As I've now been adopted as the official candidate for the by election in Edgware, I thought I'd give some background regarding my decision. Up until the Council election in 2018, I would not have taken this decision. Between 2014-18, Edgware was represented by three Conservative councillors. Joan Scannell MBE, Helena Hart and Brian Gordon. Joan is a personal friend of mine and a member of the Mill Hill Music Festival committee. Although she has a rather different take on politics to myself, she was a solid local councillor. She was hard working and locally highly respected. Often, when there were contentious local issues, we'd have off the record conversations. These wouldn't be "dishing the dirt" sessions on colleagues, just sensible grown up discussions on matters that affected residents. For example Joan was aware of my concerns regarding the Railway Hotel and kept me informed of her efforts.
Sadly, in the run up to the 2018 elections, a whole swathe of good, solid, old school Conservative councillors were unceremoniously given the boot by the local Tories. They were replaced with ones more to the liking of Councillor Daniel Thomas, who was then working to oust the then Leader Richard Cornelius. Joan was very upset at her treatment in the selection process. Edgware is considered an ultra safe seat for the Conservatives. Along side Joan, another veteran and highly respected Edgware councillor Helena Hart also stood down. Both were strong councillors, with a good knowledge of Edgware and of Barnet politics. They were replaced by Sarah Wardle and Linda Freedman. As expected, they won easily in the Council election. Whilst it is good to get fresh bood into the Council, having two new, inexperienced councillors in a ward, with limited associations with the area, is not always the best way to start.
Within a few months of being elected, Linda Freedman was suspended from the Conservative group, when several tweets were uncovered that appeared to be of an Islamaphobic nature, as reported by The Independent. I stated my objection to her comments at the time. Interestingly, the Local Conservatives did initially take the complaint seriously. Councillor Gabriel Rozenberg recognised the divisive nature of the tweets and raised the matter. Interestingly it is Councillor Rozenberg, not Councillor Freedman who is no longer a member of the Conservative group. Councillor Freedman quietly had the whip reinstated, without any explanation of the decision, as reported by the Jewish News. The Muslim news also reported on the story.
As someone who totally rejects racism in all its forms, I can only say that I was horrified that there was no explanation, not even a public apology or explanation. I know several members of the local Muslim communuty who live in Edgware and were horrified. They include local business owners and the chair of a Mosque. All of them have worked to improve community relations and all previoulsy voted Conservative, believing the Conservatives to be the best party for hard working, aspirational businessmen. When the by election was announced, all asked me to stand and to raise the issue of Islamaphobia in the local Conservative party. Whilst the candidate standing against me is a sensible and decent chap, who I think would find such behaviour abhorrent, he is the official candidate of a party that has turned a blind eye to this issue locally.
Whilst the local Conservative party are keen to bury this issue, many local people cannot believe that nothing at all was done about it. I have an excellent relationship with people across the spectrum. I have supported and assisted many events organised by the Mill Hill Synagogue and are proud to be associated with them. I have nothing but praise for the work of Rabbi and his team. The Mill Hill Music Festival are proud to feature a Klezmer night as part of our programme of events. I also have worked closely with local Mosques, including installing a sound system for the Horn of West Africa Mosque in Colindale. In 2018, as part of my work for the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Parish council, I helped to organise a multi faith service of recollection for Mr Vijay Patel, a local shopkeeper who was tragically killed in an incident in his Mill Hill shop. I believe that it is of paramount importance for councillors to be able to reach out to all parts of the communty, but while such issues as Islamaphobia are swept under the carpet, how can communities trust them. I do not believe that the residents of Edware would feel comfortable with elected representatives, who get large allowances, but hold views than the vast majority of people would find abhorrent.
I passionately believe that we cannot turn a blind eye to these issues. That is why I joined Rock Against Racism back at Orange Hill School in 1978. It is why the Mill Hill Music Festival programme I help put together has included Klezmer, Dhol Drummers (Traditional Indian music), Reggae, Irish music. We need to build communities, appreciate and share in the good things of each others community. It is hard to do that when a section of the community seems to be viewed with suspicion by it's elected councillors. There is never an excuse for such things.