Polling earlier this year for the Mile End Institute at Queen Mary University pointed to Barnet going red, part of an expected huge swing to Labour in the capital at next week’s local elections.
But as polling day approaches, the anti-Semitism scandal engulfing Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour continues to loom large amid speculation about its possible impact on one of the most marginal boroughs in the country, where 15 percent of the electorate are Jewish.
The last local elections in 2014 left the Tories with a tiny majority on Barnet Council before Conservative councillor Sury Khatri resigned in March to become an independent, while backing Labour.
This left the Tories on 31 seats, Labour on 30, the Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Democrats on one.
Among those hoping Labour will take power for the first time since 2002, when they were in coalition with the Lib Dems, is Anne Clarke, who is attempting to gain a seat for Labour in the Childs Hill ward, where 17 percent of the local population is Jewish.
She grew up in Chicago among Jewish families, so is familiar with the needs of the community and says she is sad to hear the concerns about anti-Semitism when visiting households.
“Fundamentally, Jewish values are Labour values, and it hurts me that there are Jews who don’t feel comfortable voting Labour,” Clarke said.
“I can only assure people that Barnet Labour has long-standing and deep connections with local Jewish communities.”
Explaining why voters should back her in Childs Hill – which encompasses areas such as Brent Cross, Golders Hill Park and Finchley Road – Clarke said Childs Hill needs a “strong, local advocate” ahead of the Brent Cross/Cricklewood regeneration that is set to expand Brent Cross shopping centre, bring more homes and jobs to the area and create a new Thameslink station.
She said: “Our current Tory councillors have made a mockery of our community, they threw caution to the wind by taking the Childs Hill Library out of the hands of professionals and replacing professional library staff with security guards at Golders Green Library.
“The major regeneration scheme is an incredible opportunity for Childs Hill to become an even better place to live. I don’t see any creativity or energy from our current councillors over this project.
“They often shy away from public consultation meetings about the regeneration. The council seems to have handed the whole project over to developers, come what may.”
The Conservatives in Barnet have two councillors representing Childs Hill, Shimon Ryde and Peter Zinkin, both of whom are standing again.
Ryde says the Conservatives have maintained election pledges to keep libraries in the borough open, and insisted he has been on several panels that have heard views from residents on local regeneration.
Ryde, a Beis Yaacov school governor, says he and fellow Tory councillors are committed to keeping weekly bin collections, investing in repairing and cleaning roads and pavements, as well as holding council tax and supporting housing in the Brent Cross development.
He adds: “Now more than ever, having a strong Jewish voice locally and nationally, is vital so that issues important to the Jewish community can be heard by senior politicians.
“Fear of terrorism has been a constant worry in the Jewish community but recently the rise of anti-Semitism and the fashionable rise in
anti-Israel sentiment as a cover for anti-Semitism is of real concern.”
The ward’s third current councillor is Jack Cohen, who has represented the Childs Hill ward since 1986 and was Mayor of Barnet in 2000.
Cohen – who is standing again for the Liberal Democrats alongside Sachin Patel and Susette Palmer – said the key concerns in the ward are the reduction in library opening hours, potholes, and general highways maintenance, as well as speeding traffic and the lack of enforcement of poor houses in multiple occupation and beds in sheds.
Cohen said: “I hope all voters will take my years of campaigning and fighting for a better deal for residents in to account.
“I am well known for working with local Jewish groups to set up new schools, often in the face of opposition by the council.”
A few miles back towards the A41 and the infamous Apex Corner lies the Hale ward, with a Jewish population of 15 percent.
It is where Elliot Simberg missed out on a seat in 2014, but this time is hoping to help the party maintain its majority in the area.
Simberg is a school governor, sits on the police community action panel and is a trustee of the Jewish Youth Fund.
Outlining the key issues for the ward, Simberg said: “Residents are concerned that Barnet’s weekly bin collections will go the way of neighbouring boroughs and be transformed into fortnightly pickups.
“Together with my colleagues, I am fighting to ensure this does not become a reality. With cleanliness in mind, we are also aiming to see the return of the once popular quarterly skips scheme, a scheme that I’m sure will ease the stress at Pesach.”
Safer streets and more visible policing are also a priority for Simberg. He says: “The rise of anti-Semitism across London as whole is something that must not be tolerated, and an increase in policing across the borough, together with my strong voice within the policing community, will help to suppress this worrying increase.
“My experience with local schools in the position of governor has also shown me the positive role faith-based establishments have in our society and I understand that the pressure for local school places is increasing.”
The Tories took two Hale seats at the last election, with Labour taking the third.
Former JFS boy Liron Velleman, currently UJS campaigns manager, is hoping to help Labour hold on. He is standing for Labour, alongside Ernest Ambe and Rachel Barker.
Velleman says: “I am proud to be standing as a Jewish candidate for the Labour Party in Barnet. Barnet needs a Labour council for safer and cleaner streets, to build new homes and to invest in local services, and for these reasons, voters should consider Labour.
“I also have a strong track record in supporting the development of the Jewish community and fighting anti-Semitism and have consistently done so as campaigns manager at UJS, and also as youth and students officer of the Jewish Labour Movement.”
He insisted Barnet Labour has always stood alongside the Jewish community and says while the national picture has been “heartbreaking”, he predicts the track record of Barnet Labour on a local level should see a smaller impact from the ongoing rows than expected.
East Barnet has a similarly high proportion of Jewish voters, at 15 percent. The ward selected three Labour councillors in 2014. One of the current Labour councillors hoping to hold his seat is Philip Cohen.
He acknowledged there will be some perceptions that the party is soft on anti-Semitism, adding: “I have never experienced it, but I did speak at the annual conference last year in favour of the rule change for zero tolerance.
“There is no question of where we stand as a party. We need to implement the Chakrabati report as soon as possible.”
He said housing, health and the state of the roads are key issues for East Barnet, as is fighting crime, a battle he criticises the local Tory councillors for stifling by opposing extra funding for police officers.
Thurai Pavanakumar, a Conservative Friends of Israel member, is among candidates looking to unseat Labour in East Barnet.
He said he would focus on fixing potholes, affordable housing, protecting the green belt as well as getting Barnet a fairer share of police resources and looking at the cost of council outsourcing.
The Liberal Democrats are also hoping to reduce Labour’s hold in East Barnet with former Mill Hill councillor Sean Hooker.
He is used to disputes from his work at lettings agent complaints service the Property Redress Scheme and said he would also focus on council outsourcing, rising anti-social behaviour and the borough’s roads.
Addressing concerns over rising anti-Semitism, Hooker said: “The trust and support of the Jewish community is damaged by ill-informed and unjustified comments by senior politicians from all sides.”