Brexit likely to be key issue as voters head to the polls, writes James Cracknell
Voters in three Enfield constituencies will head to the polls next month for a third general election in less than five years.
MPs agreed to hold an election on Thursday 12th December as they faced another stalemate on Brexit and decided a fresh poll was the best way to break the impasse. It will be the first December general election in nearly a century.
Enfield Southgate could once again become a key battleground. The Conservative Party will be eyeing up the Labour-held seat, with a win there likely to indicate they are on course for a majority. It has switched three times between the two major parties over the last three decades, providing the infamous ‘Portillo moment’ in 1997 when New Labour swept to power, then being regained by the Tories in 2005, before swinging back to Labour at the snap election of 2017.
Former Enfield Southgate MP David Burrowes is aiming to make a comeback in the constituency he represented in parliament for 12 years as a Conservative. His defeat to Bambos Charalambous was one of the big upsets at the last election, helping Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour gain 30 seats across the country. Since his election to Westminster, Bambos has become a whip for the opposition in the House of Commons and is seen as a key ally of the party leader.
Local issues in Enfield Southgate that could influence voters include a highly controversial 17-storey redevelopment scheme on the edge of the Southgate Circus conservation area, with David Burrowes coming out firmly against the plans. If Brexit becomes the key issue for voters at this election, however, it could be bad news for the Tory candidate, with the constituency having voted strongly to remain in the EU at the 2016 referendum.
Over the last year Enfield North has attracted many national headlines, firstly after Joan Ryan lost a vote of no confidence among Labour members in the constituency, then again a few months later when she sensationally quit the party to join the newly-formed Change UK group of MPs. In September Joan announced she was standing down from parliament completely, although it was always unlikely she would have been able to win re-election as an MP without wearing a red rosette.
The battle to replace Joan Ryan as Labour’s candidate for Enfield North has been bitterly fought. A local selection process that had been going on for several weeks was suspended in October by Labour Party bosses, who decided to draw up their own preferred list of candidates – at the expense of several local members who had been hoping to stand. One person denied the chance to win the selection race was an Enfield councillor, Tolga Aramaz, who later hit out at Labour’s National Executive Committee on Twitter, saying: “The party is deciding to parachute people in as it has shown that it cares not for grassroots.”
In the end the race to replace Joan Ryan was won by a councillor from Shoreditch, Feryal Clark. Feryal is currently Hackney Council’s cabinet member for health, social care, leisure and parks but said she was “honoured” to be selected as the Labour candidate for Enfield North. Whether Feryal can successfully defend the 10,000-vote majority won by Joan Ryan in 2017 may depend on how quickly she is able to get to know the local area and ingratiate herself with voters on the doorstep – it may help that she once ran a café in Hertford Road. Feryal’s varied background also includes working in the NHS for a pathology service and sitting on a regional floods committee.
Enfield North has recent history of being a Tory-held seat, having been narrowly won by Nick de Bois in 2010 before he was defeated five years later. This time out the Conservative candidate is local councillor Joanne Laban, the leader of the opposition on Enfield Council, who will likely benefit from being a more familiar face with local voters. Enfield North is also the most Brexit-leaning constituency in the borough, although it still voted narrowly to remain in the EU.
In Edmonton, which has comfortably returned a Labour MP at every election since 1997, there would seem to be little chance of anyone being able to oust incumbent Kate Osamor – who won a whopping 71.5% of the vote in 2017. Kate, who grew up in nearby Haringey, was first elected in 2015 and a year later was appointed as shadow secretary of state for international development. She attracted controversy last year, however, when her son – whom she employed in her constituency office – was convicted of drug offences. The furore following the case led to Kate’s resignation from the shadow cabinet, but she decided to continue as an MP.
Amid a wave of so-called ‘trigger ballots’ from Labour constituency parties around the country, whereby a sitting MP can be forced to fight a local selection contest, Kate was threatened with de-selection in October – although it is not clear why. The Labour Party has since confirmed that Kate will not have to defeat local rivals to retain her candidacy for re-election. She will be up against Tory candidate James Hockney, a serving Enfield councillor who won a by-election in Bush Hill Park just one year ago.
While the two main parties are likely to be the chief contenders for all three Enfield borough constituencies, polling suggests that both the Liberal Democrats and newly-formed Brexit Party will make gains at the expense of Labour and the Tories in what will likely be a campaign focused around the issue of the UK’s continued membership of the European Union. It would take something of a political earthquake for either of these smaller parties to win a seat in Enfield, but with many voters wanting to express a clear view on Brexit at the ballot box they could still play a key role in determining who ultimately wins on Thursday 12th December.
Eligible voters must make sure they are registered by the deadline of Tuesday 26th November to take part in the election – it can be done online at gov.uk/register-to-vote.