How the Jewish vote could swing it

All eyes will be on constituencies in north London and north of the border — which hold the key to a Conservative majority

By Martin Bright, April 8, 2010
Tory Matthew Offord with Edgware’s Jonny Ufland in Hendon South.  The ex-Barnet Council deputy leader is a long-standing friend of Israel

Tory Matthew Offord with Edgware’s Jonny Ufland in Hendon South. The ex-Barnet Council deputy leader is a long-standing friend of Israel

Such is the peculiar nature of our electoral system that if you happen to live in one of the UK's marginal constituencies, the fate of the nation lies in your hands.

With the 6th May ballot predicted to be one of the closest in living memory, small shifts in the voting pattern in a number of key seats will mean the difference between a workable majority for the two main parties - or a hung Parliament.

In a quirk of geography and demography, it happens that two such constituencies at opposite ends of the county, Hendon and East Renfrewshire, have significant Jewish populations that could decide the fate of prominent sitting Labour MPs.

The north London constituency of Hendon is the Tories' target seat number 73. A swing to the Conservatives of just over four per cent will deliver it to their candidate, Matthew Offord, formerly deputy leader of Barnet Council. Simply put, if the Tories do not win Hendon, it is unlikely they will have a national swing big enough to form a government.

The bookies' odds are stacked against the incumbent, Andrew Dismore, but local circumstances could still play a significant part, as Hendon resident Marcus Dysch explains below.

In East Renfrewshire, on the southern outskirts of Glasgow, Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy would be a huge cabinet scalp. He is currently sitting on a 6,600 majority, but a seven per cent swing would deliver it to the Tories.

This may be unlikely north of the border and Mr Murphy's local popularity still makes him the bookies' favourite to keep his seat. But nothing is guaranteed in such a febrile election atmosphere.

The Scottish Secretary, a stalwart of Labour Friends of Israel, will be working hard to secure the Jewish vote over the next month.

In other parts of the country, boundary changes will play a part. In a three-way split, Glenda Jackson's redrawn Hampstead and Kilburn seat could go to the Liberal Democrats or the Tories, depending on where Jewish voters place their cross.

In other constituencies with significant Jewish populations, the fate of Labour candidates is all but decided. Labour will need a miracle to hold on to Finchley and Golders Green, where its majority is just 741. In Edinburgh South, Labour's hold is even more fragile at 405.

For Jewish voters across east London, the issue remains the extremist BNP. Jewish organisations are already joining forces to fight off the challenge to Labour's Margaret Hodge in Barking, where BNP leader Nick Griffin is standing. Her 8,800 majority should be safe and it is even possible that the challenge from the far-right party will bolster her vote. The bookies certainly think she can do it: the odds for a Hodge win are a very short 1-7.

Last updated: 11:33am, April 13 2010