Election 2024: Constituency profile – Finchley & Golders Green

Election 2024: Constituency profile – Finchley & Golders Green

For the last three general elections, Finchley & Golders Green has looked at first glance like a constituency Labour was set to gain from the Conservatives, but each time the party has come up short. By “gain from”, I really mean “regain from”: Labour’s Rudi Vis won the seat the first three times it was contested, in 1997, 2001 and 2005. Then, in 2010, it became one of the London targets the Tories captured on their way to leading the coalition government that ended Labour’s long spell in national power.

Yet a striking thing about the 2010 election was that the Tories didn’t make as many gains in the capital as they had hoped to. As such, hindsight, paradoxically, marks out that underperformance relative to elsewhere as the onset of the absolute deterioration of support for the party in London that continues to this day. Why, then, despite this trend, has Finchley & Golders Green stayed Tory ever since?

The answer is not only that over 20 per cent of the constituency’s residents are Jewish, around 24,500 people forming the largest proportion of Jewish residents in any parliamentary constituency in the UK. But in the context of Labour’s fierce internal battles of recent years it is a very significant factor, both numerically and symbolically.

It was Mike Freer, a former Barnet Council leader, who turned the, by then, ultra-marginal seat blue in 2010, securing a majority of 5,809. In 2015, despite losing the general election, Labour did far better in Greater London than in Britain as a whole, taking 43.7 per cent of the capital’s vote and winning 45 of the 73 London seats, an increase of seven. However, Finchley & Golders Green wasn’t one of them. Freer’s winning margin was reduced by only 147 votes.

The resilience of Tory support in the seat that year looks to have been largely due to the then Labour leader Ed Miliband’s position on Israel. Although from a Jewish background, Miliband had been described by the Times of Israel as having “a very Jewish problem“. Speaking to the Jewish Chronicle the month before the 2015 vote, Miliband defended having criticised Israel over its military action in Gaza the previous summer. An opinion poll found that a big majority of British Jews intended to vote Conservative that year. This was bound to hurt Labour’s chances in Finchley & Golders Green, despite the party having a high-calibre Jewish candidate in local barrister Sarah Sackman.

It hardly needs repeating that Miliband’s successor as Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was very far from being more appealing to Jewish Londoners. Despite that, Labour narrowed the gap in 2017, probably helped by again choosing a Jewish candidate in the context of a wider, general drift towards the party and away from the Conservatives in outer London areas. But in 2019 Freer’s majority rose to a biggest ever 6,562. Labour’s candidate finished third, overtaken by Luciana Berger, a Jewish Londoner who, disgusted with Corbyn’s leadership, had resigned as a Labour MP for a seat in Liverpool and ran in Finchley & Golders Green as a Liberal Democrat.

Five years on, the electoral landscape looks very different. Barnet Council, similarly resistant to turning red, finally did so in 2022. Five of the eight Barnet wards in the seat are Labour-held, compared with three in the hands of Conservatives. Corbyn has gone and opinion polls now indicate that British Jews as a whole are far more likely to vote Labour than Conservative this time.

Mike Freer has gone too, announcing in February that he would stand down. In late 2022, Sackman was again selected as Labour’s candidate and able to say with conviction that Sir Keir Starmer had been tackling Labour’s antisemitism problem with determination and success.

Labour sources are diligently cautious about Sackman’s chances, but say she’s getting plenty of help on the ground from a wide range of local residents while the Lib Dem presence appears low key. Berger, now back in Labour, has given Sackman her endorsement.

The new Tory candidate, Alex Deane, is from a public relations background and a self-described Zionist and “tax-cutting, small state, free market” Tory admirer of Margaret Thatcher, who represented the forerunner Finchley seat. A pundit on the nationalist right GB News television channel, Deane was a prominent campaigner for the UK to leave the European Union and insists it is better off as a result. That might not weigh in his favour in a pro-remain seat, though he will hope having Rishi Sunak join him on the doorstep has helped. “Our vote is holding up,” he says.

In Finchley & Golders Green household incomes, home ownership, educational qualifications, higher-level occupations and levels of car ownership are all above the London averages. As well as Finchley and Golders Green themselves, it covers some or all of Childs Hill, Temple Fortune, Cricklewood and Hampstead Garden Suburb, a pioneering, early-20th Century realisation of the garden suburb ideal.

It is a distinctive, leafy part of outer London with an important London history, not all of it serene of late. Anger in the capital over Israel’s ferocious military response to the Hamas atrocities of 7 October has created anxiety among Jewish Londoners. Freer, though not Jewish, was a strong supporter of Israel. As such, he had had good reason to fear for his personal safety long before the latest violence in Israel and Gaza.

A fire started at the rear of the Conservatives’ constituency office just before Christmas was ultimately not linked to the Middle East conflict, but the immediate suspicion that it might have been illustrated a new mood of tension amid a huge increase in antisemitic incidents in London. Whoever wins the seat on Thursday will take on some very particular burdens and responsibilities.

OnLondon.co.uk provides unique coverage of the capital’s politics, development and culture. Support it for just £5 a month or £50 a year and get things for your money too. Details HERE. Threads: DaveHillOnLondon. X/Twitter: On London and Dave Hill. Photo: Sarah Sackman and supporters from her Twitter feed.

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