Friday 17 April 2015

Mike Freer and the Finchley & Golders Green pantomime

A very strange thing has happened in the Finchley and Golders Green election. In the space of three days, Tory candidate has gone into meltdown. On Monday I wrote a blog saying that being an MP seemed to be agreeing with Mike as he looked younger and far more relaxed than he did six years ago when he was leading the Council. Little did I know that a storm was brewing and Mike's notoriously thin skin was about to be stretched to the limit. The cause of the meltdown was former Tory Chairman Lord Ashcroft & respected pollster pollster who is now predicting that Labour will take the seat.

Mike reacted to this news in the way he always deal with difficult news. He got nasty and tetchy. He told the Guardian that his opponent, Sarah Sackman would jump on any bandwagon, in reference to her efforts in campaigns to save local libraries and retain funding for disabled childrens support services. Given that all of the campaigns Sarah Sackman has fought are highly emotive local issues, where even local Tories disagree with the Council, I found it hilarious that Mike would actually draw attention to them in the local paper. What exactly would Mike expect her to say if accused of "jumping on a bandwagon" when fighting for the rights of disabled children. Should she say "Oh, I am sorry I should have let their services be cut, so that Mike wouldn't insult me?" Heaven only knows what he was thinking.

 As if this wasn't bad enough, he has made an even more bonkers gaffe today.He has told Jewish News that he can "represent Jews better than a Jew".  He said  “A non-Jewish MP is able to represent Jewish constituents more forcefully as I can’t be accused of any vested interest. People know if I’m arguing for the Jewish community, it’s what I believe and what constituents want.” 

It appears that Mike is seeking to adopt the "Ali G" approach to the question of race. If it wasn't so hilariously stupid, it could be deemed offensive and patronising.Let's consider Mike's claim in a bit more detail.  Given that Mike isn't from the Finchley and Golders Green area, one has to assume that his interest in Jewish politics arrived at around the same time as he decided he wanted a career in politics. Like many politicians, Mike clearly looked at the demographics of the area in which he lived and decided it was a good move to get onside with various local communities. Now there is nothing wrong with trying to understand your electorate and representing them, but to claim that you can do the job better than someone who has grown up within a culture is completely ridiculous. A few years ago I went to a charity fundraising dinner, where a Jewish friend of mine from Orange Hill School was speaking about the need to support the charity, which raises money for local elderly Jewish people, who need care. My friend is a successful businessman and I'd never really put him down as a great orator. When he spoke, he talked about his family, how his parents and grandparents had fled Germany, how many of his uncles and aunties hadn't and how they'd perished. He talked about how his family had struggled, about how anti semitism had destroyed half his family. He talked about how his grandparents and parents had worked night and day to ensure their children had a future. He told how that by the time he was born in 1961, the family had a successful business, built from nothing. He talked of their sacrifices and the sadness in their heart for lost family members. He then explained how they needed specialist care as they reached the twighlight of their lives and how important the work of the charity was. They needed an environment that understood their social and cultural needs. The dinner was a great success raising a huge amount of money. 

When I read Mike Freer's comments, my mind went back to that. Is there any way that Mike Freer could start to put across the case so passionately? When he is in Parliament, he may speak well if he's had a briefing on a subject, but does he instinctively understand the cultural implications of what is being discussed? Whatever Mike Freer may say about Sarah Sackman, it is clear that having been born and raised in a community, she instinctively will recognise any threats or attacks, without a briefing from a friendly member of the community. To her credit, Sarah hasn't played this card, which in a seat with 22% Jewish electorate could make a huge difference. Mike Freer has. Having had the chutzpah to make such a claim, he now has to watch it crash in flames. Let me give another example of why Mike has been hoisted by his own petard. By any judgement, his finest moment in parliament was his speech about same sex marriage

It should be clear to anyone watching that the reason that Mike could put his case so effectively is because he is representing the gay community. The issue affects him directy and he was able to make a brilliant speech putting his case forward, calling on his own personal experiences. Mike was widely congratulated for this speech and it was widely accepted that the personal element that he referred to helped him make the point.

Sadly however Mike feels that Jewish people clearly can't use their personal experience to the same effect. They need "Big Uncle Mike" to make the case for them. As far as I am concerned, the idea that Sarah Sackman, who is an extremely eloquent barrister, would be less able to represent the Jewish community than Mike Freer is laughable.

The trouble with Mike is that he just doesn't seem to really be clever enough to see the contradictions in his own arguments. In truth he's in a state of panic. His campaign has become like a pantomime, with Mike shouting "Where's my Parliamentary career" and the electorate shouting "It's behind you".

The following tweet seems to sum up the general reaction to Mike Freers statement

A Jewish MP who'll stand up for human rights is better placed to represent anyone... (1/2)

...than someone who'll defend Israel for the sake of his own votes (2/2)

I think that this statement from Mike could be the defining moment in the Finchley and Golders Green election. Whilst I am sure that some people would vote Tory even if a donkey was standing, many will be put off by what Mike had to say. I doubt that anyone in the Jewish  community thinks that only Mike Freer can represent them successfully. I think some may actually be rather disgusted by the implication that a Jewish MP may be perceived as less honest than someone who has simply turned up and grubbed for a few votes, when representing the people they've spent their life growing up with. 

The most illuminating thing about Mikes panto act is the fact that he has chosen this as his battleground. How desperate is that?

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