Could ‘the Jewish vote’ be key?

Our ur­ban com­mu­nity may hold the bal­ance of power in many par­lia­men­tary seats

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY GE­OF­FREY ALDERMAN

WHAT­EVER THE rea­son­ing that per­suaded Theresa May to call an early gen­eral elec­tion — and what­ever the out­come — the vot­ing that will take place on June 8 is likely to mark a wa­ter­shed mo­ment in the his­tory of Bri­tish Jewry’s en­counter with the Bri­tish po­lit­i­cal sys­tem.

I started polling Jewish vot­ers in 1974, shortly after the pre­vi­ous year’s Yom Kip­pur War.

My re­search sug­gested that Jewish vot­ers were very will­ing to pun­ish can­di­dates of what­ever party whom they iden­ti­fied as un­sym­pa­thetic in re­la­tion to a range of “Jewish” is­sues, prin­ci­pally but not only Is­rael, but that, at the same time, no one po­lit­i­cal group­ing could claim that it was the nat­u­ral party of choice for the to­tal­ity of Bri­tain’s Jewish com­mu­ni­ties.

At Finch­ley, for ex­am­ple, even at the height of the Thatcher era the Tories were pick­ing up less than two-thirds of the Jewish vote (52 per cent in 1983 and 60 per cent in 1987), while Labour was still polling more than one in five of that vote in this quintessen­tially Jewish mid­dle-class con­stituency.

Over the suc­ceed­ing two decades or so this reser­voir of Jewish sup­port for Labour has re­mained stub­bornly re­silient: a Sur­va­tion poll of An­glo-Jewish vot­ing in­ten­tions, com­mis­sioned by the JC and pub­lished in the spring of 2015, showed that, of those Jewish re­spon­dents declar­ing an in­ten­tion to vote, 22 per cent still said they would vote Labour.

But 69 per cent in­di­cated they would back the Tories.

I shall be very sur­prised in­deed if this pat­tern is re­peated next month, be­cause all the avail­able ev­i­dence sug­gests that the Jewish Labour reser­voir is in a state of col­lapse.

Ac­cord­ing to a poll com­mis­sioned by the JC a year ago, Labour sup­port among Bri­tain’s Jews had then plum­meted to a mere 8.5 per cent, while over 38 per cent of re­spon­dents gave Labour the high­est pos­si­ble mark — five out of five — for anti-Jewish prej­u­dice among Labour party mem­bers and elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

And, as we know, a great deal of very tur­bu­lent wa­ter has passed un­der Labour’s bridge since then: mul­ti­far­i­ous in­stances of an­ti­semitic so­cial me­dia post­ings by el­e­ments of the party faith­ful; the high-pro­file sus­pen­sion and then low-pro­file re­in­state­ment of sundry such mis­cre­ants; to say noth­ing of the Cor­byn­fac­tor and es­pe­cially of the party’s com­pre­hen­sive mis­han­dling of al­le­ga­tions sur­round­ing that most con­sum­mate of so­cial­ist Jew-baiters, Red Ken Liv­ing­stone.

In the whole of the UK there are not much more than 330,000 Jews, and, that be­ing the case, it might be thought that in the great elec­toral scheme of things Jewish votes might not count for very much. But the Jewish vote is over­whelm­ingly ur­ban and heav­ily con­cen­trated into the bar­gain. Con­se­quently there are a num­ber of par­lia­men­tary seats in which the Jewish vote will be cru­cial.

At Il­ford North, for ex­am­ple, where Labour’s philosemitic Wes Street­ing will need ev­ery Jewish vote he can get to de­fend a ma­jor­ity of 589; at Hamp­stead, where the Labour ma­jor­ity is just over 1,000; and at Har­row West, with a Labour ma­jor­ity of 2,208.

In all th­ese con­stituen­cies Jews who have his­tor­i­cally voted Labour but who can­not now bring them­selves to switch to the Tories will have other op­tions. They might choose to ab­stain — in it­self a pow­er­ful elec­toral weapon.

Or they might vote Lib­eral Demo­crat or Ukip. The 2016 Sur­va­tion poll put Jewish sup­port for the Lib Dems at slightly un­der four per cent, and for Ukip at about half that pro­por­tion.

What might hap­pen to this sup­port on June 8 can only be in­formed spec­u­la­tion.

But if we con­sider a con­stituency as mar­ginal as Il­ford North, it is not dif­fi­cult to imag­ine that even a trickle of Jewish vot­ers from Labour to Ukip, or more likely in my view to the Lib Dems, could re­sult in Labour los­ing the seat. The same would be true of Hamp­stead.

The fate of Jewish sup­port for Ukip is if any­thing even murkier.

It is true that Nigel Farage was and re­mains sen­si­tively at­tuned to Jewish concerns. But he is no longer Ukip leader.

The 2017 con­test will also de­cide the fate of a num­ber of MPs — Jewish and non-Jewish — who are broadly sym­pa­thetic to Jewish in­ter­ests.

At the present time, Labour is trail­ing the Tories in the opin­ion polls by around 20 points.

If that lead per­sists, Jewish Labour MPs such as Ivan Lewis (Bury South), Ruth Smeeth (Stoke North) and David Win­nick (Wal­sall North) would all lose their seats, as would Joan Ryan (En­field North), the cur­rent chair of Labour Friends of Is­rael.

Should Labour lose the 2017 elec­tion there will doubt­less be calls for Jeremy Cor­byn to re­sign. Will he go qui­etly? If not, we might wit­ness a fur­ther round of blood-let­ting in Labour’s ranks.

And — per­haps — the vir­tual destruc­tion of its his­toric Jewish roots.

Ge­of­frey Alderman is Michael Gross Pro­fes­sor of Pol­i­tics and Con­tem­po­rary His­tory at the Univer­sity of Buck­ing­ham

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