Why Finchley is a litmus test for Labour’s election hopes

One of the first things to strike the outsider who comes into contact with Britain’s Jewish communities is the way the ultra-local is often combined with the uber-global.

This is reflected in the pages of the JC, which is quite unlike any other newspaper as a result. Readers demand news from the communities around the country, the bar/batmitzvah announcements and the latest row at the Board of Deputies.

But they also insist on reports from the heart of Palestinian-Israeli conflict and informed opinion from around the Middle East.

Such is the umbilical feed of news which runs between the diaspora “Jewish street” and the wider world (often via Israel) that few local stories are ever entirely parochial and many international stories have a direct local impact.

This is why I feel entirely comfortable writing about a very local story that affects the streets where I live and my Jewish neighbours in north London, but also has a wider significance.

It concerns the election of the next member of Parliament for Finchley and Golders Green. This has been an iconic constituency since Margaret Thatcher grew to national prominence as the area’s MP in the 1970s.

After the 1997 landslide, the new constituency fell to Labour’s Rudi Vis, a natural rebel backbencher and the country’s first-ever Dutch-born MP.

The present incumbent, Conservative Mike Freer, has developed a solid reputation as a local politician and backbencher, but his seat is by no means safe in 2015, even though he has a handy majority of 5,809.

On Sunday September 1, local Labour Party members will gather at Finchley Progressive Synagogue to decide on their candidate and it could prove an important moment for the future of the relationship between the party and the Jewish community.

The bruises are still fresh from the Ken Livingstone years, which stretched well beyond his time as mayor of London and continued to poison relations through his two failed election attempts against Boris Johnson.

Two of the hopefuls for Labour candidate in Finchley and Golders Green are themselves Jewish. Alon Or-Bach would be the first Israeli citizen to serve in Westminster. He is a local boy, who brings youth and a solid work ethic to his candidacy.

His policy priorities (cost of living, NHS, housing) mirror the national party, but he also plans to challenge Mr Freer on his record as leader of Barnet, the local “easyCouncil”, which has embarked on a sweeping privatisation programme.

Mr Or-Bach will be chased hard, however, by Sarah Sackman, a lawyer who grew up in the area and is fighting on similar ground for the protection of public services and living standards.

Such rhetoric is cheap of course. To have a chance of taking the seat back at the General Election, the Labour candidate will have to convince local people (and not just the Jewish community) that the days of sectarian Labour politics in London really are over — a tough task, and one with reverberations well beyond north London.

Last updated: 4:32pm, August 27 2013