Labour targets victory in Barnet after failure under CorbynThe unpopularity of the Conservative government could see the local party lose power after 20 years
Barnet is one of the major battlegrounds in the upcoming local elections with the Labour Party targeting the borough as one of its key gains - and a potential sign of growing trust in the leadership of Keir Starmer.
The Conservatives have been in power at the town hall since 2002. They came within one seat of losing control in 2014 but won a majority of 13 at the most recent election four years ago. This was in stark contrast to the overall picture across London in 2018, which saw Labour gaining the most votes and the Conservatives losing seats.
It is likely that a significant factor in this result in was the controversy around the Labour Party’s approach to antisemitism under its then leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Barnet has the highest Jewish population of any borough in the UK, with over 50,000 Jewish residents making up over 15% of the population - and the number of Jewish people voting Labour decreased dramatically between 2015 and 2019.
Starmer, Corbyn’s replacement as leader, launched the party’s London local election campaign in the borough in early April. He claims to have taken significant steps to tackle antisemitism in the party, and Labour in Barnet will be hopeful that the combination of positive change in perceptions of Labour and the negative national poll ratings for Boris Johnson and the Conservatives will be enough for them win.
However, there is no reason to assume that changes at national level will necessarily lead to local change in Barnet: Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan trailed Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey in the borough in the process of winning the mayoral election last year.
One of the biggest local policy issues at the election is development - where Barnet joins other boroughs in struggling to balance the competing demands from some residents for new housing and from other residents that they should not be negatively affected by new housing being built.
The issue is so contentious locally that the Conservative government in Westminster has intervened twice in recent months to overturn planning decisions affecting the borough. Most recently, housing secretary Michael Gove stepped in to block the development of more than 1,000 homes at the B&Q site in Cricklewood.
This followed transport secretary Grant Shapps’ intervention in March to block the development of the Cockfosters tube station car park, approved by the council in neighbouring Enfield, following representations by local Conservative MP Theresa Villiers. The Chipping Barnet MP had argued that the loss of the car park would be a problem for many of her constituents who park at Cockfosters to commute into London.
At a recent hustings debate reported by Barnet Post Conservative council leader Dan Thomas specifically expressed his opposition to the building of tower blocks and the loss of car parks, as part of his party’s general opposition to: “the urbanisation of the suburbs”. The Lib Dems and Greens also opposed the proposals, while Labour leader Barry Rawlings offered a more equivocal position opposing “inappropropriate tower blocks” while citing the need for more housing and implying that some tower blocks might be appropriate.
The significant boundary changes since the previous election - which have at least some impact on every single ward in the borough - make the key contests at a ward level slightly more difficult to predict. The borough’s 63 councillors will now be elected in 24 wards rather than the previous 21, with 15 wards electing 3 councillors and 9 wards electing 2.
Close contests are likely in West Hendon, where Labour lost all three seats to the Conservatives by just over 100 votes each in 2018 and High Barnet - now with two councillors rather than three - where Labour was just one vote away from taking a seat in 2018.
Brunswick Park, which elected two Conservative and one Labour councillor in 2018, is likely to be close again. Labour will be hopeful of winning in East Barnet, where it took two seats to the Conservatives one in 2018 but then lost one of them in a by-election last year.
Beyond the contest between the two main parties, the Liberal Democrats last won a seat in the borough in 2014 but go into this election with three councillors due to defections, two from the Conservatives and one from Labour since the last election.
Their best hope of a comeback could be in Childs Hill ward, the redrawn version of the ward where they last won a seat. The current ward is split between Labour and the Conservatives but incumbent Labour councillor (and London Assembly member) Anne Clarke is fighting the newly created neighbouring two-seat Cricklewood ward.
The current Lib Dem group leader, former Conservative Gabriel Rozenburg, is making a seemingly optimistic run in West Finchley, a Labour ward with limited boundary changes where the top Lib Dem candidate polled 8th below the Women’s Equality Party candidate in 2018.
However former Labour MP, Luciana Berger came second for the Lib Dems in the Finchley and Golders Green in the 2019 general election with over 30% of the vote, so they will be hopeful that some of those voters will stick with the party at this year’s elections.
The Greens achieved their best 2018 in Woodhouse ward, where their leading candidate took 10.2% of the vote and which drops from 3 to 2 councillors as a result of boundary changes.
A full list of candidates standing across the borough is available on the Barnet Council website.
Interviews with the local leaders of the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and the Women’s Equality Party are available on the Barnet Post website.