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Daniel Sugarman

Labour and the Jews - things can only get worse

Synagogues sent out messages reminding members “to exercise your democratic right to vote”. They didn’t suggest which party people should vote for. They didn’t need to.

    As far as the Jewish vote is concerned, the 2018 local elections can be summed up in two videos.

    The first was filmed in the run up to polling day. A Labour canvasser in Haringey knocked on the door of a Jewish man, seeking his vote.

    Instead of getting angry, or abusive, the resident launched into a version of Rogers and Hart’s “Blue Moon”, with adapted lyrics.

    The video shows the Labour canvasser beating a hasty retreat, pursued by the refrain “…with Jeeeeews! You’ve got a problem with Jeeeeews. You’ve got issues with Jeeeeews…”

    The resident in question told me he plans to continue doing the same when Labour canvassers come knocking in future.

    The second video was filmed in the aftermath of the results.

    Labour had its best chance in decades to take control of Barnet Council, needing to gain just two seats.

    But in the end, the party lost five council seats to the Conservatives – including three seats in West Hendon, a ward which had been Labour for 40 years.

    As Daniel Finkelstein tweeted, he’d begun his political life as a candidate in that very ward, “with a Rabbi with a huge beard who worked in an abattoir. He said we could win & made me refold all our leaflets in a ‘winning’ style.

    “I told him it was a waste of time. Only Labour could win. Today I say sorry to Rabbi Levy.”

    Adam Langleben was one of those three West Hendon Labour councillors. A hardworking and dedicated public servant, he is also Jewish.

    Speaking to Channel 4 after losing his seat, Mr Langleben spoke with dignity and poise, but his crushing weariness was almost palpable.

    “Knocking on doors, we speak to so many Jewish Labour voters who say to us, ‘been Labour all my life, but I can’t do it this time’,” he said.

    “This woman opened the door to me and she started crying. And she pointed to the Mezuzah, which is the Jewish scripture at the top right hand corner of our door, and said to me ‘turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. I’ve been Labour my whole life, I was brought up in the union movement, I’m from Yorkshire, but I cannot vote for this party. This party, for me, is racist and antisemitic and it’s hostile.’

    “And the Labour party have to deal with that. There’s no going forward unless we tackle this sickness in our party… due to the leadership’s inability to tackle antisemitism, we believe that this has cost us Barnet Council.”

    Mr Langleben also said Jeremy Corbyn had been due to come and hold a victory rally in Barnet. He called on the Labour leader to come to Barnet anyway and apologise to Labour activists.

    Labour should have won Barnet. As a resident of the borough, I can attest to the fact that the Conservative-run council isn’t particularly well-loved. Its outsourcing of services to firms like Capita has been unpopular. The streets are a patchwork of potholes. Despite placing its weekly bin collection policy at the heart of its manifesto, just last month the Tories came under fire after reports that across the borough bins were not being emptied and waste was not being collected.

    In the end, though, none of that mattered.

    “Literally had no bin collection in two weeks,” a Jewish Barnet resident told me.

    “I own a 4x4 to navigate the roads. But it’s all about priorities. And Labour losing was the priority.”

    My own social media was awash with Jewish Labour friends and acquaintances in Barnet agonising over their decision. They weren’t going to vote Conservative, but they just couldn’t bring themselves to vote Labour. Not this time.

    The surge in turnout in some areas was also remarkable. As Barry Rawlings, the leader of the Labour group on the council, pointed out in an article in the Observer, turnout in parts of Golders Green, for example, an area of the borough with a large Jewish population, was over 70 per cent, in contrast to below 40 per cent in other areas.

    Political apathy was put on hiatus. Synagogues sent out messages to members reminding them “to exercise your democratic right to vote”. They didn’t suggest which party people should vote for. They didn’t need to.

    Having followed both Conservative and Labour canvassers in the borough, I spoke to a young Jewish man who was part of the Tory team. He said he hadn’t been involved in politics at all until recently. When I asked him what had changed, all he said was: “Jeremy Corbyn”.

    What, if anything, will Labour learn from its defeat in Barnet?

    Chances are, very little. The party’s main social media influencers have focused on the minor gains Labour made elsewhere across the capital. Unsurprisingly, Mr Corbyn did not come to Barnet to apologise to the hard-working Labour activists there.

    And, in the wake of his comments, Adam Langleben has been targeted by hard-left trolls on social media, accusing him of being a “paid Israeli agent.”

    After two and a half years and countless examples of antisemitism, Labour has done the bare minimum, having finally acknowledged that it has difficulties in this area. To paraphrase the 12-step programme combating addiction, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.

    The second step, however, is believing that a power greater than oneself will restore you to sanity. And it’s a lot harder to see how that will be accomplished.

    For many Labour members, Jeremy Corbyn is that power. But it’s quite clear Mr Corbyn still, even now, doesn’t realise the extent of the problem. Antisemitism is apparently, limited to “small pockets” of the Labour Party.

    And the one thing that is noticeable throughout all the many recent statements on antisemitism Mr Corbyn has released is their abstract quality – he is utterly incapable of understanding his own role in allowing this antisemitic rot to spread. Unless he miraculously achieves enlightenment on the issue, things can only get worse.

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