|Breaking the mold of the old boys club|
Which brings us to his opponent, Sarah Sackman. As you've probably guessed, Sarah is not a white middle class bloke either. She is a very effective and capable barrister, who has got stuck in to local issues. Where Mike has managed to sniff out support in some areas not normally strong in support for the Conservative party, Sarah has also reached out far beyond the typical Labour core vote. Appearances at events organised by the Federation of Small Business has given her the chance to explain her family background of small business and hard work. At recent event, everyone I spoke to was highly impressed by her. Not all will vote for her, but even the fully committed Tories told me she was an excellent candidate. She has a monumental task in trying to overturn Mike Freer's 5,000 majority, but I believe she will. Talking to many local family and friends in the community, she has one massive advantage over Mike that I've not seen mentioned anywhere. Sarah connects extremely well with female voters. Not only that but she has spent the last year or so working extremely hard for their concerns. I first met Sarah through the save Friern Barnet library campaign. At the time she wasn't a candidate, just a local person who wanted to save an important community asset. Then she became involved in the successful campaign to Save Mapledown school services for handicapped people. It was 100% clear to everyone that Sarah was right. Her arguments were compelling, and the services were saved. What was interesting though was that the person who broke ranks with other Tories to save the school was Tory Councillor Maureen Braun. Whilst I thought her case was strong, Braun picked up on the fact that Sarah was appealing for hard working mothers to be given help. On an emotional level, this swung it. As Braun is a hard nosed Tory councillor of many years, I was amazed at this. However having seen Sarah in action, I have come to realise that with female voters she has an especially strong appeal.
This view has been reinforced by her performance at various hustings and meetings I've attended, where the men felt she made a good case, but the women thought she was a brilliant candidate. I personally dismiss opinion polls in tight seats, they mean nothing. I don't dismiss the evidence of my own eyes. In 2010, Mike Freer was fighting Alison Moore, the Labour Council Leader. Moore is a poor public speaker, an uninspring candidate and her campaign had the air of simply going through the motions. She got exactly what she deserved at the polls. A sound trashing. Since then, we've had the Tories try and shut Friern Barnet Library, decimate the High Street businesses with crazy parking policies, upset core Tory voters with the CPZ hike, the attempted closing of Mapledown school services, the attack on nursery provision in Finchley and the cock up that is the One Barnet outsourcing. Add into this mix an intelligent and hard working campaigner who is an excellent public speaker and you soon realise Mike Freer has a serious fight on his hands.
I wasn't too sure how the votes would go until I found out about the local Tory smear campaign against her. She is being attacked for all manner of completely irrelevant reasons on the doorstep by rather naive Conservative canvassers. I was chatting to a couple of locals and they were telling me that a rather fresh faced Tory canvasser told them she "wasn't local" as if this was big crime. As Sarah had played a massive part in the campaign to save a local nursery school (a campaign Mike Freer studiously ignored), they simply found this insulting. They also were rather wound up with how Mike Freer had hijacked the campaign to keep the No 13 bus. The problem with making silly claims is that people see through them and actually find the person concocting the wild stories to be untrustworthy. The Tories tried the same tack with Tony Blair, claiming he was really very left wing and would hike taxes. They tried this in 1997 and people saw straight through it. They tried it again at the next two elections and it failed equally miserably, especially as people knew Blair was more right wing that half of the Tory party.
What I find quite fascinating is whilst most male voters simply see these attacks as "par for the course", the female voters I've spoken to are really put off by the whole attack dog mode of behaviour. Many in the Finchley area have not forgotten the way the local Tories initially closed ranks against Helen Michael when Brian Coleman assaulted her. It was only when the BBC showed the CCTV footage of the attack that many privately admitted they'd been hoodwinked. Sadly for the local Tories, Mike Freer's failure to condemn Coleman for his assault is an albatross around their neck with local female voters.
The recent Ashcroft poll which put Sackman ahead in Finchley was flawed in several ways. One of which is that the poll asks what party people will vote for, not by candidate name. It has been shown time and time again that when voters recognise the name, they change their preference. Sackman has worked hard to build confidence and trust and I believe this will give her at least another 3-4% of the vote. It is quite noticable when you look at the twitter comments for Freer and Sackman, just how many more female voters seem drawn to Sackman. The pictures on the street also look far less "staged" and there seems to be a bit more warmth in the pictures with locals.
Have a look and see for yourself
Mike Freers twitter picture feed
Sarah Sackman twitter picture feed
They say every picture tells a story.
As we move into the last day of campaigning and it becomes ever clearer that Mike's campaign is in deep doo doo, I expect all manner of scare stories and bizarre, unsubstanciated allegations from Mike Freer's camp. It is what the Tories do. When I was standing in 2010 in Mill Hill, the Tories put a leaflet out claiming I wanted to build a massive football stadium on the Green Belt at Copthall for Kentish Town FC. Given that Kentish Town FC are in a very low league and get an average crowd of 30, this was clearly nonsense (what they didn't tell anyone was that they'd lined up Saracens RFC to go into Copthall in a 10,000 Rugby stadium). It did however scare a few people into voting Tory. So if you see some wild, unsubstanciated stories eminating from Mike Freer and his friends, I suggest you take a few pinches of salt with them. Things are going to get very interesting.