Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Another long walk to Finchley begins: Sarah Sackman to stand for Labour in 2015

September 1st marked a momentous day in the history of Broken Barnet, then: the official handover to the occupying army of Capitaville, and the loss of democratic control of our council services - but it was notable too for another, more hopeful reason.

Hidden away in a synagogue in North Finchley at Sunday lunchtime, a packed assembly of local party members gathered to choose the new Labour candidate who will stand against the current Tory MP Mike Freer at the next general election.

The deeper significance of this moment struck Mrs Angry, sitting throughout the three hour hustings, listening to three candidates present their cases for selection, through a careful and open process of individual speeches, questions from members, and then as a panel responding individually to more questions. 

Here we were again, in the same seismic location of Finchley, the site of the curious faultline that runs through this borough, disrupting and destabilising the contours of our political landscape. 

Here we were again, in the year that saw the death of Margaret Thatcher, unmourned in her own former constituency, except by a handful of old timers, clinging on to threadbare memories of a woman they hardly knew beyond the limp grasp of a handshake at the local carnival, or a carefully worded greeting over a cup of tea at a Conservative party fundraiser.

Thatcher was replaced, with a breathtaking lack of gratitude from the electors of Finchley, by a Labour MP, Rudi Vis, a good man and a conscientious representative, whose fatal illness towards the end of his term created an opportunity for change in the shape of the then Barnet Council Tory leader Mike Freer.

How many times have we told the tale of how Freer fuelled his election campaign on the basis of being, as we read in this Guardian interview, as he described it, the 'architect' of the 'easycouncil' model of local government, a mutable concept which meant something different each time it was discussed, but has come to be seen as the ultimate, wholescale outsourcing of council services?

In fact originally it was presented as something far more benign and unambitious, merely a mechanism for delivering 'more choice' to residents. One Barnet, the latest incarnation of easy council, is of course the absolute antithesis of this ideal, remorselessly removing, as it does, all choice from residents, even the choice as to whether or not to outsource any of our council services, and leaving us in privatised bondage to Capita for the next ten to fifteen years. And the concept of mass privatisation of council services was not dreamed up by Freer, but one promoted by all the major outsourcing companies, in search of a ready market for their business.

 What has our MP done since being elected? He seems to answer correspondence from constituents in a prompt manner, unlike some of his local colleagues. He has been a passionate advocate of equal marriage. And erm ... What else?


Freer has been a faithful supporter of all the coalition government's policies: the policies that are pushing the most vulnerable people in our society further and further into poverty and despair. He supports the break up and sale of our NHS, speaking defiantly in favour of the move to suppress the publication of the NHS risk register, jeering at those who objected as 'shroud wavers'. 

In short, his term in parliament so far has done little to persuade the voters of Finchley and Golders Green that he deserves to be re-elected in 2015. His complacency is a grave error, and makes him fatally vulnerable to challenge by a strong Labour candidate. Which is why Sunday's election process was so important.

There were three candidates: Alon Or-Bach, Sarah Sackman and Cate Tuitt. Cate seems to be a bright and very pleasant woman, but would appear to have no local connections, and therefore stood at a disadvantage to the other two, both of whom grew up in the constituency and are immersed in local politics. 

Alon is an immensely charismatic, experienced and perceptive political activist, and Sarah, a barrister specialising in public and environmental law, is a brilliant, articulate and passionate advocate of Labour values

Speaking of the 'politics of envy' promoted by the coalition government, the assault on the NHS, the punitive rise in the cost of living, Alon turned his focus on Mike Freer and the need to remind voters of his failure to tackle these issues, and as a more local concern, the necessity of properly attributing to him the catastrophic wholescale privatisation of our council services. Freer had tried to exaggerate the influence of union backing of candidates, but what about his own funding?

Sarah Sackman began with an examination of her own motivation for being active in Labour politics, describing her involvement with Toynbee Hall, a philanthropic foundation in the East End, (familiar to Mrs Angry as two of her cousins have also had ties with this admirable place), which began, as Sarah reminded us, through the dedication of two social reformers with close links to this constituency, ie Samuel and Henrietta Barnett.

Toynbee Hall offers advice and support to disadvantaged members of the community, and has a long history of fighting against social injustice. Seeing people restricted by such inequality, struggling against debt, low pay, overcrowding and poor housing, said Sarah, had shaped her values, and inspired her to work for a more open and tolerant society, as a public interest lawyer - and as a political activist. 

 During the question time, much hilarity ensued when a questioner announced that his name was Mike Freer. 

The Chair of the meeting gulped, and asked him to be brief. 

'Mike' ventured his opinion to the candidates that none of them could beat him, and asked them please to respond.

Cate Tuitt informed Mike that she thought voters would think that his party's record in cutting our local police was 'morally repugnant', and that voters would object to the loss of nurses at Finchley Memorial Hospital - and his support for the massive increase in student fees.

Alon took Mike to task for his three year failure to speak out on any key issues, his belittling of opposition to the NHS 'reform', his unthinking loyalty to all government policy, his utter silence as the One Barnet programme was imposed on this borough - on your head be it, he warned.

Sarah Sackman applauded Mike for his eloquent speech in support of equal marriage, but moved swiftly on to his rather less laudible achievement: the instigation of the One Barnet privatisation programme, with absolutely no evidence to support his claim it will provide better services for less money. His failure to foresee the disastrous loss of our money in the Icelandic bank fiasco hardly spoke well of his judgement, did it?

We need to win seats like Finchley and Golders Green in the next election, if Labour is to have a chance of forming the next government, and work at undoing the damage caused to our NHS and our least advantaged citizens. 

How do we do this?We can fight back, and we have, here in Barnet, Sarah told the Labour party members of Finchley and Golders Green . 

The example of the library occupation with which she was involved, a campaign which united a range of residents, from squatters, and rabbis,  and retired accountants is one such demonstration of our power and potential. 

Here in Thatcher's old constituency, she said, we have proved there is such a thing as society - and such a thing as community.

We must battle on every front: street campaigning, yes, but using social media too - and fund raising is crucial. Mike Freer, as we know, and as he would rather we did not know,  is sitting on a huge war chest 

Sarah astutely referred to the grassroots campaign which pushed Obama into the Whitehouse: here surely is the answer to the revival of Labour's appeal to voters, nationally and locally, through harnessing the energy of citizens previously unengaged in political activity, but newly politicised by issue campaigning, and hyperlocal community activism.

The ballot was taken and the result was a victory for Sarah Sackman.

There was never any real doubt in Mrs Angry's mind that Sarah is the right candidate to beat Freer in 2015: she is the perfect contrast to Freer - offering a fresh approach, a young woman, but mature in outlook, and someone who cares passionately about the residents Freer ignores: the old, the poor, the sick, the voter without a voice, the resident who bears the heaviest burden created by his endorsement of the merciless policies of this government, and the terrifying, reckless outsourcing of our local services and our democracy to a predatory, profiteering private sector company.

The last woman who represented this constituency was, in the views of many, an angel of destruction: the woman who made Broken Britain. Here in Broken Barnet, we have a chance to elect another woman, who might just make some reparation towards the damage done, and help set us on course to a more hopeful future.

Listening to the speeches and responses to questions from party members was a useful experience, not just in terms of which choice of candidate was best, but as a defining moment in the story of this community, and beyond, and the direction in which we will now travel. 

There is a palpable sense of mobilisation now, of people no longer content merely to sit and watch as every social reform and protection we have taken for granted is dismantled, torn apart - put up for sale to the highest bidder.

There is work to do: let's get on with it. 

Sarah Sackman


Don't Call Me Dave said...

Once again, Mrs Angry, you are not too concerned about facts getting in the way of a good ant-Thatcher smear. Margaret Thatcher was not replaced by Rudi Vis, but by Hartley Booth, another Conservative. Your suggestion that Lady Thatcher’s death was “unmourned” in the constituency is a grotesque misrepresentation of the facts, so typical of the loony left.

Mr Booth held the seat until boundary changes created the new Finchley & Golders Green constituency at the 1997 election. Labour won the seat for a number of reasons: partly because of the swing to Labour, but mostly because the Conservative candidate was John Marshall. Rudi Vis was a decent man, but a dead sheep would have won that election if it had been wearing a red rosette.

Mrs Angry said...

DCMD: goodness me, I had forgotten all about Hartley Booth! How could I? Such a sad tale ... the Methodist lay preacher whose downfall, as is the case with so many men, was his 'friendship' with a young lady.

Are we going to have another argument about the milk snatcher? Good. Perhaps that will lure Commenter 2 back from the wilderness.

Are you suggesting that John Marshall, Mrs Angry's blushing admirer, was less than appealing to the Tory voters of Finchley? Why so? Was he a little too, shall we say, patrician, in contrast to the grocer's daughter? Yes: we like our Tory representatives to be more oikish here, don't we, looking in no particular direction, Brian.

Don't Call Me Dave said...

Here we go again with the ‘milk snatcher’ nonsense. Have you forgotten how Labour Education Secretary Ted Short scrapped free milk for secondary school children in the late 1960s – years before Maggie joined Ted Heath’s government? Or that the Labour government of 1974 scrapped free milk for school children under 7? More children had school milk taken away under Labour than the Tories, but as I frequently have to remind you, you don’t seem to worry about letting facts getting in the way of your stories.

Mrs Angry said...

A wise decision by Labour: secondary children neither want nor need milk, and by the mid seventies probably it was arguably no longer necessary, with a reasonable increase in prosperity and better diet.

We are now, of course, thanks to Thatcher's heirs in the present government, at a point where many children are indeed in need of nutritional support from school, as their families cannot afford a healthy diet. From soup kitchens to foodbanks: noblesse oblige.