Jewish MP Luciana Berger and former BBC Newsnight presenter Gavin Esler led the inaugural campaigning event in Barnet for Change UK – the newly formed anti-Brexit political party - ahead of the European elections on May 23rd.
Taking to the streets of Golders Green on Tuesday evening, clutching campaign leaflets stating ‘Brexit is a mess and politics is broken. Let’s change it’ the two familiar faces were joined by the Party’s other local candidates attempting to become Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) - Jessica Simor QC, Carole Tongue, Annabel Mullin, and Karen Newman, vice chair of Liberal Judaism and a Board of Deputies representative.
While the response to the decision taken back in February by 11 Labour and Conservative MP to quit their political homes to form the new Party was given an almost unanimous welcome by commuters funnelling out of Golders Green tube station and by locals on their way out for the evening, the debate over how to solve the UK’s Brexit crisis was both lively and varied.
Under instructions from Mr Esler, Change UK’s leading candidate on the Party’s 70-strong slate, a campaigners are asked to call out the simple, yet effective slogan ‘Stop Farage, Stop Brexit’ as they hand out leaflets.
A majority, but by no means an overwhelming one, of voices who engage on the street argued strongly against an exit from the European Union, in favour of another People’s Vote, and pledged to back Change UK in this month’s election.
But perhaps surprisingly in borough though turned out strongly in favour of Remain during the 2016 Referendum – there was a smaller, passionate number of Brexiteers to be found in Golders Green, all of whom argued that their wish for us to severe ties with the EU did not necessarily indicate support for Nigel Farage or for his Brexit party.
There was one unifying factor on the north-west London streets though.
For Brexiteers and Remainers alike the sight of Ms Berger – an MP who suffered what seemed like intolerable antisemitic abuse as Labour’s Liverpool Wavertree representative – chatting openly with the locals of Golders Green, with new baby son Zion in a sling, was a joy to behold.
“Stand against the Labour candidate in Finchley and Golders Green, please!,” came one woman's cry, who having taken a leaflet out of Ms Berger’s hand suddenly recognised who she just encountered on the pavement.
Retired mathematician Mair Lanydo, who confirmed himself to be an “immigrant Sephardi Jew who came to this country because of its values”, has no doubt of the need to “get out now” from clutches of the EU.
Revealing he would not be casting his vote for Change UK on May 23, Mr Lanydo then approaches me to ask: “Is that Luciana Berger – the one who had to put up with all that s**t? She’s amazing. Will you introduce me?”
Meanwhile Marion, who revealed herself to be a PR executive who would be supporting Change UK, says simply: “It is a privilege to see Luciana out in this neighbourhood. She is an inspiration to the Jewish community, to women.
“We will look after her here. She is our treasure.”
Reflecting on Ms Berger’s decision to quit Labour in February, citing institutional antisemitism, Golders Green resident Olivia says: “The Jewish community here feel very isolated from the Labour here now. I have always voted Labour but no longer feel as though I can.
“My dad was a member of the party for a long time, but has now given this up. We are all feeling very ostracised. Brexit was definitely also the other issue. I voted to Remain and I would now vote Change.”
Baroness Altmann, the Conservative life peer and UK pensions expert, emerges from the station. She to expresses her admiration both for Ms Berger and the Change UK project.
Professor Robert Winston, a Labour peer, is also among the throng of commenters. He too approaches Ms Berger and greets her warmly. Asked for his view of Change UK, he tells the JC: "I wish them all the success.”
In what is one of her first public appearances since giving birth to Zion, her and husband Alistair Goldsmith’s second child, Ms Berger tells the JC that the fight to remain in the EU is a personal one for her.
“My children were born with citizenship of a continent, they were born with the right to work and study across 28 different countries, born with opportunities their grandparents didn’t have,” she writes in her op-ed for the JC. “I’m not prepared to let them be lost without a fight.”
She adds that Change UK “are doing everything we can to stop British politics being dragged to the extremes” and insists the Party are “best placed to beat both Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.”
It’s a message that receives the over-whelming support of Golders Green local Jennie Adams who says there is a need to” shout out the noise of the Brexit party.”
Ms Adams also attacks the current Labour position on Brexit – which seeks to appease both Brexiteers and Remainers. “I don’t know anybody who thinks like that - I only know people who are one side or the other, not in the middle.
“I’ll be backing Change. And my daughter, it’s the first time she can vote. She is very excited.”
Less impressed though is the Golders Green local who says he would rather not give his name. “England has to be independent,” he says politely as he rushes out of the tube station onto the Finchley Road pavement. Why?
“This country will never stop Shechita,” he replies. “They will stop Shechita in Europe. And I’m a butcher. I know this.”
As the sun begins to fade, Mr Esler tells the JC he believes campaigning that evening has gone “really well” and “better than I hoped – with people showing they are still really engaged with the issue despite the boredom factor with Brexit.”
The BBC newsman adds: “We have got to get rid of Brexit, got to have a People’s Vote and then talk about the things that really matter.
"We are trying to get over the message that Brexit is self-harm for Britain and once we stop the self-harm we can get on with making things better.”