Three of the five candidates seeking election on Thursday 12 December faced questions at a packed gathering in the parish church – Isabelle Parasram (Liberal Democrat), Theresa Villiers (Conservative) and Emma Whysall (Labour).
Gabrielle Bailey, the Green Party candidate, could not take part because of work commitments – Nathan Wade stood in for her – and the evening’s host the rector, Father Chris Ferris, said the fifth candidate John Sheffield (Advance Together) had not responded to the invitation to take part.
Disagreement over Brexit was evident from the start.
Ms Villiers, Conservative MP for Chipping Barnet since 2005, defended her role at the forefront of the campaign for the UK to leave the European Union, both during the 2016 Referendum and subsequently.
She insisted that the EU withdrawal agreement negotiated by Boris Johnson would lead to a “successful future outside the EU”.
The UK would regain democratic control over law making while remaining friends with EU neighbours.
“I know Brexit has divided the constituency, but another EU Referendum will not bring people together. Telling them they got the original answer wrong would endanger relations in this country. We must move on.”
Ms Villiers was challenged directly by Ms Whysall – “a passionate Remainer” – who took Labour to within 353 votes of winning Chipping Barnet in the 2017 general election.
She accused Ms Villiers of failing to listen to her constituents, who had voted by a majority to remain in the EU. Instead the MP had continually voted in Parliament for “a hard Brexit”.
“I don’t believe a hard Brexit is what people want. If I’m elected, I will be a voice for Chipping Barnet for a final say on Brexit. I will campaign to remain with my heart and soul.
“A grown-up response is a grown-up referendum where we deal with the truth, not lies.”
Ms Parasram said that the Liberal Democrats had been committed to stopping Brexit since the vote to Leave in 2016 and their efforts in Parliament had already succeeded in stopping Brexit in March and October this year.
Liberal Democrats would do all they could to campaign for a People’s Vote in the hope that if Brexit was reversed the UK could benefit from a £50 billion Remain bonus.
“We will always be better off with the trade deal we already have with the EU.”
Nathan Wade, the Green stand-in, was confident that another referendum would produce a majority to Remain. If the Conservatives were re-elected on a small parliamentary majority of 40 per cent of the popular vote, that could not be considered a mandate for Boris Johnson’s Brexit.
“If that happens there will be massive ongoing opposition. If we leave after a People’s Vote and I lost, I would accept that. If Remain won, we would have to be humble and reach out to those who have lost.”
Another question that divided the candidates was the fate of the High Barnet tube station car park. Under Transport for London plans to build 300 new homes around the station, there would only be room for 32 of the existing 159 car park spaces.
Ms Parasram acknowledged the pressure to retain car parking space for the disabled and late-night use of the tube when buses were not so frequent.
She thought the solution was to improve access to the tube station by public transport, and the Liberal Democrats were campaigning for a national bus strategy and cycle network.
Ms Whysall agreed that the aim must be to break people’s relationship with the car; trains and buses needed to be more accessible and more frequent.
There had to be priority access for disabled passengers at High Barnet station but long term “we must improve public transport to reduce demand for car parks at tube stations.”
Ms Villers declared she was against the “shutting down of all tube station car parks” and was opposed to the cut in spaces at High Barnet.
“The reason for car parks at the end of the line is so that people can get on the underground network.” Her message to the Mayor of London, was “don’t introduce anti-car measures by downsizing the High Barnet and Cockfosters car parks”.
Questions and answers on the impact of cuts in public expenditure produced some lively exchanges.
Ms Whysall argued that Conservative austerity was to blame. All but one of Barnet’s 39 schools had faced “massive cuts” in spending.
The government claimed that spending on general practitioners had increased, but within the borough there had been a 8 per cent rise in demand. Each family doctor in the borough had an average of 2,600 patients, 600 more than the recommended level, and that meant Barnet had a short fall of 80 general practitioners.
In response to a question from a doctor at Barnet Hospital, Ms Whysall said Labour would legislate for safe working levels in hospitals so that clinicians could do their work.
Ms Parasram urged the government to consider the importance of EU nationals working in the NHS.
“Many of those employed in accident and emergency units are from the EU. I asked them what they think will happen if the Conservatives are re-elected. They are terrified and are thinking of leaving.”
Mr Wade warned against the growing marketisation of the health service. There was no justification for making a profit from the health service and the Greens were calling for a £6 billion increase in health spending.
Ms Villiers listed extra funding which the government had promised for the NHS which was doing “magnificent work”.
“Conservatives will always support the NHS, never privatise it.
“There is no way a Conservative government would accept anything in a trade deal with the USA which pushed up prices in the NHS. A Conservative government would never accept that – that should provide re-assurance.”
Each of the three candidates present gave a personal pledge to Chipping Barnet voters.
Ms Parasram (Liberal Democrat): “People might say they are voting to keep someone out – Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn. There is a better choice – a Remain party with a Remain leader which has maintained that position since the Referendum. Don’t vote for what you fear.”
Ms Villiers (Conservative): “I will always fight for your interests on local issues, backing our wonderful NHS, giving it more cash, and more resources for schools, public transport and fighting against over development and more police on our streets to keep us safe.”
Ms Whysall (Labour): “Most people would never describe me as a Corbynista or a Corbyn candidate. I am a strong independent voice. If I felt my party was wrong, I would say it loud and clear. I recognise the abuse women get and I am putting my name forward as a young single woman who you deserve as your MP.”