Resilient Jewish Labour chief: ‘You don’t solve anything by walking away’
A LAPTOP, a pair of black, strappy stilettos and smart trousers are strewn across Ella Rose’s cluttered desk. In the Hendon Labour Party office where she works, unopened letters lie in the doorway, and the toilet would be in darkness if not for a makeshift switch made from string and rubber bands.
“I have the UJS awards later and I don’t think I can get away with my clubbing dresses any more so I keep these clothes with me just in case,” explains the 23-year-old director of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), who is wearing skinny jeans and a leather biker jacket.
Ms Rose scoffs at my request for herbal tea. “You’ve never been to a local Labour Party office before, have you,” she says, opening an empty fridge.
Ms Rose, a former Union of Jewish Students president who studied history and politics at Nottingham University, is from the next generation of potential political leaders of the community. She is keen to talk about the role of women in communal organisations.
“I firmly believe the community is 20 years behind the rest of the world when it comes to feminism,” she says.
It was during her first week at UJS that she was approached by “a very senior person in the community” who suggested she “would get double the opportunities” of her male predecessor. She immediately realised the community had a problem.
“It really irked me, and still to this day I get calls saying ‘we need a woman on this panel’, or ‘we need a woman’s voice on this’, or ‘Ella, you’re a woman, get in this photo’. It drives me up the wall, because it is artificially ramming up the numbers and it is tokenistic.”
Ms Rose praises initiatives such as the Jewish Leadership Council’s Women in Jewish Leadership programme, but says “there is so much more we need to do”.
She believes a good place to start would be with the annual JLC trip to Downing Street and cites the meeting of Jewish leaders and the prime minister as a perfect example of the community failing to represent women properly.
“I think at the next one we should only take women because there are some brilliant women in this community who we don’t get to hear from enough.
“You don’t need to take Jonathan Arkush from the Board of Deputies, you take Gillian Merron instead; you don’t take Mick Davis from the JLC, you take Debbie Fox.”
The former Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls pupil is aware she had a privileged upbringing. “I didn’t have a choice,” she says of her private education, “I’m grateful for it but I don’t agree with it in principle.” She lives at home with her parents (she says she is keen to move out) and has had to learn the hard way about the potential pitfalls that come with a job in the public eye.
She is still recovering from being filmed in tears following an encounter with Jackie Walker, a Labour activist twice suspended over claims of antisemitism, as part of an undercover programme made by Al-Jazeera.
“It’s been a difficult few months for me and that has been no secret,” she says.
“My grandma died just after everything kicked off and it was a really horrible time. I have only just returned to feeling myself.” A reporter used a false identity to film Ms Rose while working on The Lobby, a documentary on Israel’s alleged influence in British politics.
A JLM complaint about her treatment in the programme is being investigated by broadcast watchdog Ofcom.
“I worry about the effect my job has on my family,” she reveals, while showing off messages of encouragement from relatives. “They have been a huge support to me and I certainly couldn’t have got through it without them.”
She says that wise words from experienced community leaders such as Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, and JLM chair Jeremy Newmark have helped her develop a thicker skin. And Ms Rose, standing as a Labour candidate in next month’s local elections, hopes to bring that strength to her campaign in Bushey South, in one of the country’s safest Conservative constituencies.
However, she is unsure if her Conservative-supporting father, John, will vote for her. “I hope he will,” she laughs. “My family has very sharing, socialist values. I just don’t know if that is transferred into which political party we go Ella Rose in tears filmed by Al-Jazeera for. None of us are confrontational. We have respectful discussions and then move on.
“I can accept Theresa May is doing a good job as a Conservative leader, even if I don’t agree with her policies. We can be pragmatic and look at things like that.”
It may not be a difficult stance for Ms Rose to adopt when Jeremy Corbyn faces constant criticism.
“I think people understand,” she says. “They might not like the current leadership, but the Labour Party will always be worth saving. We are the anti-fascist, anti-racist party.”
On the outside Ms Rose exudes fierce feminist values but she appears to balance these with her family’s more traditional beliefs.
She belongs to Bushey United Synagogue to please her mother, she says, despite being “uncomfortable” with some of its less feminist traditions.
“My mum says she doesn’t mind where I’m a member as long as I get married in an United Shul. But it’s not necessarily where I feel most comfortable.”
And despite her career, she reveals that her grandmother worries she’s “too busy” to meet someone and get married.
Her focus right now is the Labour party and she describes the relationship between JLM and the party as “functional… we’re not best friends, but we are not enemies.
In the meantime, she needs to convince her fellow Jews that the Labour Party is a place for them.
“JLM had 200 new members in 24 hours after the Ken Livingstone case. People might have left the Labour Party, and I understand that, but I think people also understand JLM is here to fight. You don’t solve anything by walking away.”