|Matthew Offord MP with friends|
In the second of our series on the local political scene in the London Borough of Barnet, we look at the Hendon Conservatives. Yesterday we had a look at the Labour party and the failings of the local organisation, which I believe contributed to its catastrophic failure in the local election. Today we seek to understand why the Hendon Conservatives are just so successful at the ballot box.
The success of the Hendon Conservatives is extraordinary. To truly understand this, lets not start with Hendon, lets start with Neighbouring Enfield North. In many ways, this seat is rather like Hendon. A sleepy suburb, that was Labour for the Blair years and reverted to Tory in 2010. Here are the results in 2010.
|Conservative||Nick de Bois||18,804||42.3||-0.8|
|Liberal Democrat||Paul Smith||5,403||12.2||+0.7|
|English Democrats||Raquel Weald||131||0.3||+0.3|
|Workers Revolutionary||Anna Athow||96||0.2||+0.2|
|Conservative||Nick de Bois||19,086||41.4||-0.9|
|Green||David Flint ||1,303||2.8||+1.7|
|Liberal Democrat||Cara Jenkinson||1,059||2.3||-9.9|
|Christian Peoples||Yemi Awolola||207||0.4||N/A|
As you can see, Labour turned it around and Joan Ryan stormed back in. What is interesting is how the Lib Dem vote in Enfield seems to have decided to back Ryan. Perhaps rather interestingly, the hard righ vote almost doubled, with the BNP voters defecting to UKIP.
Now lets compare this with Hendon. As you can see, Matthew Offord squeezed out Andrew Dismore with a tiny 106 majority.
|Liberal Democrat||Matthew Harris||5,734||12.4||−1.7|
Looking at neighbouring Enfield North, you may expect Dismore to have stormed back. What actually happened?
|Liberal Democrat||Alasdair Hill||1,088||2.2||-10.2|
As with Enfield North, the hard right vote more than doubled. But look where the Lib Dem vote went. With the rise in turnout, none of it went to Dismore. Basically, the Tories hoovered up just about every spare vote to keep Dismore out.
So why the huge difference. If you didn't know Enfield, and were only familiar with Hendon, you may say "Well Dismore had all those problems with his expenses, so people didn't like him". In actual fact, Joan Ryan had the biggest expenses bill of any MP and a far worse record on this than Dismore.
In short, there can only be two possible explanations for the different outcome. Either Barnet Labour are particularly bad at campaigning or the Barnet Conservatives are particularly good. Well if you look at the figures, this shows that both of these propositions can be demonstrated to be true.
The turnout went up from 46,374 to 49,630. Basically if this rise had been equally distributed between the candidates, Dismore would have got 20,900 and Offord 21,013. As you can see, Dismore actually got less than this and Offord over 3,000 more. In short, whilst Dismore lost votes, Offord piled them on. However the Barnet Labour party choose to look at this, it is a monumental failure.
For this blog, we are concerned with the Tories. Perhaps the conclusion you'd have drawn was that the Hendon Tories were a super slick organisation to do so well, in the face of a London wide swing to Labour. I am friendly with maany of the local Conservative councillors and activists and I have to report that this is not the view I have formed. In the run up to the election, I was told time and time again that they expected Dismore to wipe the floor with Offord at the polls. The opinion polls also told the same story. Even Matthew Offord joked with me at the Mill Hill hustings that he'd be able to attend a few concerts for the Mill Hill Music Festival as he'd have a bit of time on his hands.
In actual fact, I think the expectation of failure was Matthews biggest assett. This may sound odd, bit in 2010 he expected to win and was rather arrogant and nasty. He would get tetchy at times and I have to admit I found him rather unpleasant on occasion. At the count, when it actually looked for a while like Dismore would win, we saw the worst of his character.
Fast forward to 2015. With no expectation of winning, we saw a different Matthew Offord. He was quite huumble and quite funny. He put a Tory rosette on his dog and he happily chatted to anyone who wanted to listen. At the Mill Hill hustings, I thought he did rather well. Having said that, being a bit more relaxed doesn't win votes.
Where I think Offord scored well was in the under the radar campaignbing he was doing. In Burnt Oak, he's made a massive effort to befriend the Gurkha/Nepalese community. I have had a few conversations with them and their organisation and they love Matthew. He has also got very close to the Evangelical Christian community. With his implacable opposition to same sex marriage, he built strong alliances, especially with the African members of this community. Whilst for liberal North Londoners, Offords stance may not be appealing, to the fundamental Christian community it is a huge vote winner. Many of the members of these congregations are typically Labour supporting people on low incomes with strong moral values. They saw Matthew as a huge ally and a very moral person. Another area where Matthews stance has gone down very well is in the religious orthodox Jewish community. Wheras in neighbouring Finchley and Golders Green, Mike Freer blew a fuse over claims that Labour canvassers were using his open gay lifestyle to turn religious Jews against him, in Hendon Matthew Offord was able to claim with pride "I voted against gay marriage" to these voters.
Whilst Matthew Offords stance may be unappealing to liberal minded voters, it certainly had a galvanising effect on those who hold strong religious views. Even for more liberal minded members of the local Jewish community, Offord was able to display cast iron credentials for supporting Israel, a very important factor in the Hendon electoral equation. Another area where Offord scored heavily was in the Cypriot community, with his implacable support for the struggle of Greek Cypriots. There are several other groups that Matthew has courted over a long period, including the local Iranian community. Over his five years in Westminster, Matthew has built up a strong personal vote in all of these areas.
It is also clear from the demographics that Matthew hoovered up a large number of former Lib Dem voters (whilst Dismore actually seems to have put them off). Having stood for the Lib Dems in 2010 council elections, I know many of the local supporters. Whilst Dismore was seen by many as an enemy for his ritual attacks on the party at local and national level, Offord was always extremely courteous about his coalition partners and claimed that he was very comfortable working with them in Parliament. You do not have to be a genius to work out which appoach was more likely to succeed.
And what about the local Conservative association? As I said, I was surprised at how lukewarm they seemed to be about the campaign. I cannot believe how few leaflets I've had and we didn't get a knock on the door a single time. I didn't see any Conservative street stalls at weekends in Mill Hill. I was quite disappointed by this as I always enjoy having a chat with the activists and finding out how the campaign is going. In fact the only street stall I saw was the UKIP one. It may well be I was just out at the wrong time, but in years gone by, you couldn't miss them.
The Tories are pretty good at telephone canvassing and staging micro events to drum up support. Local activists have spent long hours cold calling people and explaining how the SNP will ruin Hendon if Dismore won. Personally I find it hard to believe that such calls would be anything more than an extreme annoyance. I hate any form of cold call, even when Laithwaites ring up to give me free wine, but I am sure the Tories have done their homework on this subject.
So where does this leave the Hendon Torys? Well I would say that they are in pretty good place right now. Offord has moved his seat from being top of the target list to a fairly comfortable majority. He has confounded his critics both in and outside the party and unlike the last election, where there was a cloud of electoral impropriety, following allegations from Andrew Dismore, this time he's won, fair and square.
That is however, not the full story. As Offord has shown time and time again, he is what might be described as hard right. At the Mill Hill Hustings, the UKIP candidate praised him for his stalwart opposition to the EU. If there is a referendum in 2017, Offord will be at odds with his leader on this issue. I do wonder how this will play with his Cypriot friends? It is all very well pulling out of the EU, but this will give the UK zero influence in regards to a future Turkish membership of the EU. I think once the local Cypriot community wake up to this fact, they may take a rather different view of Matthew and the local Tories. Then there is the issue of same sex marriage. Whilst the vote is done and dusted and most have accepted it, I do wonder whether this will eventually become an albatross around his local colleagues neck. It is no secret that many of the more liberal minded members of the local Tory associations would have nothing to do with Offord or his campaign, preferring to support the more liberal minded Freer's campaign. I am reliably informed that Freer would have been less than gutted if Offord had lost, as the two have fallen out massively over the issue.
I am intrigued to see how Offord behaves in the new parliament. The only conclusion that he can possibly draw is that the local electorate likes his approach and behaviour. I am sure it won't have excaped Offords notice that his share of the vote went up, whilst Freer's went down in Finchley & Golders Green. I fully expect this to result in Matthew becoming even more outspoken on controversial issues. What will also be intriguing will be to see how many of Matthews friends in the various communities he's courted will start popping up in the Hendon Conservative Association as officers and council candidates.
I should imagine that Matthew probably awakes this morning with a bit of a sore head. He is a maverick and I fully expect to see more examples of his rather interesting views. I predict interesting times ahead for Matthew and his association. Whatever you may think of Matthew Offord, his achievement at the ballot box was stunning and he deserves a degree of respect for that, even if like me you have no truck with his politics.