Labour faces fight to overturn Tory majority in Harrow East

The constituency, which has a sizeable Jewish community, has been a bellwether since the late 1970s


A number of constituencies around the country promise interesting election-day battles. One of these is Harrow East.

It went Conservative in 2010, after the seat’s Labour MP was caught up in the expenses scandal that swirled around Westminster at the time. The incumbent MP, Bob Blackman, increased his majority in 2015, winning by more than 4,500 votes.

However, his Labour opponent, Navin Shah, has an advantage. He’s faced Mr Blackman in an election before – and won. In 2008, Mr Blackman, then a Greater London Assembly member, was ousted by Mr Shah, who has held the position ever since.

“I have beaten him before; people said it couldn’t be done”, says Mr Shah.

“Well, I’m obviously a realist, but once again I have an opportunity to do so and I believe I will be able to defeat him.

“I’m taking the fight all the way to his camp, there’s no doubt about it”

But if Bob Blackman is feeling the pressure, he makes no mention of it.

“I’ve assisted more than 23,000 constituents” he says.

“In my constituency we have a record level of employment, a very low level of unemployment. We want to see businesses grow and prosper. And of course the key item in this election nationally is who will be Prime Minister and negotiate our exit from the European Union."

Harrow East also has a large Jewish community, in Stanmore, and Mr Blackman describes how he has “stood up for the Jewish community in a very strong way in Parliament.

“I stand up for Israel every time there’s a statement or a question or debate in Parliament," he says.

“I’m always present making sure that a balance is struck, that the views of my constituency are heard on behalf of supporting the state of Israel and also combatting any form of antisemitism.

“And I think that’s one of the aspects that is absolutely crystal clear in this particular election, that people are feeling affected by that."

Mr Shah says that he’s "100 per cent in solidarity with the Jewish community” and mentions his “record of working closely with local synagogues”.

With regard to Israel, he says he “firmly believes… in a two state solution”.

Adam Bernard, the Liberal Democrat candidate, is himself Jewish, and was born and raised in the constituency.

“I am non-practising”, he says. "While I’m not observant, I still feel myself to be part of the Jewish community, and being Jewish informs part of who I am.

“In terms of, should we say, tribal politics, I’m not going to take the Jewish side in debates just because I’m Jewish, but on the other hand one thing that I think it does give me is an appreciation of being in a religious and ethnic minority."

He says that he supports Israel’s right to exist, and has “no time for people out there who are delegitimising Israel as a state.

“I want, as I think anyone who’s a decent person wants, a solution where as many as possible of the people who are living in the area are happy. And this looks like as a two-state solution at the moment."

Describing issues of local concern, Mr Bernard highlights hospitals, which he says “are really at breaking point.

“The Liberal Democrats have a very clear policy; we want to raise income tax one penny in the pound and that will generate six billion pounds which will go to the NHS and social care”.

Mr Shah also mentions the hospital crisis – he singles out the constituency’s Northwick Park hospital, which he says is “one of the worst performing A&Es in the UK”, saying Labour want to deliver “a properly funded national health service”.

He also discusses education, saying that while “schools in Harrow are some of the best performing in the UK”, the Conservatives’ proposed new national funding formula would mean “we would lose about 15 million, around 150 pounds per pupil across Harrow East”.

Crime, he says, is also an area of rising concern:

“Harrow is one of the safest boroughs, but we have had an increase in knife crime,” he says.

“Labour will fund the police and emergency services properly and restore police numbers.

“I have worked as a current London Assembly member in making sure that community policing is reinstated, dedicated police officers, which are absolutely like gold dust in terms of local intelligence and local relationships with the community”.

However, to hear Mr Blackman talk, it’s a very different story.

“We have a rotten Labour council which charges the third highest council tax in London and delivers poor services”, he says, claiming that “they’ve imposed the highest charges anywhere in the country for the collection of garbage.

“Fifty per cent of my casework is to do with the failure of Harrow Council to provide services."

He says one of his main campaigns has been to have lifts installed at Stanmore and Canons Park tube stations – “an issue that matters to people, because it’s how they can get about in London and across the area”.

See all our Election 2017 coverage here

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