The Labour candidate for Finchley and Golders Green has apologised to rival candidate Luciana Berger for the way his party has handled antisemitism.
Ross Houston made the apology in front of 400 people in a multi-faith hustings at Alyth Synagogue. He also said he is absolutely committed to ensuring his party fully adopts the IHRA definition of antisemitism.
“I want to sincerely apologise for the handling by my party of antisemitism and the hurt it has caused, both to party members and to the Jewish community. I apologise to Luciana for being a victim of antisemitism and fully respect her decision to leave’’. He added that he would only remain in the party if , “we fully adopt the EHRC recommendations and the party is a place where the likes of Ruth Smeeth feel safe”. The Party is currently being investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission concerning a plethora of complaints about its handling of antisemitic incidents by its members.
Berger defended her decision to join the Liberal Democrats, despite having ruled out such a move earlier in her career. She said: “The Labour Party that I thought I had joined 20 years ago, betrayed my values. I stand by my criticism of the Liberal Democrats’ austerity cuts when in coalition with the Conservatives. But this is the party that defends Liberal Democracy and wants society to be open, progressive and achieve equality for all.”
She also outlined how she is a “person of principle” – in being one of the few MPs who didn’t vote to trigger Article 50 and in wanting to take the terms of the Brexit deal to the country, which she said reflects the views of Finchley and Golders Green, which is 70 per cent Remain.
Incumbent Mike Freer, who has held the seat for the Conservatives since 2010, maintained that, “As a democrat I believe in respecting the will of the people and that means abiding by the Brexit deal.” He also defended Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whom he acknowledged was a “marmite character”, but “who has delivered, whether on Brexit or for our local area. Boris was instrumental in providing the funding for the Henleys Corner development when Mayor of London.”
On the matter of forming a coalition, Berger said her leader Joe Swinson would not form a Government with either party. Freer said that the Liberal Democrats would have to go further, and reject a Labour budget, in order to prevent a minority Labour Government forming.
All candidates reiterated the need for zero tolerance for all forms of racism, with Berger citing the fact that her party suspended an election candidate within “30 minutes” for posting antisemitic social media comments. Freer described his party’s disciplinary panel on all forms of racism as “extremely robust, with matters dealt with fairly and swiftly”.
Berger, who characterised herself as a national-profile MP, with a strong local connection, reiterated that she would continue to champion “better funded schools, with much more mental health and special needs provision”. She also said that “the extra penny that we are proposing for social care is necessary for us all to get the level of support we deserve”. Freer and Houston agreed on the need for a cross-party group to decide how best to fund care for the elderly. “We know people don’t want to have their assets valued when making care contributions, and that they don’t want to pay more tax; but we have to come together and decide the best way to do this,” said Freer.
Freer also cited his “poor” background which included growing up in a home with “an outside toilet, and eventually being able to live in a Council House”. He added that: “I am a one-nation Tory. I believe in housing opportunities for everyone, which is why I have been so supportive of the Brent Cross development, which will greatly enhance the area, including by creating 1800 shared ownership properties and 1300 social rent units.”
The hustings went off without any shouting or jeering.