Sarah Sackman, the Labour challenger has been working tirelessly to overturn the Conservative lead. Having known Sarah for several years, this does not surprise me. I suspect that the size of Sarah's victory will only be limited by the number of voters she is actually able to meet. I suspect that she is also likely to be very successful in the House of Commons. Whilst I would be very surprised if she achieved the level of success of the last female to represent Finchley, I would not be at all surprised to see her get a significant role in a future government. Sarah comes from a very tough, hard working background. Her grandfather still lives above the family business and it was 100% clear to me that Sarah has been drilled from a young age that anything is possible with hard work. Wheras many politicians come across as a bit shallow and false, this is not the case with Sarah. She is clearly by far the most intelligent local politician in Barnet. Unlike most of the others I've met, she listens and will modify her views on an issue if she realises that her previous position was untenable.
Wheras the two local male Tory MP's seem obsessed with talking about cheese shops as a way of persuading locals that they care about the High Street and the local community, Sarah has been prepared to get stuck in to local campaigns. In recent weeks Mike Freer has been dodging husting events featuring Sarah as a way of trying to ensure that he doesn't get "found out". Whilst this has perhaps worked as a means of damage limitation, it has not impressed local people, who can smell a chicken run a mile off.
I was quite surprised on Monday when I attended the FSB networking meeting, where Mike was the guest speaker. Afterwards, I spoke to quite a few of the local business community. I actually thought Mike came over quite well, but this seemed to be far from the consensus view. Several people felt that Mike simply came across as a slick politician looking to keep his job. Now that the polls have turned locally and Mike is having to play catch up, it will be interesting to see how he does. My experience of him at Barnet Council was that he wasn't great under pressure. As Finchley is an iconic seat for the Conservatives, as the former home of Lady Thatcher, I expect to see a never ending stream of high profile Tory ministers and celebrities over the next few weeks. I also suspect that this won't work. With the decline of local press and stratification of the media, this is a case largely of preaching to the converted. Sarah has inspired her Labour team to get out and do an enormous amount of personal engagement. I doubt the celeb visitors will be up for mass door knocking. As Sarah has been working for years, she knows the right answers for the locality.
Of course there are still a few weeks to go before polling day and anything could change. It does however seem that the local Labour ream have their campaign strategy together, whilst the Tory campaign has largely fallen to bits. The Tories are reaping the whirlwind of bad parking policies, Library closures and aloofness. Labour locally are benefitting from a good campaign and an excellent candidate, who is in tune with local people an local issues.
Perhaps the most interesting thing I've noticed is the effect of the Boris Johnson videos where he pledges support for Mike Freer and Matthew Offord. I was watching one in the shop and a customer was looking over my shoulder. At the end of it he said "who was that bloke with Boris?" I replied "That's Matthew Offord, the local MP". He replied "He ain't exactly Mr Personality is he". That is the problem with a visit from Boris, he eclipses everyting else in the Tory solar system, so people simply think "oh, how nice, I met Boris" and forget the fact that the local candidate ever existed. The videos would be far more effective, if the candidate spoke and at the end Boris said "Well that's why I am here to show my support"
Mike Freer with Boris: https://t.co/1fQEHq7tHz
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) April 8, 2015
As you can see in Mike's video, Boris is the star and Mike is the nodding dog. Whilst I think such Boris videos rally the faithful, I am not at all sure that any normal sane human being pays the slightest bit of attention to them.
The one thing that is 100% clear from Lord Ashcrofs figures are that if you do not want Mike Freer to be returned as MP, then a vote for the Greens or the Lib Dems is in effect a completely wasted vote. So whatever you think of Mike Freer, love him or hate him it is clear that every vote will count in Finchley and turnout could be the decisive factor.