Barnet: Conservative councillor defects to Lib Dems to defend seat

Barnet: Conservative councillor defects to Lib Dems to defend seat

A Conservative councillor in Barnet has left the party and will defend her seat at the borough elections for the Liberal Democrats instead. Helene Richman, who has served one term for the Tories representing West Hendon ward, announced on Sunday that she has switched parties.

Richman, a Lincoln’s Inn barrister specialising in commercial and property law, said she was “watching as the Conservatives are letting inequality rise and living standards drop – they have given up on communities like ours.” She contrasted this with the Lib Dems, who she said “believe in a fair and just society where everyone, no matter their background, feels comfortable and supported”.

Introduced at a photocall as a “local champion” by Barnet Lib Dem leader Gabriel Rozenberg, Richman said that since 2018 she has secured regeneration funds for West Hendon Broadway, fought the closure of a police Safer Neighbourhood Team hub, founded a foodbank, and tackled local flytipping, parking and road safety issues.

“I have dedicated myself heart and soul to you and improving your lives,” she said, addressing residents. She also spoke of her pride in Barnet’s multiculturalism.

Richman’s defection comes after she was not reselected to contest the seat amid conflicting claims about her relationship with the Conservatives and prior status as a prospective Tory candidate. Edgware Conservative councillor and party election agent Sarah Wardle told On London that Richman had been removed from the party’s list of approved candidates for 2022 over concerns about her conduct and had been appealing against that decision. 

Within an hour of Richman’s defection, Barnet Council leader Dan Thomas said in a statement that he was “absolutely delighted Cllr Richman has left the Conservative Party,” claiming, “she leaves under a cloud of two outstanding and serious complaints. She was recently subject to proceedings which I believe forced her to jump before she was pushed”.

Neither Thomas nor Wardle would specify who the “serious complaints” were made by, but Thomas said in his statement he felt let down by Richman in light of an apology she made to him after a 2020 recording of her “making unpleasant remarks to residents” emerged. “I genuinely thought she had improved her behaviour,” he said. “Sadly, recent incidents have caused me to change my mind”. He said the Lib Dems welcoming Richman into their ranks “illustrates how desperate they are”.

However, Richman told On London that “what happened in the last couple of weeks is politics, I guess. I think there have been breaches of the constitution of the [Conservative] Party. I haven’t done anything wrong. I [had] not had the whip withdrawn. This decision was not made by members of the Conservative Party in the ward. The three people who are running for the Tories were not chosen by the residents. To me, that’s a massive disenfranchising of the residents”. 

Her decision to stand for the Lib Dems “couldn’t be more sudden,” she said. “It’s very difficult to do something like this, this late in the day. When I talked very quietly to a few residents, they were begging me to run. I’m only doing it for them,” she says.

A local retired couple, Michael and Jacqueline McGrath, who came out to join the photocall, told On London they would back Richman because she’d been the only politician to help them with a claim for compensation relating to their accommodation. 

There have been upsets elsewhere in Barnet Tory ranks, with sitting councillors Nizza Fluss and Golnar Bokari not reselected for their wards, although both will run as Conservatives in other wards.

Barnet has seen previous eye-catching switches from larger parties to the Lib Dems, with Underhill ward Labour councillor Jess Brayne making the move in February 2019 over Labour’s approach to antisemitism and Brexit under Jeremy Corbyn, followed by Rozenberg switching from the Tories over Brexit. Former Liverpool Wavertree MP Luciana Berger stood unsuccessfully for the Finchley & Golders Green parliamentary seat for the Lib Dems in December 2019.

The Lib Dems hope Richman will enliven the battle for West Hendon by making it a “genuinely three-way fight”, though they are not fielding any other candidates in the three member ward, which returned three Tories in 2018 after Labour had held it for decades. Labour, boosted by favourable boundary changes, have expressed confidence that they will take the ward back this time. 

Barnet is a key target for Labour, which is seeking to win overall control of the borough for the first time since it was created in 1965 having fallen just short in 2014 and slipped back in 2018.

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