
Jewish community feel fearful
Starmer noted the wider impact of the conflict within the UK saying: “I’m also concerned about the impact it’s having on voters here. The Jewish community who feel fearful, more than they have done for many many years: concerned about their identity as Jews, concerned about their children going to school – I’ve spoken to a number of them.”
“This goes very, very deep because this is a country in which every single member of the Jewish community should feel safe and secure – and able to express their views and religion, without the sort of fear we’ve seen in the last two or three.
“I’m very concerned about that. That’s why we have to work consistently on community support, security and cohesion.”
In response, Barnet Post asked why – given his party’s recent track record on the issue – Jewish voters in Barnet should trust the Labour Party on antisemitism.
Starmer responded: “Because we’ve changed the Labour Party fundamentally. The first and most important task of my leadership was to rip that antisemitism out by its roots and we did it at speed and ruthlessly – making absolutely no apologies for that, it was absolutely needed.
He added: “We had the Jewish Labour Movement conference yesterday, with a number of people from Barnet who were there and it was absolutely clear that they not only supported that change in the Labour Party but [also] feel that fundamentally this is a different party to the party of 2019.”
However, he said: “The work of course has to go on. Antisemitism is an old hatred, not a new hatred – but this is a fundamentally different Labour Party now.”
He concluded by referring to a former Labour MP who stood for the Liberal Democrats in Finchley and Golders Green in 2019 but has now rejoined Labour: “Further evidence of that was yesterday when Luciana Berger took up a new role for me. A major review of our mental health commitments – and commitments in relation to suicide prevention. She’s an expert in that field but the fact that she is coming back on to the front line for the Labour Party, I think speaks volumes for the change that we’ve been able to bring about in the party.”