Orthodox welcome council change

By Jonathan Kalmus, May 13, 2011

Manchester's strictly Orthodox community has welcomed the outcome of the country's closest election, which saw Labour wrest control of Bury Council from the Tories after tied candidates in one ward drew straws to decide the winner.

Rabbis and community activists in Prestwich had urged Charedi voters to back Labour's Sedgley ward candidate Michael James via notices put up in synagogues.

It was a response to a string of unpopular proposals by Liberal Democrat and Conservative councillors.

During the four years the Tories had ruled with LibDem support, the council had rejected pleas by the community to scrap plans for a controversial sports pitch, shelve parking restrictions outside a synagogue and to open culturally sensitive children's services.

It also held a planning meeting over the location of a mobile phone mast on Pesach, so no Jews could attend, and upset the community with moves to cut back on refuse collections.

Indicating a marked shift in policy, Bury's new Labour leader Councillor Mike Connolly promised: "We will be looking at council services and want them to be sensitive to the various parts of the community and their cultural needs."

He had already discussed with Bury MP Ivan Lewis how the council could work with the Jewish community. A Jewish Sure Start children's centre similar to the one operated by Salford's Labour council would be "something to look at", despite a difficult financial climate.

Nava Kestenbaum from the strictly Orthodox charity, Interlink, believed cross-council initiatives could now be introduced in Bury. "If Bury would replicate the kind of service invested in by Salford, there would be people looking for that.

"There have been strong hopes that Bury Council would replicate delivery models in children's services, for example."

Conservative councillor Michelle Wiseman claimed voters did not appreciate that the previous council had "done a lot for the Jewish community because it was done under the radar. Our role is to make sure that while Labour have made all these election promises, they keep to them."

There was also a swing to Labour in Liverpool, where 31-year-old Jeremy Wolfson defeated another Jewish candidate, Liberal Democrat councillor Pamela Clein, in Childwall.

Mr Wolfson, a first-time candidate, said he was "honoured to be Childwall ward's first ever Labour councillor".

In Leeds, Conservative Daniel Cohen was elected for the Alwoodley ward, joining fellow Tory Ronald Feldman. Mr Cohen, a governor of Brodetsky Primary School, is behind a free school application to develop Leeds' first Jewish high school.

Last updated: 9:48am, May 13 2011