Three months after quitting Labour and weeks after giving birth, Luciana Berger is campaigning in Golders Green

Lee Harpin tags along with the MP as she returns to campaigning after being bullied out of her old party


Jewish MP Luciana Berger and former BBC Newsnight presenter Gavin Esler this week led the inaugural campaigning event in Barnet for Change UK — the newly formed anti-Brexit political party — ahead of the European elections on May 23.

Out on the streets of Golders Green on Tuesday evening clutching campaign leaflets bearing the words “Brexit is a mess and politics is broken. Let’s change it”, the pair were joined by the party’s other local MEP candidates — Jessica Simor QC, Carole Tongue, Annabel Mullin and Karen Newman, vice chair of Liberal Judaism and a Board of Deputies representative.

While the decision taken in February by 11 Labour and Conservative MP to quit their parties to form the new grouping was given an almost unanimous welcome by locals, 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, campaigners called out “Stop Farage, Stop Brexit” as they doled out leaflets.

A majority — but by no means an overwhelming one — of passers-by argued strongly against Brexit and in favour of another People’s Vote, and pledged to back Change UK.

But perhaps surprisingly in a borough that turned out strongly for Remain in the 2016 referendum, there were passionate Brexiteers to be found in Golders Green, none of whom backed Nigel Farage or his Brexit party.

There was one unifying factor, however.

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 while carrying new baby Zion in a sling was a joy to behold.

“Stand against the Labour candidate in Finchley and Golders Green, please!” came a cry from a woman who, having taken a leaflet out of Ms Berger’s hand, suddenly recognised who she was.

Retired mathematician Mair Lanydo, who said he was an “immigrant Sephardi Jew who came to this country because of its values”, had no doubt of the need to get out of the EU “now”.

Saying he would vote for Change UK on May 23, Mr Lanydo asked: “Is that Luciana Berger — the one who had to put up with all that s**t? She’s amazing. Will you introduce me?”

Marion, a PR executive who backed Change UK, said: “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 said: “The Jewish community here feel very isolated from Labour 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. 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, emerged from the station. She too expressed her admiration both for Ms Berger and the Change UK project.

Professor Robert Winston, a Labour peer, was also among the throng of commuters. He too approached Ms Berger and greeted her warmly. Asked for his view of Change UK, he tells the JC: “I wish them all success.”

In one of her first public appearances since giving birth to Zion, her and husband Alistair Goldsmith’s second child, Ms Berger said the fight to remain in the EU was 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 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 Golders Green local Jennie Adams warmly receives, saying there is a need to "shout out the noise of the Brexit Party”.

Ms Adams also attacks the current Labour Party 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 a one 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.”

Mr Esler told the JC he believed campaigning that evening had 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.”

He added: “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.”

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