The Battle of Barnet
Nothing showed the extent of Labourâ€™s triumph in 1997 more clearly than the way they took one supposedly rock solid Conservative seat after another in North London, including Hendon and Finchley & Golders Green. Up until 1994, when they lost overall control, the Conservatives had dominated Barnet council, since its creation in 1964. At Parliamentary level, they had won every seat up until the 1997 earthquake.
Barnet was divided into four constituencies up until 1997, and three subsequently. The old constituency of Hendon South was abolished, and its wards divided between Hendon North, to form Hendon, and Finchley, to form Finchley & Golders Green. Chipping Barnet has remained a seat in its own right since 1974, when it replaced the County seat of Barnet.
All these seats were thought to be very safe for the Conservatives, yet Labour won two out of three in 1997, and came within 1,000 votes of taking Chipping Barnet. Labour even managed to improve their position in Hendon, and Finchley & Golders Green, in 2001. although the Conservatives performed better in Chipping Barnet.
In 2005, the Conservatives pulled off strong swings in all three constituencies, winning Chipping Barnet easily, almost winning Finchley & Golders Green, and coming within 2,500 votes of winning Hendon. Given their strong performance in the local elections of 2006, when they won 37 out of 60 seats, the Conservatives must be favourites to take all three at the next election.
Given that Barnet is predominantly middle class, and in some areas, very prosperous indeed, it must be wondered how the Conservatives ever lost control of it in the first place, and then lost two out of three seats. The main reason lies in the alienation of long-standing middle class Conservative voters across North London, in the mid 1990s.
They had experienced high levels of unemployment, seen their houses decline in value, and were furious at the proposed closure of Edgware General Hospital. Their sense of betrayal at the hands of the then Conservative government was acute, and they took their revenge at the ballot box. In both 1994, and 1998, the Conservatives failed to win an overall majority on the Council, and only limped home in 2002. All three seats showed swings of over 15% to Labour in 1997, and are only now beginning to revert to their former allegiance. One must also point out that the Conservative Party in Hendon North was deeply divided in 1994, between supporters and opponents of the controversial businessman George Ward.
At one point, there were two associations claiming to represent Hendon North. This must have damaged Conservative chances in the constituency, and may have cost them control of Mill Hill Ward in 1994, and thus the Council.
There were two by-elections last night.
Northamptonshire CC, Long Buckby: Con 1541, LibDem 458, Lab 302. An easy Conservative hold in a safe seat.
Liverpool MBC, Speke. Labour 1984 ,LD 1218 , BNP 281 ,Green 68 ,Conservative 54,UKIP 49. Labour gain from Lib Dem. Labour won this ward easily in May 2006, so this result is not surprising. Liverpool does seem to be switching back to Labour at local council level. This is also an encouraging result for the BNP, in a city where they generally perform very poorly. In six by-elections this year, they have polled 19% on average.
Sean Fear is a London Tory activist