Hendon : Fight is on to win in the heartland

The leafy North London suburb was a key Labour target in 2015. Two years on, what has changed?


In the lead-up to the 2015 election, Labour created a list of 106 key target seats to capture or reclaim. Hendon was third on that list. Conservative-held by a margin of a few hundred votes, expectations were high that Andrew Dismore, the popular former MP, could win back the seat he had lost five years earlier.

But when election night came, not only did Labour fail to win the seat, the Conservatives increased their majority to 3,724.

Two years later, Labour is trying again. Only this time, in the midst of a fraught period during which an antisemitism scandal has rocked the party, a Jewish Labour candidate is standing in the country’s second-most Jewish constituency.

A youthful looking 45, Mike Katz is vice-chairman of the Jewish Labour Movement.

“I’m sure when I attend the synagogue hustings there will be some sharp words and I expect that,” he says. “But in all honesty, I’ve had a polite reception at the doors with mezuzahs I’ve knocked on.”

The JLM is not shying away from the spotlight. Jeremy Newmark, the group’s chairman, is standing for Labour in the neighbouring seat of Finchley and Golders Green.

“We’ve got the opportunity to stand up and represent the community in seats which have large numbers of Jewish voters,” says Mr Katz.

“We’re going to do that. We would have more influence as Labour MPs who are senior in the JLM in taking our fight to whichever part of society — including, obviously, within the Labour Party — where there is antisemitism.”

The man Mr Katz is looking to beat is Matthew Offord, who has represented the constituency since 2010.

Asked whether he thinks Labour chose a Jewish candidate in an effort to siphon away Jewish votes which might otherwise have gone to him, Dr Offord immediately replies that “the religion of any of my opponents is irrelevant to me”.

What he finds more worrying is the fact Mr Katz “is not from this area”.

It is true — Mr Katz lives a few miles away in Camden. But he is not exactly a stranger to the constituency: his mother grew up in Edgware and his grandfather helped set up Edgware United Synagogue.

And on one particular issue, Mr Katz would seem to be more in line with Barnet voters than Dr Offord.

The borough which is home to the constituency voted by about 60 per cent to Remain in the EU in last year’s referendum. Both Mr Katz and Alasdair Hill, the Liberal Democrat candidate, were vocal Remainers. Mr Hill was a key figure in Barnet’s Stronger In campaign. Dr Offord, however, voted Leave.

“I said my view was that I would vote to Leave, but I didn’t campaign on it, didn’t speak publicly,” he says. “I was a vocal advocate to have a referendum to allow the people to decide.”

To constituents who might be concerned by Brexit’s potential ramifications, Dr Offord believes “negotiations will iron out these concerns and they will be resolved.

“I believe that the United Kingdom is in a good position, in terms of our trade opportunities with different countries, including Israel, for example.”

Other candidates are less sanguine; Mr Katz says the people he talks to “worry that the clock is ticking and the government doesn’t seem to have a clue”.

Mr Hill says: “People wanted to leave and we respect that. But we didn’t vote on how to leave and the way the Conservatives are going about it isn’t in harmony with most of the country.

“The Lib Dems have a clear position — looking to get access to the single market, looking to put a second referendum to the people so that everyone can have a final say.”

Other areas of local concern include Hendon’s air quality — Carmen Legarda, the Green candidate, notes her party’s monitoring “found that levels of nitrogen dioxide vastly exceed legal limits, with some areas at almost double the legal limit”.

Education is another issue of key interest. Both Labour and the Lib Dems highlight a “funding formula change” that could mean Hendon schools receive £400-£500 less per pupil by 2020.

Dr Offord says he agrees with the formula but that many schools in the area have additional costs which are already affecting their budgets, and he has asked the Chancellor to provide transitional funding.

And then there is Israel. Dr Offord is a parliamentary officer of the Conservative Friends of Israel and has been a vocal supporter in the Commons.

Alasdair Hill describes the country as “a strong ally, with shared values. The state of Israel has every right to exist as does any other state, and I support its right to defend itself as it needs to”.

However he adds that he feels “it’s absolutely right for allies to be critical, if there needs to be a criticism”.

And Mike Katz? “I think it’s very clear that as a Labour MP I would have a special responsibility to stand up for Israel,” he says.

“I’m not going to make any bones about this: if I were an Israeli voter I would not be voting for Bibi, I would not be voting Likud — that’s not the person I am. But I think the important thing is that it’s one of the few democracies in the region where people have the right to do that, and I think that’s something to point at and celebrate.”

Ukip’s candidate is Sabriye Warsame. The party did not respond to requests to interview him.

See all our Election 2017 coverage here

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