Hackney North and Stoke Newington: Election 2010

By Bernard Josephs, April 22, 2010
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Only in Stamford Hill would you see a posse of bearded Hasidim adorned with party political rosettes, their pockets stuffed with election leaflets.

With the general election on the horizon the strictly Orthodox community — the biggest in Europe — is playing a major role.

Part of the Labour-dominated Hackney North and Stoke Newington constituency, the “Hill” is reckoned by local figures to be one place where both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats might improve their performances.

Former Hackney Labour Councillor Rabbi Avraham Pinter. now head of the Yesodey Hatorah School for girls, said that the Conservatives and Lib Dems were “making the right noises.” But it was Labour, he insisted, that would “deliver.”

Whether this impresses his pupils will become clear when the school holds a mock poll on election day.

Leader of the council’s Liberal Democrats, strictly Orthodox Ian Sharer, said “ethnic minorities want Orthodox candidates and we get a lot of support from both Jews and Muslims.”

A sign of this, he recalled, was an encounter with a Muslim voter who asked him how the campaign was going and then ended the conversation with a hearty “Baruch Ha Shem”.

Labour’s Diane Abbott, local MP since 1987 and defending a majority of 10,727, has gone out of her way to take on issues important to Jewish constituents.

“I know there is a tendency in Stamford Hill to vote Conservative but I have a good relationship with voters there,” she said.

Ms Abbott has played a major role in pressing the government to allow embattled Yemeni Jews to find refuge in Britain and she has supported a campaign opposing a plan to build luxury homes on the site of the former Skinners School in Stamford Hill rather than using it as a Jewish school.

Recognised as a critic of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians, the sitting MP nevertheless has told voters she wants Britain to remain “a good friend” of the Jewish state.

The only Jewish candidate, Tory Darren Caplan, said: “The big issues of roads, housing and education are things on which I am concentrating. School figures show that despite pouring money into the local education budget we are still at the bottom of the table.”

It would be an “extreme challenge” for the Tories to win in Hackney North, he acknowledged but he was expecting to make considerable progress.

Liberal Democrat Keith Angus was hoping to increase the 23.3 per cent of the vote polled in 2005. There had been a positive response to his message, he said.

In particular he was calling on Transport for London to open a direct bus link between Stamford Hill and Golders Green.

“TFL says that people can change buses at Finsbury Park but for a Jewish mum with kids that is not a particularly nice place to be waiting for a bus.”

Others standing are Green candidate Matt Sellwood and Suzanne Moore, an Independent.

    Last updated: 3:31pm, April 22 2010