Destination Barnet: national politicians hit the campaign trail

The general election comes to the borough’s battleground seats reports David Floyd

Former Labour leader Ed Miliband launching the party's election promises on the side of a van
Ed Miliband launches Labour’s ‘first steps’ in Cockfosters

Barnet is the focus for intense political campaigning this month after prime minister Rishi Sunak fired the starting gun for a surprise general election on July 4th.

The borough is seeing a deluge of visits from leading national politicians as they aim to have an impact on the result in the borough’s three marginal seats, all of which see the Conservatives fighting off a challenge from Labour.

The contests are particularly important because it is likely that Keir Starmer’s party would need to take all three seats if it is going to win a majority in parliament and return to power after 14 years in opposition.

In Chipping Barnet, incumbent Theresa Villiers is the only one of the borough’s three MPs to be standing again this time. She is protecting a majority of just 1,212 in her contest with Labour’s Dan Tomlinson.

Speaking on the campaign trail following the election announcement Villiers said: “There’s lots of speculation on what the national result will be, but it’s important that people remember that their votes are also about what happens here locally.”

“In the 19 years I have represented Chipping Barnet I believe I have shown that I am totally committed to championing our community and getting results on the issues people here care about.”

Tomlinson, who is seeking to win the seat for Labour for the first time ever said: “We’ve had two decades of the same MP. In that time Chipping Barnet’s police stations have closed, we’ve lost a neighbouring A&E, car theft and anti-social behaviour is blighting our community like never before and the economy is in tatters.

“It is time for change. Labour will delivery economic stability, cut NHS waiting times, set up Great British energy, recruit 1,300 more police here in London and hire more teachers for our local schools.”

In Finchley and Golders Green, current MP Mike Freer is stepping down at the general election following death threats and an arson attack on his constituency office. Alex Deane was selected in March as the new Conservative candidate. Freer had a majority of 6,562 in 2019 but this was significantly affected by the fact that former Labour MP Luciana Berger came second for the Liberal Democrats. This time around, Deane’s main challenger will be Labour’s Sarah Sackman.

Hendon also sees a new Conservative candidate. Current MP Matthew Offord, who won last time with a majority of 4,230 is quitting and Ameet Jogia, an adviser to Rishi Sunak is running to replace him. He faces a strong challenge from David Pinto-Duschinsky who came second for Labour in 2019.

Barnet had already been a focal point for campaigning before the election was called, with both Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and prime minister Rishi Sunak visiting the borough in recent months.

On a visit to a Boots store in Whetstone in January, the opposition leader told Barnet Post that: “The power of the vote runs right through Barnet because it’s exactly places like this that will make the difference”

When challenged on whether Jewish voters in the borough could trust his party on antisemitism following the party’s failure to tackle the issue under its previous leader Jeremy Corbyn, he told Barnet Post: “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.”

Big Labour visits have continued and last month saw the former Labour leader Ed Miliband, now shadow secretary of state for energy security and net zero, visit all three Barnet seats to launch Labour’s six ‘first steps for change’ pledges.

Keen to hold on to the three seats, leading Conservatives visiting the borough have included deputy prime minister Oliver Downden, who came to a school in Hendon to outline his opposition to Labour’s plans to put VAT on private school fees. This followed a visit by party chairman Richard Holden, who came to Finchley in mid-May for the reopening of Mike Freer’s office following an arson attack.

Talking to Barnet Post, Holden was bullish about his party’s chances of holding on to its seats in the borough following the London mayoral election, where the party’s candidate Susan Hall lost out to Labour mayor Sadiq Khan. He said: “we actually had some quite good results up here in Barnet” adding that: “It’s places like Barnet and some of the outer London boroughs that really came out for Susan.”

Looking ahead to the general election he noted: “you’ve got some really good local MPs up the road like Theresa [Villiers] in Chipping Barnet, it’s a result that she can build on.”

While reflecting on the fact that Freer is standing down he said: “Obviously, I’m sad that Mike’s standing down – he’s a very good colleague in Westminster. But with Alex Deane you’ve got a first rate candidate, somebody with real potential for the future as well. And I’m looking forward to getting stuck into campaigning with him.”

Alongside the major battles for Barnet’s existing constituencies, the upcoming election will also see a new part-constituency entering the borough’s political landscape. Friern Barnet ward is joining the new Hornsey and Friern Barnet constituency, primarily comprising the Hornsey and Wood Green constituency represented by Labour’s Catherine West. She is not expected to face a close contest for reelection.

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