Just a single vote was Julian Teare’s winning margin in the High Barnet ward in 2018.
After two recounts, he gained 2,605 votes, with Labour’s Amy Trevethan a political hairbreadth behind on 2,604. So, it is no surprise Labour and the Conservatives are pounding the streets to eke out every ounce of possible support for their candidates for the May 5 town hall polls.
Sir Keir Starmer launched his London local election campaign in Barnet, a sign that Labour believes it can oust the Tories for the first time in 20 years. It would be a landmark moment, after all it was Margaret Thatcher’s town hall.
However, Dan Thomas, the Tory council leader, said: “I’m cautiously optimistic. Our support is holding up.” He added: “But I’m cautious because of the unprecedented national backdrop and the new ward boundaries which make it difficult to call the results.”
Labour’s group leader, Barry Rawlings, is equally upbeat, if not slightly more. “It’s looking good at the moment,” he said. “We are getting a good response on the doorstep but it’s quite a way to go to win enough seats.”
Both leaders agree Jeremy Corbyn and the anti-Semitism row that engulfed him is no longer a factor as it was in the 2018 election, when it was partly blamed for Labour failing to gain Barnet despite the party’s high hopes.
Mr Rawlings, though, believes it will take longer for Labour to fully rebuild trust with some parts of the large Jewish community in the borough.
“We have turned a corner. There is still a long way to go but it’s not a dominant conversation,” he said of the Corbyn anti-Semitism storm. The partygate scandal, though, is clearly being raised by some voters, including Tories. Mr Thomas said that while people wanted to express their feelings about Boris Johnson being fined over parties, once they were reminded local elections were about issues such as council tax, bin collection, crime and parks, then his party’s activists were finding themselves engaged in “more normal local election conversations”. He added: “The people who are most vocal about partygate are people who have never supported us.”
From the top of the tower of Barnet church, key battleground wards stretch out below and in the distance including East Barnet, Brunswick Park and West Hendon. In the Barnet High Street area, there are signs that some residents may vote tactically for Labour. Vet John Welsh, 58, said he used to vote for green issues.
But he added: “I think this time I’m going to go Labour. The Conservatives have done too much wrong.”
School admin worker Jane Tullis, 57, who has previously voted Liberal Democrat and is planning to back Labour, said: “The Conservatives are out of touch. It’s time for a change.”
Retired maths teacher Bruce Mackie, 62, a floating voter, said: “Boris has to go. I think I’m going Labour this year.”
But Conservative support remains evident. Legal services manager Rebecca Smith, 43, said: “Nationally I vote Liberal, but locally I vote Conservative because they are the better party in Barnet for the community.”
For the London mayoralty she backed Sadiq Khan, adding: “So, I’m looking at who is best for what kind of area.”
Beatrice Frei, 79, will “most probably” stick with the Conservatives. “I don’t know who else will do better,” she explained. Helene Selosse, 29, a retail departmental manager, pictured below, said: “I’m going to vote green.”
In 2018, the Conservatives won 38 out of the borough’s 63 council seats and Labour 25. Defection and by-election changes have seen its political make-up become 36 Tories, 23 Labour, three Lib-Dems and one Independent.
Boundary changes could affect the outcome in many areas in what is London’s most populous borough, with more than 400,000 residents.
Nine two-member wards, and 15 with three members, are replacing the previous 21 three-member wards. Mr Thomas believes that the reforms’ impact is “about even”, though Mr Rawlings thinks they are “probably slightly favourable to us”.
With nine days to polling day, the final results might come down to just a few votes.