There has already been a lot written about the victory of my friend Matthew Offord in Hendon, by taking a seat where he had won just a 106 majority in 2010 and turning it into a sizable majority of 3,724 (or 7.5%), he has become one of the main talking points in the press. In 2020 he will fight his seat as a 10 year incumbent and assuming the party as a whole is not broadly unpopular then I can imagine him increasing that further. I understand that many who read this are not the biggest fans of the Conservatives in Barnet but I was asked to lay out the reasons why I think that he was able to retain his seat so clearly.
The Jewish vote. I’m going to be quite quick on this because I think it’s been absolutely done to death. Andrew Dismore (and Sarah Sackman in Finchley & Golders Green) was a fantastic supporter of Israel, something that Matthew recognised at all the hustings (of which there were six with both candidates). However the Jewish vote was cut to the core by Ed Miliband’s three line whip on Palestine, from that point there was no chance of Andrew capturing the significant chunk of that vote necessary to win in Hendon. Matthew proved himself a significant supporter of that community early on in his parliamentary career through his tireless work to secure funding for security at Jewish schools and other community locations which, while I find it very sad that we live in a society that requires this, is hugely important and incredibly popular within the community.
The Organisation. He won this game on the ground, we consistently had more volunteers out than the Labour party did in Hendon and we had them well organised. The credit for this can go to the Matthew and to the campaign manager who did a phenomenal job (and is modest enough that he’s refused to take any credit so I’m not naming him) on both using volunteers but also keeping them motivated. The message was confident but not complacent. We had fantastic help from Theresa Villiers and her team in Chipping Barnet who were incredibly supportive and put in remarkable amounts of effort to help us secure Hendon. On the day itself we had well over 250 people helping us get out the vote. In one way or another we spoke to just over 25% of the electorate on the day itself and over 65% of our target voters. Voters who were identified as swing voters would have received well 6 or more leaflets from us, some of those specifically targeted to their concerns. Voters identified as strongly against us were sent less literature, lots of this information came from the incredibly successful Conservative campaign in Hendon in last year’s borough election. Canvassing and other direct resources were aimed at our swing areas and this worked convincingly with both Hale and West Hendon wards showing significant Conservative wins on the night of the count. Our volunteers as well as the core team put in untold hours and we had more supporters actively engaging than has been seen in the history of the association which is corresponding with a rising membership over the last year.
The Liberal Democrats. I think Roger has slightly overestimated this in his previous post about the result in Hendon. He suggested that all Lib Dem votes split for Matthew in this election, some certainly did, maybe as high as 60% of those who voted for the Lib Dems in 2010 but that would be too narrow a picture. Mill Hill was the main area with significant Liberal Democrat support in 2010 and that did come out strongly for Matthew, however, from the data, I would argue that we did see a large number of traditional Labour voters who felt that Labour lacked direction and had become less supportive of the aspiration that had allowed them to own their own home also swing to Matthew and that this was masked by the drop in the Lib Dem vote. I genuinely feel for Alasdair Hill, he was a strong local candidate who believes in this area and he deserved to do better.
Community Groups. There is a fallacy complaint that Matthew has been an “absent MP” over the last five years. In the three years I’ve been involved in local politics I’ve seen him engage minority groups that have rarely any political figures take an interest, let alone Conservative ones. In the last weeks of the campaign I counted at least twenty members of the Anglo-Iranian come in and volunteer, showing their active support, it wasn’t mild but fiery and born of passion to see a strong candidate who has been committed to supporting them and their cause being re-elected. One lady who helped incredibly and who I don’t believe was able to vote told me “when you want to achieve something you have to go out and achieve it yourself”, she must have called well over a thousand residents for us. At Bhaktivedanta Manor just a few months ago, at the time of the Holi festival, I saw thousands of members of the Hindu community respond incredibly well to Matthew speak of his visit to their sister temple in India (on his own dime I might add) and his consistent and wholehearted support for their work in communities across North London and beyond. The Nepalese community of Burnt Oak must also be mentioned, without them it would have been impossible to deliver the estimated 600,000 items that went out over the last six months; although the tragic events in Nepal have quite understandably meant they have been focussed on other matters in the days before the election. I’ve touched on just some of the work Matthew has done in the community, multiple visits and work with our friends at West Hendon mosque, the large Cypriot community as well as numerous Jewish groups and Evangelical Christians have also helped to ensure that a Conservative in a very diverse area was returned to parliament.
Integrity. Matthew has never pretended to be anything other than who he is. He cares about the constituency but he doesn’t placate those he doesn’t agree with by pretending to agree like the average politician. That might wind some people up but it also means that he is an extraordinary advocate for causes he believes in and that people respect him. We are lucky to have one of the most outwardly focussed candidates in the country, I’ve met many MPs over the last couple of years and with the possible exception of Bob Stewart and Michael Gove, I have never met one more in tune with global affairs and how that affects our area and communities than Matthew. His background attending state schools and Nottingham Trent University has given him a passion for education and local schools that is remarkable. I know from personal experience that he’s regularly engaged with students and teachers across the borough regardless of his political views, as one of my teachers likes to claim, that despite actively campaigning against Matthew he’s bought drinks for him and his wife Claire (who also deserves immense recognition for the incredible work she’s put in to ensuring Matthew’s victory). Without his support we wouldn’t have been able to bridge the large shortfall in school places that Hendon faced, multiple schools have opened and expanded and local schools have received money for improvement work after lobbying from Matthew. Whether they agree with him or not students at Mill Hill County certainly can’t complain they don’t see enough of him, I counted at least four visits in the last year and he’s been a regular fixture since his original election.
I’d like to end this by thanking everyone who came out to help us, over the next few days and weeks Matthew will probably have to send out over a thousand messages of thanks to his active supporters and volunteers. However it was more than that, turnout rose, particularly among the young and groups mentioned above who were previously less likely to vote. So thank you to everyone who cast a ballot, regardless of whether the result went your way, democracy in Barnet won on Thursday, as local people proved they care about the representation of their area.
Stephen Mckenzie was the Hendon Conservatives Team 2015 coordinator. He is currently studying at at local School for his A Levels and hopes to go to University in September
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