In seats where the votes of Jewish communities could have made a difference, Labour underachieved, writes Ella Rose
The Jewish community is small, concentrated in just a handful of seats across the country. We must ask the difficult question after the general election of 2017. Why, when seven seats in London went red, including Kensington and Battersea, and many Labour members of parliament in the capital received more than 40,000 votes, did a certain corner of north-west London stay blue?
An outcome of the election was a new phrase in the Jewish vocabulary: the ‘bagel belt’. It is used to refer to constituencies in north-west London with a dense Jewish population; namely Finchley and Golders Green, Hendon, Chipping Barnet and Harrow East. These four seats are in the top eight most Jewish constituencies in the United Kingdom. The impact of not winning these four seats cannot be understated. Four more Labour seats means four fewer Conservative ones, and would have left the Tories unable to command a majority with the Democratic Unionist party.
A pre-election poll cited by the Jewish Chronicle reported that only 13 per cent of the Jewish community were intending to vote Labour. This is from the community whose shining lights are stalwarts of the Labour party; the community of Manny Shinwell, Ian Mikardo, Alf Dubs, Luciana Berger and so many more.
For many in the Jewish community, the values we are taught within our faith are the values of the Labour party. We teach of tikkun olam (healing the world), of social justice, and of stewardship. Jewish unions were at the heart of the founding of many modern day unions, such as today’s baking union which was founded out of a union of Jewish bakers in the east end of London, and the Jewish Labour Movement has been affiliated to the Labour party since 1920.
The Jewish community votes. For many, our ancestors were denied a vote – so turnout is always high. Take Finchley and Golders Green as an example. Jews constitute the largest minority in the constituency; Jewish voters make up over 21 per cent of the seat, and with disproportionate turnout, the impact at the ballot box is even higher.
Jewish voters, time and time again, expressed the same concerns on the doorstep. Labour canvass sheets came back bearing the same comment, with voters wanting to back the party of social equality, but feeling unable to because of concerns over leadership, a lack of willingness to tackle antisemitism, and a worry that Labour’s longstanding policy of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict would be changed.
To be clear, Jewish voters care about far more than just these three issues, but like any diaspora community, they have areas of policy interest.
Voters brought up Ken Livingstone, and how it was a disgrace he was not expelled from the Labour party. They brought up Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth, Tony Greenstein, and other members suspended from the Labour party, and bemoaned how long it was taking to see real action.
Voters also brought up Jeremy Corbyn’s comments on Hamas and Hezbollah, and worried about the effect a Corbyn government would have on their Zionism.
Labour can, and must, do more to reassure the Jewish community that antisemitism is a thing of the past, and when the ugly virus does rear its head, that it is dealt with swiftly and appropriately. We must reiterate that we as party share the same values as my community, and that we not only welcome Jews, Labour celebrates them for their ideas and contributions.
It must be stressed how close we came in these four seats. That is undoubtedly due to extraordinary effort by candidates in often difficult circumstances. Some loud voices in the Jewish community were hostile, and attacked JLM chair Jeremy Newmark and JLM vice chair Mike Katz relentlessly in the Jewish media for standing in Finchley and Golders Green and Hendon respectively. They took the hit because they believed that they were the best candidates to represent Labour in the two most Jewish seats in the country. They sliced the majorities of former safe Tory seats, as did Emma Whysall in Chipping Barnet, who came within 400 votes of taking the seat from Theresa Villiers.
Another interesting element was the young Jewish voters (or in some cases teenagers too young to vote) who came out in their droves to support these candidates. Alongside campaigners from across the Labour movement, they knocked on doors across north-west London, making the case for Labour. Without the Jewish youth, we would not have come this close to turning the bagel belt red.
Undoubtedly, more than 13 per cent of Jews voted Labour at the general election in 2017, but the north-west London results show that Labour has much further to go in winning back the trust of Jewish votes.
Ella Rose is national director of the Jewish Labour Movement
The Jewish Labour Movement has convened a panel of experts to discuss this issue as Labour party Conference. Join Luciana Berger MP, Tulip Siddiq MP, Rhea Wolfson, Mike Katz and many more to discuss what Labour can do to break through the bagel belt. The fringe is on Sunday 24 September at 7.30pm in the Sandringham Suite at the Queens Hotel.
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