Mike Freer: ‘This is not a three-way marginal’ says Tory as he defends his seat
PUBLISHED: 09:00 28 November 2019 | UPDATED: 14:03 09 December 2019
Mike Freer’s used to the attention being on his Finchley and Golders Green seat.
On Monday he'd already had the Financial Times breeze through the doors of his office in Finchley by the time the Ham&High came to call. "There was quite a lot of interest in 2010, and in 2015," he said. "It's the same again now."
He says that despite its billing, the seat is a straight fight between him and Labour's Ross Houston.
"Is Luciana [Berger] eating into my vote, of course, but I can't see that surge or that route for her to win. My worry is that she takes enough off me for Labour to win. If you look at the history they're coming from a low base. The Lib Dems will struggle with that. To go from 3,500 to 24,000. That's a big ask. This is not a three way marginal."
The Lib Dems are hoping that the party can challenge in the seat for the first time in its history. It's thought by some that the fact she is Jewish could be one of the factors that helps radically swing the seat in a constituency where more than 20pc are Jewish.
He said: "The Jewish community is not homogenous. The idea that it was all voting one way or another is just not true. Some of that vote is sticking with Labour."
Speaking days after the Conservative Party's manifesto launch, he defended it against claims it was misleading. Full Fact said its pledge to "build 40 new hospitals" actually meant it was upgrading six.
Meanwhile a pledge for 50,000 more nurses included getting 18,500 existing staff to stay. He blamed it on the "media world of sound bites."
He said: "If you said 'we're going to build six brand new hospitals and refurbish 32 and give another a lick of paint' then people go 'Oh boring'. You do have to crystallise it into a few words. Some of the hospitals might not be new hospitals, they might be rebuilt completely.
"In terms of nurses, you can say there will be 50,000 more nurses than if we hadn't addressed the retention rate. I'm not going to get hung up on language. Whether we've kept them or recruiting new ones. Patients just want a nurse."
Brexit is still the issue of the day. Finchley and Golders Green voted 68.9 per cent remain in the EU referendum as did its MP. The Liberal Democrats are hoping their Revoke Article 50 policy will win around remainers, while Labour are offering a second referendum.
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Mr Freer himself backed a second referendum earlier this year to the joy of pro-EU voters in the constituency. He said he only did so as there was a "deadlock" in parliament. He doesn't rule out doing so again.
He said: "If there was another hung parliament it would depend on the circumstances, in terms of what does parliament looks like and can we get legislation through."
This is the first election that Boris Johnson has fought since becoming prime minister. While London twice elected him its mayor, Mr Freer concedes that he is "Marmite" on the doorstep. He has served as a whip for both Theresa May and Mr Johnson's governments, tasked with helping maintain Tory discipline in the voting lobbies.
He said: "Some people don't like his love life, or because he's a Brexiteer. Clearly he's somebody with a complicated life. I've known him for a long time. I've had several conversations with him, on Brexit where we've had a very firm exchange of views. I've seen how he has listened to advice.
"Where he has got it wrong in the chamber. You will see him adapt and change his language. He is horrified if he feels he has got it wrong."
The Conservative says it would be a wrench to leave his seat, whether by his own design or the electorate's. He says there are two cases he will remember in particular.
One was when a woman got checked found out she had breast cancer after his campaign during the 2010 election for women to get checked. She was treated and cured. Another was when he worked with Transport for London to cancel a pensioner's parking tickets, and got loan companies to refund her after she had applied for loans to pay them, but been rejected.
He said: "She was spending thousands on application fees. She was disabled. We got her a blue badge, we got a social work team and a care package in. She wrote to me and in one line said 'You've changed my life'. That makes all the crap worthwhile."
Mike grew up in Chadderton in 1960s and 70s Greater Manchester. His family were forced to move to Annan in Scotland when his Tony Benn-supporting dad lost his job with aerospace firm Hawker Siddeley. Yet it was watching his grammar school's headteacher in tears when it merged with a comprehensive school that politicised him.
He said:"We got into the grammar school and I saw my parents sacrifice a month's pay and holidays to pay for the uniform and to make sure we didn't go without. That's why I believe in taking the low paid out of tax.
"My team laugh, because my first house was a two-up-two-down terraced house, no bathroom, outside loo and I remember having a bath with my dad in a tin bath. This was 1960. It's not that long ago."
As a student at Stirling University he saw Margaret Thatcher speak, describing her as "mesmerising" and only equalled in her oratory by Mr Benn. Decades later he would represent her seat. He gives the Ham&High a quick tour of the office in Ballards Lane where in a corner cabinet is a rosette from Mrs Thatcher's election campaign.
When asked why voters should put their faith in him, he says: "I'm a local man who is passionate about the constituency. Plain talking who will get things done. You don't get everything right but I will always try and do my best for the constituency. My track record shows that I usually deliver."
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