An MP's quest for Jewish voters
The residents of Hendon faced up to the elements better than David Miliband faced up to their questions
Some weeks ago, I sat down in front of my laptop to revisit my data on parliamentary constituencies with significant Jewish electorates — significant, that is, in relation to the degree of marginality of the particular seat.
The trend of the opinion polls suggests that the Conservatives are heading for an overall majority. But there are a number of imponderables, including the impact of so-called “minor” parties — primarily the Greens, UKIP and the BNP. Some polls are suggesting that we could end up with a hung parliament.
It is precisely this climate of electoral uncertainty that so unsettles politicians (a good thing in itself) and thus magnifies the impact of otherwise insignificant ethnic electorates.
So it was with this in mind that I sat down to review the Jewish data. I noted that of the 10 parliamentary constituencies with the highest proportion of Jewish voters, no less than seven are currently held by Labour. Of these, one (Finchley and Golders Green) is so marginal (it is top of the list of Tory targets to be captured on polling day) that the Jewish vote is unlikely to make the slightest difference to the outcome.
Diane Abbott, on the other hand, is surely safe in her Hackney redoubt, where she has forged a remarkably close relationship with her Charedi electors in spite of her support for gender equality and gay rights.
Diane Abbott is close to Charedi voters despite her support for sex equality and gay rights
Labour is also likely to retain Leeds North-East and Bury South, whose current MPs (Fabian Hamilton and Ivan Lewis) both happen to be Jewish. Nor is the Jewish vote likely to topple Glenda Jackson at Hampstead: her main threat comes from the Lib-Dems, but I’m afraid that I cannot bring myself to recommend voting for the party that put Dr Jennifer Tonge into the House of Lords.
That leaves Harrow East and Hendon. Both these seats would fall to the Conservatives on swings of between 3.0 and 3.8 per cent. Both need to fall if David Cameron is to enter Number 10. In both cases, a Jewish sympathy vote for the incumbent MP could — just conceivably — save the seats for Labour. Both incumbent MPs are thus very attentive to the views of their Jewish constituents, and both have campaigned hard on some Jewish issues — for example, enhanced pensions for Holocaust survivors. But is there anything more that they could do to hang on to Jewish votes?
As I asked myself this question, sitting in front of my laptop, my email notifier indicated that Hendon MP Andrew Dismore had clearly been asking himself the same question, and that he had come up with an ingenious solution: instead of taking all the flak over Labour policy towards Israel, why not invite his Jewish constituents (of which I am one) to meet Foreign Secretary David Miliband in person, at Westminster, and complain to him instead? Did I — asked Mr Dismore — wish to attend this “exclusive meeting for Hendon’s Jewish community?” Well, of course I did.
It is a tribute to Hendon’s Jews that we filled to capacity a large committee room on a January evening marked by atrocious weather conditions, and that we listened patiently and politely as Mr Miliband (who had, for good measure, brought along his minister of state, the aforementioned Ivan Lewis) regurgitated policies and justifications that we had all heard before.
To my mind, the meeting had two highlights: (1) the Foreign Secretary refused point-blank to answer a question about the failure of any member of the Royal Family to visit Israel; (2) while condemning Jewish settlements on the West Bank as illegal, he indicated his support for land-swaps as an element in the so-called two-state solution.
But in politics timing is everything. When he arranged the meeting, Mr Dismore could not have known (could he?) that five days previously fellow Labour MP Karen Buck would ask Prime Minister Gordon Brown whether he agreed that Israel’s restrictions on imports into Gaza amounted to a “collective punishment,” and that she would receive the astonishing reply — recorded in Hansard — that this accusation was “absolutely right”.
For me — and I daresay for many Hendon residents who braved the elements to hear the Foreign Secretary — this provided all the context we needed for our pre-election “exclusive meeting” with Mr Miliband.