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What are we going to do now?

Many Jews, on the left, and justly proud of being so, tragically found they could not vote for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour. Some did anyway, but many didn’t, writes Daniel Finkelstein.

    Mike Freer kept his seat in Finchley & Golders Green, despite a strong challenge from Labour
    Mike Freer kept his seat in Finchley & Golders Green, despite a strong challenge from Labour

    "How did your attempt to get Jews not to vote Labour work out, Danny Finkelstein?”
 It’s fair to say that my last piece for the JC was controversial. Overwhelmingly I got a positive response to suggesting that voting Labour was now something that was very difficult for Jews to do because of antisemitism.

    But there were some who objected. Some because they were irritated that I had made what I acknowledge was a difficult dilemma worse. And a smaller number who think the whole antisemitism thing is nonsense and that I was mixing my Conservatism with my Judaism in an objectionable way.

    One of those in this last group had a note of triumph in his communication as he challenged me after the result. “How did your attempt to get Jews not to vote Labour work out, Danny Finkelstein?”

    Let me try and answer.

    Well first of all, I think the answer is pretty well, thank you. Given the list of things I warned against generally and the breadth of the people I warned, it is in fact rather kind of my correspondent to select almost the only thing that went right.

    Many Jews, on the left, and justly proud of being so, tragically found they could not vote for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour. Some did anyway, but many didn’t. They felt that the rise in antisemitism that accompanied his leadership had not been effectively countered and they needed to register their protest against it.

    Probably as a result, Labour fell short in three seats it might conceivably have won — Finchley and Golders Green, Hendon and Harrow East. The swings to Labour here were not as great as in comparable seats.

    If Labour had won all these seats, the Conservatives would not have a majority even with the DUP. So, thank you for asking, it went pretty well.

    There is, however, a big but. A very big one. And it’s this. What are we going to do now? As a community I mean.

    In this election, some Jews who voted Labour justified it by arguing that Mr Corbyn couldn’t possibly be elected, so it really didn’t matter. Have doubts about his attitude to Hamas? You could vote for your local Labour MP safe in the knowledge that it wouldn’t change the occupant of Downing Street.

    Whatever the merits of this argument when it was made I think we can all agree that it can’t be made any more. Mr Corbyn will almost certainly fight the next election and he might well win it.

    So what do we do now?

    Let’s not be under an illusion about how bad this could be. It is about the rise to power of a group many of whose supporters believe that the world is as it is because of “Zionists” and their job is to sort out out.

    But while Mr Corbyn’s proximity to power provides a problem (to use a euphemism) it also, less obviously, provides an opportunity.

    Although most of his coverage has been about the rewards of boldness, one of the reasons Mr Corbyn did so well, is that he proved himself unexpectedly pragmatic.

    He has, for instance, opposed every form of anti-terror legislation, but when it became politically necessary he shifted his position. His words were vague, obviously, but he implied he would be willing to support such laws.

    He opposes Trident, but agreed that its retention should be included in the manifesto.

    As he attempts to turn a decent second place into victory, he will face more such decisions.

    One, for instance, will be about broadening his shadow cabinet.

    This will involve those rejoining swallowing much that they have said. But it will also mean Mr Corbyn has to compromise with them to keep his term together.

    This provides the chance to shift the opposition leader, even on an issue like Zionism and on antisemitic abuse. The stakes are now higher, but so are the odds of achieving a degree of change.

    But this cannot be done silently. It needs robust challenge and the threat to do it at sensitive moments. The strategy adopted by Labour moderates during the election was to keep quiet and let him hang himself. To put it mildly this was not a success.

    Daniel Finkelstein is associate editor of The Times

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