Tucking into falafel at Hendon Park Cafe, Conservative candidate Matthew Offord tells me his favourite Jewish food is “anything with chickpeas. I’m obsessed by hummus!” It’s a rare moment of relaxation for the 50-year-old incumbent, who knows he is in the political fight of his career to retain his Hendon seat, after a narrow victory by 1,072 votes in 2017. Unlike his hummus, Offord is hoping his popularity won’t dip.
He is acutely aware that many former Labour voters now face a stark choice between Brexit-backing Tories and Remain-backing Lib Dems (Indeed, 62 percent of Barnet voted Remain).
Offord says this election will “hinge on antisemitism” for Jewish voters, not Brexit. “They understand a Corbyn government could happen if they vote Lib Dem. It simply comes down to this: vote Lib Dem, get Corbyn.
“The only indecision I see is people who have always voted Labour and don’t know whether to vote Lib Dem, Conservative or to abstain. Even if people voted Remain, they want Brexit to be sorted out and want to stop this stagnation.”
With “no regrets” over his Brexit position – backing both Boris Johnson and Theresa May’s deals – the MP since 2010 says voters on the doorstep are “uncomfortable” with the fact the Lib Dems “don’t respect democracy” in wanting to scrap Brexit.
Before stopping for lunch, I join a canvassing session next to Hendon United Synagogue, where Offord hands out his newsletter, telling voters about his work getting Hezbollah banned, protecting funding for faith schools and Jewish burial rights.
He is “proud of the fact that my first question in Parliament was to Michael Gove over school security and the government has since funded that”. Offord adds that the Lib Dem policy on kosher meat “is to follow the EU and to have the slaughter identified on products”. He disagrees with the Lib Dem policy, citing regular “mis-stuns”.
The Labour hopeful in Hendon is David Pinto-Duschinsky, 45, the son of a Holocaust survivor, who says his family roots “massively influenced” him. A resident of Jeremy Corbyn’s constituency, who will vote for the Labour leader on 12 December, he was a former adviser to the home secretary, and the then Chancellor Alistair Darling during the financial crisis of 2008, before turning to politics.
He says the country “desperately needs change and we desperately need a Labour government to bring that change”, adding: “It’s the most powerful vehicle for social change this country has ever seen.”
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When asked why he wants Corbyn as prime minister – amid the row over handling of antisemitism in the party – he admits: “Labour has a problem. There’s no whitewash. We need to do more. It’s as simple as that and it breaks my heart to say that, but we do have a problem and we need to fix it.
“That’s why I welcome the EHRC’s [Equalities and Human Rights Commission] review and want make sure they leave no stone unturned.”
He adds: “I don’t want a politics where I have to choose, or any Jew needs to choose, between who we are and what we believe. I understand people have left, and I respect their decisions, but I don’t think that’s the right decision.
“I want to fight for a Labour Party that Jews can be proud to vote for. I don’t think leaving the party helps.”
Our coffee shop chat is suddenly interrupted by a member of the public, who asks: “You’re not Labour, are you? Around here?”
Pinto-Duschinsky says he has not had
“a formal discussion” with the Lib Dems, but adds: “I obviously think it would be massively helpful if they stood down, because they can’t
“At the last election, they got 3.8 percent of the vote. If you want a second referendum, the only way to deliver that is by voting Labour.”
He returns to talk about his Jewish upbringing, going to Reubens after Shabbat,
and being welcomed into Finchley Progressive Synagogue.
“Having a daughter and watching how in our shul and community she’s been brought in, brought up and accepted, that sense of being embraced by a broader community is what being Jewish means.”
Meanwhile, despite her party registering under 2,000 votes at the last election in Hendon, Lib Dem candidate Clareine Enderby is chipper about her chances.
A former Labour member, who was the Lib Dem candidate for Finchley and Golders Green before Luciana Berger got the nod, she is deeply concerned about Brexit and the impact it might have on minorities.
Calling Berger “absolutely inspiring” and “incredibly brave”, Enderby tells me in a phone interview that the former Labour and Change UK MP “is a woman with the courage of her convictions”.
She adds: “She bravely stood on so many issues and she is hugely inspiring and good on the doorstep as well. I was very happy to stand aside for her.”
The former lawyer-turned-actress has limited experience with the Jewish community, but says Labour is “mired in antisemitism”, while adding the Conservative Party is “subject to accusations of Islamophobia”.
She expresses concern about the “undercurrent of anti-foreigner talk; the hostility makes minority groups more nervous”, adding that it is “inexcusable that two parties can be led by two people who are presiding over such a culture of intolerance to minority groups”.
Enderby bats away fears that a vote for the Lib Dems could let Corbyn in, saying:
“Jo Swinson has made it very clear we would not be letting Corbyn into Number 10.”
The Lib Dem hopeful also fights off claims that her party still has a lingering antisemitism problem, after being asked about the likes of David Ward and Jenny Tonge, who have since been kicked out over antisemitism claims.
“Those particular people you mentioned were forced out of the party. They were not tolerated. From time to time, no doubt, and we’ve had a surge in membership, things may come up. But the key thing is they are dealt with properly.
“There are processes, so this kind of attitude and behaviour is not tolerated and is not swept under the carpet the way antisemitism in Labour has flourished, and Islamophobia in the Conservative doesn’t seem to be being dealt with appropriately at all.
“I haven’t seen anything in the Lib Dems that would lead me to be worried about that – although isolated incidents have occurred in the past and they’ve been dealt with.”
- Portia Vincent-Kirby is the Green Party candidate in the constituency of Hendon.