The highlight of any election campaign in Hendon has to be the Mill Hill Synagogue hustings; a packed house, a skillful chairman and a lot of challenging questions from the audience.
It's fair to say that going on the results of the last election Matthew Offord, above all candidates, could have expected a friendly reception tonight. Over the last few weeks much attention has been paid to the Labour Party and their problems over anti-semitism. Indeed many believe, myself included, that Theresa May called the election because she and her party colleagues believed that Labour were doomed to defeat. Perhaps Matthew Offord hoped that with his arch-rival Andrew Dismore not running that he would romp home to victory with little or no serious opposition. In any case Matthew appeared relaxed and friendly tonight at the beginning of the meeting.
Each candidate opened with their intial speech - Carmen Legarda from the Greens emphasised her belief in an equal society. Labour's Mike Katz referred to his deep involvement with the Jewish Labour Movement and his clear unequivocal commitment to Israel and his own Hendon connections. Matthew Offord's opening speech was certainly strong and confident and referred to the awful tragedy in Manchester at the start of this week. Liberal Democrat Alasdair Hill's speech also referenced Manchester at the start and his own military family background.
Alasdair attacked the use of EU nationals as bargaining chips in the Brexit divorce talks and attacked Conservative school cutbacks.
Sabriye Warsame from the UKIPs spoke last and urged voters to support UKIP.
Each candidate was given, in addition to the general questioning from the floor, their own dedicated question. Rabbi Schochet opened with a tough question to Labour's Mike Katz; Do you support Jeremy Corbyn and what is your view on anti-semites in the Labour Party? Mike was unequivocally against both Corbyn and the anti-semites. The Greens were asked specifically about their own support for BDS and was Israel an aparteid state? Carmen Legarda stated that she wasn't in agreement with either statementbut that sanctions were more preferable to war.
Alasdair Hill was asked did he think the Liberal Democrats were relevant? Alasdair said that the Liberal Democrats were more relevant now than ever, given their clear opposition to hard Brexit and the need for a moderate opposition voice. Sabriye Warsame was asked about former UKIP funder Aaron Bank's departure from the UKIP amd if UKIP could survive. Sabriye believed they could.
Matthew Offord was read out an email sent by a synagogue member, known only as "Alan" who was terminally ill when he wrote to Matthew Offord on the 24th February this year to raise the issue of changes to the Widowed Parent's Allowance which were to be drastically cut back as and from April 6th. "Alan" wrote again on March 10th as he had no reply from Matthew Offord. According to "Alan"'s widow who was present, they never had a reply from Matthew Offord. Offord appeared rattled by this; he stated he always replied to emails. Offord called out from the stage to Hilary Smith, his agent; "we've replied to this haven't we?". In business circles blaming someone else for your own faults is known as "throwing someone under the bus". Matthew Offord strongly reiterated that HE "always responds to emails"
"Alan" passed away at the beginning of May, nearly a month after the changes to the Widowed Parents Allowance came into effect.
After this initial round of directed questions, Rabbi Schochet directed the candidates to presubmitted questions which he either read out or took from the floor. These queries ranged from probing the candidates’ views on using Trident funds to increase the country’s anti-terrorist measures (all supported, with Hill, Katz and Offord saying it is a case of both) to whether the candidates would vote against their party and for Hendon in a Brexit decision (Katz would vote with Hendon, Hill believes that the LibDems and Hendon are aligned so the question is moot, Offord that he would vote with his party and that MPs need to contradict their constituents sometimes).
Other issues raised:
- Whether candidates would support the closure of existing free schools (no one would with Katz and Hill wanting more control by local authorities)
- The level of smoking in the underpass at Mill Hill Broadway (all candidates apart from Warsame highlighted the extreme level of pollution in the area being a key issue)
- What would the candidates bring to the area as a local MP (Offord highlighted his relationships with the police, Katz his links to the area, Hill his work with the Save Barnet Libraries campaign)
At the end of the debate Rabbi Schochet asked the audience if any of them had changed their minds as to who to vote for in the election as a result of the hustings. In 2015 very few people put their hands up.
This year there were several hands up!
At the end the general view around the room was that it was a toss-up between Alasdair Hill and Mike Katz as to who was the strongest performer on the night.
Many thanks to Mill Hill Shul for putting on yet another busy and well-run hustings. Special thanks to Rabbi Schochet who chaired the meeting well, and to Lucy Jackson who organised the evening. It was good to chat with Jon Klaff, Adam Dawson and James Ansher who were also involved with the evening along with many others including the CST who kept everyone safe.
Richard Logue is a Mill Hill Resident. He was formerly chair of The Mill Hill Residents Association and is currently the election agent for Alasdair Hill. Guest blogs are always welcome at The Barnet Eye. Have you attended a local election event? Give us your review/.