IN DEPTH: Alison Moore - Not just a councillor

ALISON Moore is someone who has spent a long time waiting in the wings. That may sound like a strange observation of the leader of Barnet Council s Labour group, who has served as a councillor for 12 years taking on high-profile posts such as education c

Katie Davies

ALISON Moore is someone who has spent a long time waiting in the wings.

That may sound like a strange observation of the leader of Barnet Council's Labour group, who has served as a councillor for 12 years taking on high-profile posts such as education chief before becoming the borough's leading opposition voice.

But her climb up the local party ladder has been a quiet one.

She has savoured the behind the scenes work of running election campaigns for the London Assembly; European Parliament; for current Finchley and Golders Green MP Rudi Vis' re-election bid in 2005 and the Ealing Southall by-election in 2007.

It's the typical career path of someone destined to play stage-hand to those taking on the starring role.

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But Mr Vis' 2008 decision to stand down due to his wife's ill health has thrust the hitherto unassuming Cllr Moore into the spotlight - and perhaps into the quagmire. She is taking on one of Labour's toughest election battles, with opinion polls handing the Conservatives a nine-point lead.

"I certainly didn't start my political career with an eye on this," she explains. "But in the run up to 2005 I started to think I've been a councillor, I've developed skills and, actually, I've got something to give. I wouldn't have challenged Rudi but when he made the decision to stand down a number of things crystallised."

On top of the gloomy national picture, it would have been easier for Cllr Moore if that coming together of events had happened at a different time.

Her Conservative opponent Mike Freer, leader of Barnet Council until November, is a polished well-known local candidate in a constituency the Tories feel symbolically should, and realistically will, return to them.

Held by Margaret Thatcher between 1959 and 1992 (though then it was known as Finchley and was slightly different in geography), the seat would have been a key Tory target this year had the redrawn constituency boundaries not virtually guaranteed it.

The borders draw in parts of the borough which voted Conservative in the last election and only lose parts that voted Labour. The demarcation even means it will be considered a Conservative Hold if it turns blue on election night despite the fact the seat-holder has been Labour's Mr Vis since 1997.

Despite statistics and polls, Cllr Moore remains resolute that she can win.

"It's a challenge but I ran Rudi's campaign last time and the Conservatives thought they had it then and they didn't," she smiles. "I've no intention of giving it back to them without a fight. I think Finchley and Golders Green deserves a Labour MP."

She isn't afraid of a bit of mud-slinging to oil the election wagon's wheels. Because Moore and Freer have been the two main opponents at the micro-level of Barnet politics for more than three years those rows are likely to continue over and spice things up in the general election fight.

"I think inevitably this will be a referendum on the running of the council," Cllr Moore says. "Mike Freer used the council to promote himself - Leader Listens [which saw him visit different areas in the borough for Q&A sessions with constituents] was very close to being wantonly promotional.

"It was about laying some groundwork, developing a reputation and then going for a seat. He sees himself as ministerial material and I have my doubts about how committed he is to being a local MP.

"He's been party to a whole variety of council failures over the last six years."

To her Freer is a "bottom-line man" - a former banker who has only the richer quarters of the constituency in mind - while she is about "equality and justice" and building the chances for the area's children, whether they're from "Cricklewood or the Garden Suburb".

She criticises him for overseeing the council's �27.4million investment in the now failed Icelandic banks; for the �11millon overspend on the Aerodrome Road Bridge in Colindale and for plans to remove wardens from the borough's sheltered housing which were quashed by the High Court in December.

She is also dismissive of Cllr Freer's EasyCouncil plan. Under the project the council would model itself on "no frills" airlines by offering basic services for low taxes which can be topped up with additional payments for extra facilities by those who want them as and when they do.

Though she admits that more work does need to be done to find savings in local government, Cllr Moore says the concept makes people "uncomfortable" and a lot of the plan was hype without substance.

"I think some of this was about creating spiffy headlines to put Cllr Freer's name on the national press rather than thinking it through in a concerted way," she says.

Of course much of this year's election battle will be framed by events beyond the North Circular.

Gordon Brown's struggle to win public support has had a number of candidates hanging their heads in shame but Cllr Moore believes the Prime Minister still holds some power.

"I think Gordon Brown - despite all the rhetoric and the hard time he's getting - was a good chancellor," she says. "I am sure he will steer Labour through the election effectively. I think voters are still aware that the sorts of values the Labour Party offers matter and never more so than when the chips are down financially."

Her support for the Prime Minister may come from their roots north of the border. Cllr Moore is a daughter of two working class Glaswegian Labour activists and her father became a local councillor in later life.

Her parents left school at 14 but Cllr Moore went on to get a PhD in molecular science - teaching at universities in London and America.

Her entry into active political life came after that career - and only when she was won over at the local level.

"I moved to Finchley in the late 1980s and there was a very dynamic and active branch of the Labour party locally," she recalls. "I was wooed into getting involved - becoming a school governor and it grew from there.

"Rudi Vis and a number of the then councillors were quite persuasive but I hesitated for years before running because being in research and teaching was a fairly full-on thing. But I got more and more involved"

Her long-standing working relationship with the incumbent, Mr Vis will no doubt increase his support for her campaign.

But despite the closeness between the two, she isn't planning to continue her past role of operating in his shadow.

"Rudi's skills have been very much as a local MP," she explains. "He got involved with local organisations, he's a very charming man and worked very hard on casework.

"He didn't speak a lot in parliament and if I look to a model there it really is Andrew Dismore [Labour MP for Hendon] who has been really active in his performance in the parliamentary chamber.

"In Finchley and Golders Green you've got lots of people in business and education so you end up with quite challenging conversations on the doorstep. Being an MP comes down to being able to understand and represent that community.

"Rudi did that very well but of course I am a different person and will bring in my different experiences as well.