The Jewish Chronicle


The man who is almost certain to be the next PM has long been a friend of the community — but can the populist also be one of its defenders?


IT IS as certain as anything in politics ever can be that on Tuesday at 11am Boris Johnson will be revealed as the new leader of the Conservati­ve Party — and thus our new Prime Minister.

His supporters — and there are many within the community — believe he is indeed ready for this moment. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, they insist. “He can, and often does, deliver,” one senior Jewish figure who has worked alongside Mr Johnson for over 15 years claimed to me this week.

“I’m not trying to say he is Churchill — but there is an element of the Churchilli­an, ‘Your country needs you to get us out of this s**t’.

“It is fair to say, he is very conscious of his place in history.”

Boris as Prime Minister, we are told by his supporters, will be a good thing for Britain’s Jews. At a time of rampant antisemiti­c discourse and with the threat of Jeremy Corbyn and his Stalinist lieutenant­s making their way into No 10, Boris is said to represent the best hope of consigning the Corbynites to history.

He was, after all, the man who defeated Red Ken Livingston­e and now — after a majority of the 160,000 Conservati­ve members ignored his error-strewn two year stint at the Foreign Office — the whited-haired wonder is about to embark on a far greater challenge.

It is fascinatin­g to hear people — not only from within the Conservati­ve Party — repeat this mantra that Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson will inevitably be a “good thing” for the community.

Ask these same people why, and you are met with almost universall­y similar reasoning, revolving around his time as Mayor of London.

From 2008 to 2016 there is no doubt that Boris found a way to be seen at the right places.

Only days before his first victory over Mr Livingston­e in 2008, out on the streets in Edgware, north London, he told the crowds he had “never eaten so much salt beef and so many bagels in my life”.

On the campaign trail in 2012, having ordered a hot dog in a Stamford Hill café, he was told he must first sample the hors d’oeuvres, and a polystyren­e bowl of cholent was placed before him.

“Thank you for the delicious chewlent,” Mr Johnson declared. “I’m sorry I haven’t got time to eat the hot dog. I will carry it out with me like the Olympic flame.”

There were more high-profile communal appearance­s and, on top of that, he had excellent relations throughout his time in City Hall with the Board of Deputies, the Community Security Trust and the London Jewish Forum.

Occasional­ly there were speeches of real substance, too.

Addressing a dinner at Westminste­r Synagogue in 2009 alongside shul chairman (and Conservati­ve Party Treasurer) Lord Howard Leigh, Boris turned his wrath on those using Israeli actions in Gaza as a platform for antisemiti­sm. “I deplore efforts to import the bullying, hatred and divisivene­ss found in the Middle East to the streets of London,” he said.

Despite his staunch support for Israel, which led Lord Leigh to declare that he viewed the former London mayor

He was the man who defeated Red Ken Livingston­e

as a “passionate Zionist”, it would be wrong to suggest Boris neglected his responsibi­lity for all citizens in one of the world’s most multicultu­ral cities during his time in power.

“As mayor, I would work with all communitie­s and work tirelessly to promote understand­ing between all communitie­s,” said Boris in 2008. “I am a product of Muslims, Jews and Christians so I am the plurality of London incarnate.

“And I reject the idea of saying one or other of candidates is better for this or that group. I will be mayor for all groups.”

Mayor Johnson surrounded himself with gifted advisers. Key aides such as Sir Eddie Lister, his deputy in City Hall — expected to be his Chief of Staff in Downing Street — and Will Walden, his former chief political adviser, had huge influence over his governance. Housing Minister Kit Malthouse was a Deputy Mayor. And there were Jewish advisers aplenty from the first day he stepped inside City Hall, such as the late Sir Simon Milton, Dan Ritterband and Robert Rams.

“Overall Boris was an OK mayor who had an excellent team around him,” one Tory MP told the JC this week. “But we can and should only judge Boris on what he’s saying and doing now. Of course I prefer the Boris of old.”

Speaking with some of those close to him during the City Hall days, it is easy to detect concern that the man about to walk into 10 Downing Street may not be the same person he was less than a decade ago.

“You swing to your base in the primary — that’s what it feels like Boris has been doing,” one of his closest confidants reasoned this week when asked why Boris had redefined himself post-referendum as darling of Tory right-wing and the sole hope of the European Research Group to deliver Brexit.

“In reality, Boris is still a liberal libertaria­n type Tory,” said the same source. “Ultimately he has the ability the see off the Brexit Party lot and to get the ERG off his back but only if he can deliver something by October 31. Then he will be able to implement his wider plan.”

In truth, it all sounds tenuous. The leadership contest has done little to extinguish the multiple questions over exactly how Boris will deliver Brexit in such a short time frame.

As a community, we have been fortunate that for decades we have not had a Prime Minster who was not classed as a friend of the community. But even if he is able to defeat Jeremy Corbyn in a general election, would Boris really be the leader the country needs to tackle wider antisemiti­sm, racism and populist sentiment across the globe?

In 2009 he turned his wrath on those using Gaza as a platform for antisemiti­sm

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