I spent last night at the election count for Barnet. It was fascinating night. I spoke to many of the key players as the night unfolded. On a personal level, I am friendly with many Conservative and Labour Councillors and candidates. Indeed my neice was a Labour candidate and on a personal level I was delighted she put in a very good show.
Let me start by doing a quick round up of some of the key conversations I had with some of the candidates. Lets start with the victorious Labour leader Barry Rawlings. I generally get on pretty well with Barry. He is nice guy, always courteous. I have to confess, I've got very frustrated with him in the past as Labour had, in my opinion missed golden opportunities to take the council in 2014 and 2018 and the reasons were quite clear for anyone who bothered to look to see. This time, Barry has had the last laugh. Labour have a huge majority in seats. Far more than any Conservative leader I can recall.
There are many reasons Labour won. Barry was honest enough to say publicly that it was as much to do with public disenchantment with Boris as anything else. Boris has replaced Jeremy Corbyn as the Barnet bogeyman, without Corbyn to scare voters and with Boris being a liability, the Tories tried to pretend Boris didn't exist. That worked as well for them as Labour pretending Corbyn didn't exist last time. I'd agree with Barry that this was the biggest reason. I'll go into the other reasons later. When the result became clear, I had a chat with Barry and congratulated him. I'd say he was genuinely shocked at the extent of Labours victory. Barry has been around the block a few times and I don't think he could quite believe it. So what would you expect a victorious Labour Leader, who has swept all before him, to say to a badly performing Lib Dem, who has been a bit of an irritant? This may shock you. Barry said he hoped that I would not give the Labour party an easy ride on my blog and would continue to hold him to account. Furthermore, he said that he'd love to have a chat with me in a couple of weeks to start to get a proper art and creative media strategy together for Barnet, as he's been appalled by the lack of one. I 100% agree and told Barry we should have a coffeee in a couple of weeks. This is something I've been campaigning about for years. The fact Barry mentioned it in a moment of victory says a hell of a lot about him. I had a suggestion for him. I said that the best thing he could do would be to co-opt Mr Reasonable onto the Audit Committee. I've no idea if John Dix would even consider it, but if he would, I am convinced that Barnet would be run far better. Barry said that it was something he'd certainly consider very seriously. He was not fobbing me off. I'm very pleased Barry has had this moment. He deserves it. He's been a councillor in a very hostile environment for a long time.
What about the Tories? Regular readers will know that I've been very complimentary of former Childs Hill Tory Peter Zinkin. I was buying a coffee and Peter was in the queue looking crestfallen. It had not been announced, but he'd just been told he'd lost in Childs Hill. I bought him a tea. It was the least I could do. Peter had made a personal effort to meet me at Hendon Cemetary last year, following my comments about the appalling state of it. Peter introduced me to the Capita official responsible for running the cemetary and as a result, many of the worst problems were sorted out. I don't agree with his politics, but he is a decent man and I was sad to see him looking so deflated. I also chatted to my Mill Hill opponents. Elliot Simberg and Val Duschinsky. I like Elliot a lot. He is a nice bloke and if I had to lose to anyone, I don't mind losing to him. He's got a good sense of humour and does the job of a councillor for all of the right reasons. He said to me "I'm gutted we lost the council". I replied "You should try being a Lib Dem", to which he roared with laughter. We've shared such banter a good few times. Val was more serious. She's clearly taken the defeat of the Tories badly. We agreed to work together on projects that are good for Mill Hill, notably step free access. I suspect that Mill Hill will not be a priority for the incoming Labour Council. I think it will be tough for the likes of Val and Elliot.
I also had a chat with former Tory Leader Richard Cornelius. Richard is another Tory I like on a personal level. He was shafted by Dan Thomas and deposed after the 2018 elections. I am very pleased that it was Dan rather than Richard who presided over the demise of the Tories. Dan has been a devisive leader and many Tory activists have downed tools since 2018. I suspect that had Richard not been shafted, they would have performed better in a few key seats. I always felt Richard had a very keen political sense of judgement, whilst Dan Thomas always struck me as arrogant and aloof. That works when you are on top, but I suspect that he is not flavour of the month with many of the defeated candidates. I had a bit of a laugh and joke with Richard. I'd not realised before, but he is a master of the art of gallows humour.
I chatted to quite a few other candidates. I spent a lot of time chatting to my niece Pascale Fanning-Tichborne, who like me was a candidate in Mill Hill. This was her first election as a candidate and her first time at a count. For a Labour activist, it must have been a brilliant experience. She had a great night. She was quite surprised when I was chatting with her and another Labour Councillor, talking about how awful the 2010 election was. Labour were soundly stuffed and the organisation of the count was appalling, being in tents in the freezing cold. Saracens StoneX venue is luxury in comparison.
As for my fellow Lib Dems. It was truly depressing and frustrating night. Some, especially in Finchley had high hopes. It is hard watching months of hard work crushed. Mill Hill wasn't a target, so my expectations were lower, but in Finchley seats, they genuinely believe a year of hard campaigning would pay of. I had the same experience in 2010 and it is humbling. I just hope that they do not get too depressed and demoralised. As I told Peter Zinkin, in politics, the tide comes in and the tide goes out and only a fool thinks they can stand against it. Will the tide ever come in for the Barnet Lib Dems? I believe it will, but it was very firmly out this time.
So why did Labour achieve such a spectacular result, apart from the sheer disgust at Boris? As a Lib Dem candidate, I've been constrained by what it was appropriate to say and not say. There are several key factors that no one has mentioned. The small things that swing wards and turn a slim win into a Landslide.
The first is that Labour appointed a professional campaign organiser. Previously, their campaigns were a little bit ramshackle and silly mistakes were made. Having a full time person doing the job has made a difference. Planning and organisation is key and I could see that they had their act together.
The second is that they were beneficiaries of the Lib Dems strategy and campaign problems. If I'd have been setting out the strategy, I'd have prioritised Finchley Church End, Mill Hill and the new Childs Hill ward, rather than the three Finchley Seats. The Lib Dems had held the old Childs Hill until 2014, and Jack Cohen had been a councillor until 2018. Not targetting it meant Labour picked up three seats that they were not expecting. A strong Lib Dem campaign may have won, or it may have let the Tories in. As it is, I suspect that the Childs Hill Lib Dem legacy is probably gone forever now. I also believe that the Lib Dems problems in Edgwarebury did Labour a huge favour, even though they lost the ward. Due to covid, we couldn't get a candidate to stand. This meant it was almost a straight fight between the Tories and Labour. The Tories threw the kitchen sink at Edgwarebury. I had come to the conclusion a week or two ago that the Tories would win, but they put so much effort into winning two seats, they failed to shore up other winnable seats. In Mill Hill, our campaign rattled the Tories, they divered resources into a campaign that they were always likely to win, which also damaged other seats where their support was wavering. These things are intangible and hard to quantify, but I was chatting with a former Labour election agent last week, who told me he expected Labour to pick up a few very unexpected seats as the Tories had a shambolic campaign, with a whack a mole strategy putting out fires, rather than working out what they really needed to do.
The third was that the boundary changes forced Labour to tear up the old plan that won the 1998 election, that involved winning targets such as Hale, that was ultimately an elusive dream. The refocus meant that their strategy worked better than the Tory one, which was a rerun of the 2018 campaign, when they had the Jeremy Corbyn factor.
The fourth was that the 2018 campaign persuaded the Tories that Barnet was obsessed with bin collections. It is not. The only people who mentioned it were ultra hard Tory voters, who had memorised their leaflets.
The fifth was that Labour was disciplined this time and stuck to it's strategy. In 2018, there were Momentum supporters doing freelance campaigning. In Mill Hill some were knocking on the doors of Jewish residents and picking arguments about Israel. This time, that simply didn't happen.
The final reason and this is one that no one else seems to have picked up on at all, was the weather. Yesterday was a glorious day. When the sun shines, the Labour vote comes out. The Tories tend to turn up come rain or shine. Many Labour voters have to walk or get the bus, far more than the Tories. If the rain is hacking down, many simply stay in. The weather couldn't have been better for Labour.
It will be interesting to see what Labour do now. They haven't been involved in running the Council for 20 years. None of the old guard who were senior councillors then are still around. There are lots of new Labour councillors with no experience at all. They will have a real job to hit the ground running. There are many things they should do, but will they? It's my job as a blogger to try and make sure they do.
I will finish off with a few words about the Barnet Tories. This is devastating and a total humiliation. They thoroughly deserve it for a number of reasons. Here are a few reasons they deserve little sympathy
1, They shafted former leader Richard Cornelius who defied expectations to win in 2018. His reward was to get the boot.
2. They treated the public with utter contempt. The changes to the rules on public scrutiny at council meetings were appalling. I sincerely hope Labour will change this. Barry assured me that this was a priority yesterday.
3. They have mismanaged the Capita contract and hidden the mess from public scrutiny, costing tens of millions of pounds.
4. They disposed of the old convention of making an opposition councillor chair of Audit, to ensure fair play, so one of their own could get a fat allowance. Although this will be a hard sell, I'd urge Barry to bring this back. I'm not sure any Tories deserve a fat allowance, but it will show that they are decent and serious about scrutiny.
5. In his speech on losing, Tory leader Dan Thomas completely failed to take any responsibility for their defeat. It was all someone else's fault. I suspect that the Tories would have lost anyway this time, but a canny leader like Cornelius would have made sure they didn't fall apart and let Labour have such a huge majority.
This morning Thomas will be waking up to the fact that many of his senior colleagues who survived will be losing their juicy allowances as commitee chair's. The local MP's will know that their campaign base has been decimated and is disgruntled. The local MP's were pretty invisible during the campaign. It seemed MP's from far and wide turned up, but where were Offord, Freer and Villiers? I am sure that those defeated councillors and those that have lost their allowances will remember this when, at some point in the next couple of years, they are asked to campaign in the next general election.
Many things will happen between now and then, but just as the loss of the Council in 1994 cost the Tories two MP's in Barnet, I suspect that they will pay the price big time. Offord, Villiers and Freer are not loved locally. They will now have to pay the price for not putting a shift in for the people who got them elected, the local Tory campaigners. Barnet just got very interesting.
As for me? When I started this blog, it was because I thought the people in charge of local Tories were beyond the pale. The likes of Brian Coleman, Mike Freer and Matthew Offord were the embodyment of what I consider the worst of Conservative Politicians. The only surprise for me about them losing the council is that they got away with it for so long. It will be very interesting to see what happens next. The biggest problem for the Barnet Tories is that there are so few of them left and they are nearly all the old guard in ultra safe seats, so there will be little opportunity to actually do anything differently.