‘Doughty fighter’ Freer setting his sights on election hat-trick
On a gorgeous late spring morning, Mike Freer is sitting on a bench in a lushly gardened Golders Green neighbourhood, almost entirely occupied by strictly Orthodox families.
This is Freer’s third election: he won the seat in 2010, following the death of Labour’s Rudi Vis, who had become the MP in 1997.
Freer is a familiar figure in the constituency, on closer than nodding terms with rabbis and communal leaders, highly involved in the Conservative Friends of Israel and spoken of – even by his political rivals – as one of the Jewish community’s best friends in parliament.
Freer highlights a number of proud moments in the last parliamentary term, such as lobbying for £11.5m additional funding for security as well as supporting the establishment of the new Rimon & Alma schools.
He says he will continue to support faith schools as long as they uphold British values and support social integration.
He was also an enthusiastic “Remain” campaigner in the 2016 Referendum as to whether Britain stayed in Europe, something which, it turns out, was not in step with the opinions of many of the householders in this part of Golders Green.
But the pragmatic Freer is determined to make the best of Brexit and now hopes to get the best deal possible for Britain – and those whom he hopes will remain his constituents. “I felt we should respect the democratic view – and that if you ignore the vote [to leave Europe] it would corrode our democracy. Look at France and Germany: where people feel they have been forgotten, they turn to the extremes.”
He sighs when asked about the controversial decision of the Labour Party to stand two of the leaders of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) against him and Matthew Offord in the adjoining constituency of Hendon. Freer says: “I’m sure Jeremy Corbyn chose his candidates carefully. But it does make you think why Mr Corbyn didn’t ask Jeremy Newmark to stand in Bradford, or a seat outside Jewish areas, to ensure that the party is able to place candidates anywhere in the UK.”
No doubt, says Freer wryly, “Mr Corbyn has his reasons”, but he believes that “if you want to fight the fight for a particular party, you should be prepared to fight anywhere… and not stay in a comfort zone”.
Freer plays down remarks he made in the 2015 election when the Jewish barrister, Sarah Sackman, also a member of the JLM, stood against him in Finchley and Golders Green. It was suggested then that he believed he was better placed, as a non-Jewish friend of Israel, to make its case than someone who came from the community. Freer deprecates. It was not a huge controversy, he says, rather “two Labour councillors who tried to make a story. What I said was that if you look in the House of Commons, there are many MPs of all political sectors who are fighting Israel’s corner. Look at John Mann [the Labour MP for Bassetlaw who has spearheaded the fight against anti-Semitism]. Many of the doughty fighters on behalf of the community aren’t necessarily from the community, and sometimes that’s helpful. I wouldn’t say it was a controversy.”
Anti-Semitism, says Freer, is only raised on the doorsteps with him in terms of the Labour Party’s inability to tackle it. But he says it is important for organisations such as the CST to be well funded.
Freer lopes off on a whistlestop canvass of the local residents, his bright blue jumper and jeans a stark contrast to the almost uniform white shirts and dark suits of the householders who open the doors to him and his team.
But many of the residents both know and like Freer, some even asking him to pose for a selfie. There is scant time for prolonged discussion, but even on this quick door-to-door Freer is getting a good reception, with many people promising him their vote.
One of his canvassers says the Orthodox community has a record of a high turn-out on election days. “Many of these people are from families and places where being able to vote was of major importance, so they feel they have a civic duty. It’s part of their value system.”