Hertsmere is home to the UK’s fastest growing Jewish community. Its Jewish population grew 35 percent between the 2001 and 2011 census and, since then, families and young couples have flocked to the new builds, synagogues and kosher shops expanding in the area.
By Marc Shoffman
Conservative Party: Oliver Dowden
Hertsmere is traditionally an ultra-safe Conservative seat.
It has also had the same MP for the past two decades in James Clappison. He gained 56 percent of the local vote last time round, with Labour behind on just 18.8 percent.
But Clappison is stepping down at this election, so voters now have to decide on a brand new untested candidate in Oliver Dowden. Growing up around Radlett, Dowden is a local boy and has strong political experience, having been Deputy Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister for the past five years.
He says: “I hope that the combination of being a local boy with national experience will enable me to give the people of Hertsmere the strong voice that they deserve.”
Dowden says he has admired the growth of the Jewish community in the area. “I am proud that we have strong, vibrant and growing Jewish communities in Hertsmere,” he explains, “and I’ve seen them grow over the years that I have lived around here.
“It is notable how actively the Jewish community engages with civic society, whether it is serving as councillors, organising community events or supporting charities. I am very keen that we continue and develop this fine tradition as a great example of British values in action.”
He says he will fight to preserve the identity of the area and protect the community. “I know the importance of community safety, particularly in light of recent events. I will always stand up for proper funding of security measures,” he says.
He is seeking election at a time of rising tension for the community and says there should be zero tolerance of anti-Semitism. He pledges to work to promote respect for all communities, adding: “We are very fortunate to live in an open, free and democratic county. Respect for all religions has always been a central part of that freedom.
I am proud that someone can feel just as comfortable walking down Bushey, Borehamwood or Radlett high street wearing a kippah as wearing a baseball cap.
“We should also educate people about fighting prejudice and hatred. One of my most vivid school memories is a talk from a Holocaust survivor. With the passage of time, the number of survivors, of course, diminishes. That’s why I support the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust in ensuring that our children and grandchildren gain a similarly profound understanding of the consequences of this hatred.”
He is equally passionate when it comes to local issues, particularly protecting the identity of the area and supporting the burning issue of school places.
He adds: “I think three things attract the Jewish community to Hertsmere. First, the character and charm of our thriving towns and villages like Radlett, Bushey and Borehamwood. I am determined to fight to preserve their distinct identities. In particular, I will resist any inappropriate development in our surrounding beautiful countryside.
“Second, the excellent transport links that allow you to get into London within 30 minutes and allow us to have the best of both worlds. I will campaign to keep up investment like the Thameslink 2000 and keep on the case of train operating companies that are failing to deliver. “Third, we have great schools, such as Yavneh College, the best performing comprehensive in the country. I will always champion the great faith schools we have in our area.”
Labour Party: Richard Butler
The Labour Party was runner up last time round with just 18 percent of the vote so has much ground to make up.
It is also fielding a newcomer this year, with Edgware-born deputy mayor of Elstree and Borehamwood, Richard Butler.
An electrician by trade, Mr Butler has been a councillor for the past eight years.
He became involved in politics at a young age. As a 12-year-old at Borehamwood’s Lyndhurst School, he was selected to stand as a youth councillor.
At the age of 15, he joined the Labour Party, inspired by its commitment to social justice and says he has never looked back. He adds: “For me, first and foremost, politics needs to deliver for local people and Labour’s commitment to a One Nation Britain can do this.
He describes his vision for the constituency as one of “togetherness, coexistence and understanding” and highlights Mitzvah Day as a positive example of ways to help the wider community.
Butler explains: “I want all of our communities to thrive, but also to be able to come together and know each other well as neighbours. “What I particularly love about the Jewish community is its willingness to use Jewish values to do excellent work in the wider community through social action initiatives such as Mitzvah Day, which I have had the pleasure of being involved in.”
He says he has found the community welcoming, while outlining plans to boost the community’s identity, such as protecting the teaching of Modern Hebrew in schools.
But he recognises more needs to be done to support the community amid rising anti-Semitism, describing security as his top local concern.
He adds: “I was very glad to see that the Labour party has recently announced it would review police and Crown Prosecution Service guidance on anti-Semitic and other hate crimes and intends to challenge social media companies over abuse on their sites. This will ensure combating anti-Semitism is kept as a top priority.
“The security and well-being of all residents living in Hertsmere is my top concern and I am acutely aware of the specific security requirements of the Jewish community.
“I will build on my work as a local councillor and will work with community members, the Community Security Trust and the local police to ensure that Hertsmere’s Jewish community is well protected.”
Another concern Butler says he repeatedly hears on Jewish doorsteps is on Labour’s approach to Israel. He explains: “Many Jewish residents within Hertsmere have spoken with me at great length about their strong connection with Israel. “It is a connection that is undoubtedly positive and I fully understand their hopes to see peace realised as soon as possible. I, too, share their hopes and wishes for the state to experience only peace and to prosper.”
He reiterates the party’s commitment to a secure Jewish state, saying: “The Labour Party has always led on a strong commitment to supporting the two-state solution, of a secure Israel alongside a viable and independent Palestine state. We have also benefited from a close working relationship with the Israeli Labour Party. In our election manifesto, we reiterated this message and our clear aspiration to return to meaningful negotiations leading to a diplomatic resolution.”
Also standing for election in Hertsmere: Liberal Democrats, Sophie Bowler; UKIP, Frank Ward.