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The political fallout from the Newmark scandal will hit both Labour and Conservatives

The JC's political editor Marcus Dysch assesses the JLC audit's ramifications across Westminister

    From my sun-lounger on Florida’s Highland Beach I scanned the email again and again, reading between the lines, searching for clues.

    It was October 3 2013, and the announcement that Jeremy Newmark was leaving his role as chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council had just dropped into my inbox.

    Distracted on holiday in the United States, I wondered how the surprise news would play out back home. Mr Newmark was unwell, but rumours had persisted for some time about his activities at the helm of the group.

    Little could I have known then that this was a scandal which would stretch from a suite of drab offices in Hendon all the way to Downing Street four-and-a-half years later. A scandal which would count a Prime Minister, a Leader of the Opposition, and 22,942 general election voters among its interested parties.

    My shock was legitimate; Mr Newmark was one of the leading figures in the Jewish community, a keen Westminster lobbyist, known for his ambition. I had frequently interviewed him for stories and was regularly in contact with him over political issues.

    Within weeks of his JLC departure, a small, brown envelope arrived at the JC, addressed to me, with an anonymous note inside detailing four “disturbing allegations of a serious nature” relating to Mr Newmark.

    All four points hinted at material which we now know was in the JLC report and which was hidden from public view until this week.

    Since 2013 Mr Newmark has reinvented himself at the Jewish Labour Movement, revitalising the group as a sort of counterbalance to the antisemitism allegations in the party. He took under his wing dozens of young Jewish activists who wanted to remain in Labour while challenging the leadership’s approach to Jew-hatred. Membership numbers soared as interest in the group reached an all-time high.

    Theresa May’s decision to call a snap election last spring shocked the political world, but for Jewish observers there was an equally large surprise to come.

    Mr Newmark had told senior communal figures he would not stand as a Labour candidate, but within days, he was announced as the party’s Finchley and Golders Green candidate.

    One leading communal figure called me to bemoan Mr Newmark’s “audacity” which had left senior JLM donors “furious” and “feeling misled”. The individual was aware of the details of Mr Newmark’s departure from the JLC, but despite the public interest in making them known, declined to go on the record.

    A week or so before polling day, with the expectation that Labour would be hammered, the whispering against Mr Newmark quietened. The embarrassment that would be wrought by revealing the details was seen as undesirable given the likely election outcome, I was told.

    But when the results were in, with the sitting MP Mike Freer’s majority slashed and Mr Newmark emboldened, the rumours began again as senior figures feared a second election and a victory for the JLM chief.

    Nothing has seemed to hold Mr Newmark back since last June. Elected as a councillor in Hertsmere last October, he already leads the authority’s Labour group. He was seen as a shoo-in for a safe seat at the next general election.

    Westminster sources have muttered for weeks that he could alternatively find his way into the House of Lords with a possible peerage from Jeremy Corbyn, the party leader. Perhaps it was this prospect that prompted the leak of theJLC report.

    For all the support the JLM has collected since 2016, there are many Jewish supporters of Labour who have held back from throwing their full weight behind the group — largely because of their concerns about the man leading it. Some have continued to voice their fears privately about Mr Newmark, suspecting that one day the skeletons would come tumbling out of the closet.

    Now that they have, the repercussions for the JLM are likely to be serious. After two years of hard work by activists, the group will now be tainted by Mr Newmark’s involvement, perhaps irrevocably so. Given the state of Labour’s relationship with the community, the fallout could be devastating.

    The Conservatives will not emerge unscathed. Sir Mick Davis, who was influential in arranging Mr Newmark’s JLC departure and in keeping secret its details, now sits as the powerful chief executive of the Tory Party.

    His appointment to that role was welcomed with “delight” by Theresa May. Tory members are unlikely to be thrilled to discover that the party’s former Treasurer was so heavily involved in brushing under the carpet such serious allegations of wrongdoing and financial misdemeanour.

    After last year’s Al Jazeera secret filming, and the Priti Patel affair, British Jews could ill afford another political scandal. Many Jews around Parliament will walk with their heads a little lower after this week’s revelations.

    How devastating that the behaviour of one man should bring such embarrassment and pain.

     

    Marcus Dysch is the JC’s political editor

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