With just over two weeks to go until the general election on 7 May, we're taking a look at London's second closest marginal seat in the upcoming political battle. The issues faced by the constituency are representative of some of London's wider problems — regeneration, loss of social housing, along with outsourcing and cutbacks to the Conservative council's services. Having won Hendon by just 106 votes in 2010, the Conservatives are looking increasingly likely to lose it back to its previous Labour occupant, Andrew Dismore. And if that's not a nice metaphor for the election as a whole, we don't know what is.
Who are the candidates?
So who are the candidates for Hendon? The Conservative incumbent Matthew Offord plans to defend his seat from the aforementioned Andrew Dismore, while UKIP candidate, Jeremy Zeid, was replaced in March by Raymond Shamash after Zeid posted on Facebook that Israel should “kidnap” US President Barack Obama (as you do). The Green Party's Ben Samuel and Liberal Democrat Alasdair Hill have posted their own short videos, pitching their candidacies to the constituents.
Hendon and its voters
Centre for London's Lewis Baston noted in his recent article on the capital's election battlegrounds that the demographic of Hendon is changing, with more lower income families moving out of central London and a rising black and ethnic minority population. UK Polling Report describes Hendon as "an ethnically diverse seat, with around a third of residents describing themselves as non-white". The constituency also has quite an economic split between the more affluent Mill Hill and less wealthy Colindale.
What Hendon also has is a significant Jewish community. One of the highest Jewish populations of any seat in the UK, in fact. The ward of Edgware is almost 50% Jewish and houses 12 synagogues. 50for15's Claire Dumbill has done some insightful analysis into the Jewish vote and how influential a pro-Israel stance is likely to be:
"Since 2010, Ed Miliband’s increasingly critical stance on Israel has alienated prominent Jewish donors. The votes of ordinary British Jews can’t be predicted with reference to community leaders and party donors. Both groups are likely to be more politicised, and the former certainly to have a more entrenched stance on the politics of Israel. But, for Labour candidates, even those with a strong pro-Israel record such as Hendon’s Andrew Dismore, Miliband’s Israel stance will likely make picking up Jewish votes at the margins more difficult."
Dumbill also notes that while Hendon's Jewish community is divided on the subject of UKIP, Nigel Farage's pro-Israel position could see a swing from the Tories if Conservative Jewish voters prioritise their policy on Israel as a deciding factor. UKIP also shares opposition to gay marriage with Matthew Offord, which apparently gained them some support, according to Geoffrey Alderman's 2014 article in The Jewish Chronicle.
How did Hendon vote in previous elections? We gathered the results from general elections since 1992. Note there were boundary changes to the constituency after 1992 and 2010 and Hendon now consists of seven wards in the London Borough of Barnet — Burnt Oak, Colindale, Edgware, Hale, Hendon, Mill Hill and West Hendon.
|Conservative||20,569 (53%)||18,528 (37%)||14,015 (34%)||15,897 (38%)||19,635 (42.3%)|
|Labour||13,447 (35%)||24,683 (49%)||21,432 (52%)||18,596 (44%)||19,529 (42.1%)|
|Lib Dem||4,136 (11%)||5,427 (11%)||4,724 (12%)||5,831 (14%)||5,734 (12.4%)|
|UKIP||N/A||N/A||409 (1%)||N/A||958 (2.1%)|
|Green||N/A||N/A||N/A||754 (2%)||518 (1.1%)|
|Other||525 (1%)||420 (1%)||271 (1%)||761 (2%)||N/A|
|Majority||7,122 (18%)||6,155 (12%)||7,417 (18%)||2,699 (6%)||106 (0.2%)|
YouGov's Nowcast page currently shows Labour 14.6% ahead of the Conservatives.
It's our favourite subject at Londonist. The local authority has recently come under fierce criticism over its "chaotic" handling of the evictions of Sweets Way tenants to make way for a £520m regeneration scheme. Apparently dismayed at the high valuations for compulsory purchase given to West Hendon residents by independent surveyors, the council sent its own valuers in who managed to produce more 'acceptable' figures — less than half in some cases. The council has been accused of social cleansing, seemingly encouraging residents in social housing to leave London.
Andrew Dismore has hit out at Barnet over proposed increases to social tenants' rent — one of his pre-election pledges on housing is to make property developers provide homes for local people and insist on a fair share of affordable housing:
"In a recent Colindale scheme, [Barnet Conservatives] agreed to just 24 affordable flats out of 396 new homes — the rest for open market sale. Of the 20,000 homes they claim are to be built in Barnet, just 42 will be council homes to rent."
This ties in with his party's national policies on tenants' rights — with a pledge to introduce three-year tenancies and predictable rents based on market value as well as a ban on letting agents’ fees for tenants.
In common with Labour's mansion tax proposals, Alasdair Hill says the Lib Dems will introduce a levy on properties worth over £2m. Offord (like UKIP) pledges to protect the Green Belt and put a stop to "garden-grabbing" developments, which looks a bit to us like another way of saying "we'll build fewer bloody houses". We asked the Conservative candidate about his policy and pledges for Hendon's housing and didn't receive a response. Offord did, however, appear at the Hendon United Synagogue on 19 April for a Parliamentary hustings, where he defended his party's widely-criticised extension of the Right To Buy scheme.
The Green Party's pledge on housing isn't dissimilar from Labour's — push developers to include more affordable and social housing, cap rents, introduce regulations for landlords and impose a tax on empty homes.
With the Tories' and UKIP's housing policies favouring brownfield rather than greenfield sites, what does this mean for Hendon? The regeneration of the West Hendon estate will see an increase in the number of homes from 680 to more than 2,000 homes, boosting the population from an estimated 1,500 to over 9,000. This seems quite staggering to us and pretty much the first thing we wondered about was how the local infrastructure will cope. The Broken Barnet blog speculated that the density would be above recommended levels, and other local amenities simply aren't up to the job. And with Barnet predicted to become London's most populous borough, we reckon whoever ends up representing a rapidly-growing electorate will have a tough job on their hands.
Where some parties agree
We've gathered a list of each candidate's campaign issues to see where some common ground lies.
It may come as a surprise after the much-reported bouts of pre-election squabbling, but at least some of the parties are united on local issues. The Lib Dems, Green Party and Labour have all cited cuts to Barnet libraries as part of their campaign plans. Andrew Dismore claims the cuts could be as severe as 60% and both he and Alasdair Hill have started separate petitions, while the Greens urge the Conservatives to scrap their plans. Barnet residents have been fighting the cuts since 2009 and Friern Barnet's library was taken over by Occupy in 2013 in a last-bid attempt to save it following the failure of a local campaign.
The really big Venn diagrams of agreement for all parties are education and healthcare. Andrew Dismore says class sizes of over 30 are increasing in the local area, with a shortfall of 20% primary and 5% secondary places. The Greens agree, calling for more state schools and chucking in a halt to the sale of school playing fields for good measure. They're likely to need as many as they can get with the borough's projected population growth. Matthew Offord is throwing his support behind free schools and letting all existing ones apply for Academy status, while Alasdair Hill describes education as his "number one priority", telling the Times Series in April:
"As a state-school teacher I see this daily; an experience that parliament is in desperate need of. My party introduced the Pupil Premium; additional funding to disadvantaged schoolchildren that has brought in over £17m to Hendon students. If I am elected I will push for the Pupil Premium to be extended to early years in an education budget that will be protected in real terms. I will ensure all pupils are taught by qualified teachers and that every child will have a core curriculum that includes finance and relationship lessons."
If most of the parties agree on education, they get virtually unanimous on healthcare. Both the Greens and Lib Dems have singled out mental health as part of their campaigns in Hendon. The Conservatives want to give local people more power over their healthcare services and Labour says it will guarantee an appointment with your GP within 48 hours by employing 8,000 more of them nationally, as well as 20,000 nurses. UKIP's Raymond Shamash demonstrates that they aren't at all a single-issue party by saying he wants protect the NHS — by promoting a points-based immigration policy.
And where they disagree
The outsourcing of local authority services under the widely-criticised One Barnet is (unsurprisingly) supported by Matthew Offord:
"Outsourcing and sharing local authority services is not new and some of the most successful councils in the country have been doing this to a greater or lesser extent for many years. We are fortunate in Barnet that the council had the foresight to take this a step further with the One Barnet initiative three years ago — and I am pleased that such innovation has emerged in the area in which I live."
For those unfamiliar with the One Barnet saga, the Conservative-run local authority formed two deals under a joint partnership with Capita, said to be worth an estimated £480m, to deliver the council's services and provide back office support. Local blogger Mr Reasonable reckoned that despite Barnet's bullish claims to save taxpayers money, the figures didn't quite stack up and were followed by a fairly damning internal audit report.
But Andrew Dismore and the Greens' Ben Samuel both pledge to challenge the One Barnet consensus. We suspect this is a massive votewinner of a local issue — the outcry and condemnation from Barnet residents has been widespread. Last year's council elections certainly saw residents voting with their feet — the Tories lost six of their 38 seats and Labour gained eight to give them 27, meaning the Tories nearly lost control of the council. Labour councillor Alison Moore said after the elections the results "show just how angry people in Barnet are with the Conservative administration — over parking, over privatisation, over housing".
And let's face it, the infamous legacy of former councillor Brian Coleman has cast a long shadow for Hendon's Conservatives. Throw in One Barnet, the high profile West Hendon regeneration and Sweets Way evictions, and it's no surprise that the constituency is touted for a return to Labour. Hendon is one of those marginal seats where voting really does matter, so we hope local residents put in their registrations to vote in time.
Read more from the Barnet bloggers:
Read more of Londonist's election coverage.