Luciana Berger announces bid for Finchley and Golders Green
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Luciana Berger announces bid for Finchley and Golders Green

Former Labour politician, who switched to Liberal Democrats on a Remain ticket, will take on incumbent Conservative Mike Freer at the next election.

Justin Cohen is the News Editor at the Jewish News

Pointing the way forward: Luciana Berger
Pointing the way forward: Luciana Berger

Luciana Berger will fight to unseat Tory Mike Freer in Finchley and Golders Green at the next General Election after she was unanimously adopted as the Lib Dems’ candidate for the seat.

The Liverpool Wavertree MP, who walked out of the Labour Party earlier this year over its response to antisemitism, was one of the founding members of Change UK but joined the Lib Dems earlier this month, citing its “unequivocal” stance against Brexit.

Berger has made it clear she didn’t set out to be characterised as a Jewish MP but the abuse she has faced from the left and right and her vocal opposition to Labour’s leadership has brought the former Labour Friends of Israel director’s roots to the fore.

This week’s Jewish News breaks the news.

Her arrival as a contender in the constituency with the largest Jewish population against one of its greatest friends sets the scene for one of the most high-profile contests of an election which is expected this year.

Berger, who widened her majority in her safe Liverpool seat in 2017 said: “Balancing personal and professional responsibilities is complicated for everyone and, as a family, we have had to work out how best to balance our work with raising our young children. ​After a great deal of thought, we have decided that after the next ​election – whenever that may be – we will relocate full time to London.

“It has been an enormous privilege to have served as the MP for Wavertree for almost 10 years. I cannot thank my constituents enough for the relationship we have grown over the last decade and what we have achieved together.”

Berger, who is also well known for her pioneering campaigning on mental health, vowed to continue standing up to Boris Johnson’s government which she insisted “is intent on taking us to the no-deal Brexit precipice which would result in serious consequences for jobs and livelihoods across the country”.

Freer, who has been elected on three consecutive occasions in Finchley, campaigned for remain but is likely to face strong questions for continuing to vote with the government despite its uncompromising Brexit position. Estimates suggest that nearly 70 percent of constituents backed Remain at the last election. Freer, a former whip, is also known as a strong supporter of Jewish communal causes including successfully lobbying for additional funding for security. He also quit as a parliamentary private security in 2014 in order to oppose a motion on recognising of Palestine.

Labour’s Jeremy Newmark slashed Freer’s majority to less than 1,700 two years ago but Labour currently doesn’t have a hopeful in the constituency after its candidate Sara Conway stepped aside last week. It’s understood that suggestions that Labour wouldn’t field a candidate if Berger stood in the area were met with laughter at a recent meeting of the local party.

It is understood that Newmark, now leader of the labour Group on Hertsmere Borough Council,  has told local members he would not accept any offer to stand in Finchley in the event of an election this year. Rabbi Danny Rich, who is Labour councillor for Barnet’s West Finchley ward, refused to rule out standing this week.

Mike Freer has been the local MP since 2010.

Flavible last week produced a projection of the constituency which suggested the Lib Dems could narrowly take a seat in which it has previously not been a serious contender.  It had Jo Swinson’s party two percentage points ahead of Labour, and a further point ahead of the Tories. The numbers however are not based on a poll of local voters but rather extrapolated from a national ComRes poll, with local census information and recent voting behaviour taken into account. Polling experts told Jewish News said such projections, known as MRP, proved fairly accurate in 2017.

Finchley & Golders Green is one of the most Jewish constituencies in the UK. Even so, a population survey in 2017 put the proportion of Jewish residents at 22.6 percent.

Freer told Jewish News: “I am friendly with Luciana and have nothing but respect for her standing up to Corbyn. She was the victim of virulent antisemitism in the labour Party, but the reality in FGG is that vote for anyone other than the Conservatives increase the chance of a Corbyn-led government.”

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