Barnet is a sprawling suburban borough of North West London, spanning more than 80 square kilometres between Camden and Hertfordshire, and Enfield and Brent. It is home to the affluent Hampstead Garden Suburb – a picturesque neighbourhood teetering on the edge of Hampstead Heath – and vast green spaces on the outskirts of London, as well as diverse urban pockets including Finchley and Hendon.
Its mixed make-up is perhaps the explanation for why it has bucked the political trend in recent years. As multiple London boroughs have gradually turned to Labour, Barnet has remained staunchly Tory for almost the entire time since it was created. Labour came tantalisingly close to a victory in 2014 but the Conservatives scraped a narrow win. And this was then widened in 2018 amid concern among the borough’s Jewish population over Labour’s handling of anti-Semitism complaints under Jeremy Corbyn.
Since taking over as Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer has been trying to repair relations between his party and the Jewish community. Now, polling has suggested that Labour may be in with a chance of winning Barnet again. But local elections are hard to predict. Is this just Westminster hype or do people who live here think there is a genuine chance?
Sonia Solimani has had her florist, Amber Rose on Fallodan Way in the Golders Green ward, for 20 years. She is a Labour voter and would be pleased if the party won the council. She thinks it could be viable this time given the recent, high profile misdemeanours of Boris Johnson’s Government. “I think a Labour win is possible at the moment because of the way politics has been going, especially with stuff like partygate,” she said. “But this part of Barnet is still very Conservative”.
A waiting customer, who did not want to be named, chipped in: “It is a very Conservative area but people here like Keir Starmer, he seems like a nice, honest man. But I think Jeremy Corbyn did an enormous amount of damage in this area and he is still associated with the party – his cronies are still in it. And Boris Johnson always manages to cling on by the skin of his teeth.”
“The problem with Labour is its policies, on a local level as well as a national one,” another customer added. “There are no decent politicians with good policies anymore. And we would not want to go to fortnightly bin collections like the other Labour boroughs around here.”
Chatting to other locals, their views seem to mirror this pattern of flipping between despair at the national Government to concern over hyper-local issues – specifically refuse collection, or lack thereof.
Ali Sevinc, who works in a newsagent on Ballards Lane, North Finchley, is one of several people in the area to express frustration about the mess left on the streets for days on end. There is a sense that the Tory council has become complacent.
“Sometimes they leave the rubbish bags out on the road for two days,” he said. “But then if I put out one sign that I am not supposed to they will write to me immediately telling me to take it down.
“The Conservatives have been in power for a long time here so they think they are not going to be kicked out and can do what they want. If Labour were voted in they would work harder to prove themselves. I think if Labour won they would do a good job.”
Up the road in Golders Green – an area popular with Jewish communities – the memory of Labour’s anti-Semitism issue is still felt keenly and Ian Freedman, the owner of Sussers Kosher Wine shop, would not be pleased with a Labour victory. But he said that he could see the tide turning due to how politics has been played out on a national level.
“It would not surprise me if Labour won, I would be disappointed but given the current political climate I would not be surprised,” he said. “[Sir Keir] is definitely doing a better job than Jeremy Corbyn but then he was still part of the team when he was leader so I would not go that easily to Labour,” he added. “My religious freedom takes precedent over everything else.”
He continued “The Conservatives stand more for what I believe in than the Liberal Democrats and Labour – but recently the Tories have been quite… accident prone.”
The recently-introduced Ultra-Low Emissions Zone (Ulez) – brought in by Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan – cuts through the bottom of the borough and has had a significant impact on traders and motorists in Barnet. For Mr Freedman, who has had to upgrade his van, this is an example of why he would be concerned about a Labour council.
“I think it was a silly idea, and not because I don’t care about the environment,” he said. “But this is what Labour do, they have to regulate us. That is not the way round problems, the way round them is to entice people to do better.”