How the Tories managed to hold on to the heartland

November 24, 2016 23:27

One of the few bright spots for Labour on election night came in the capital, where it bucked the trend and took seats from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

But not in the two constituencies with more Jewish voters than anywhere else in Britain : Finchley and Golders Green, and Hendon.

The seats were the focus of intense speculation. Labour's candidates - Andrew Dismore in Hendon, and Sarah Sackman in the neighbouring constituency - were widely tipped to unseat Matthew Offord and Mike Freer.

Mr Offord had one of the narrowest majorities in the country - 106 - and looked ripe for ousting. As late as Thursday evening, only hours before the polls closed, his campaigners were urging friends to go out door-knocking for him. It was assumed the result would be as close as five years ago.

When the declaration came in at 4.20am on Friday there was indeed a surprise - Mr Offord had increased his cushion
to 3,724 .

For weeks Ms Sackman's campaign had been gaining momentum. When a poll conducted by Lord Ashcroft showed her edging ahead of Mr Freer last month, a famous win seemed possible. Yet the incumbent Tory was comfortably re-elected, with his Labour opponent trimming his 5,600-strong majority by just 147 votes.

"The Ashcroft poll threw a spanner in the works," said Mr Freer. "On the ground it felt very different. But the amount of resource Labour was throwing at the seat made me wonder if I was missing something."

So how did these two Tory candidates succeed where colleagues in London failed? Was it entirely down to Ed Miliband's approach to Israel? His criticism of the operation in Gaza last summer, coupled with urging his MPs to back Palestinian statehood, contributed to his abysmal approval ratings among British Jews, revealed in the weeks before the election by JC polling .

One Sackman campaign worker even claimed activists had been told to stop door-knocking at homes with mezuzahs because of the residents' negative responses.

Reflecting on the result this week, Mr Freer said: "Jewish community members who support Labour said they felt comfortable voting for me. But people said they just didn't trust Miliband - on anything. The economy, what happened with his brother. You can't just say it was the Jewish community that won it."

He cited the collapse in the Lib Dem vote as another factor, a point with which Ms Sackman agreed. "Where Labour pinched seats it was from Lib Dems. We were not taking votes from Conservatives," she said.

"It would be disingenuous to say the Middle East did not play a role in the outcome, but it's hard to isolate one factor," she said.

She believed Labour's position on Israel had not been enough to convince many traditional Jewish Labour supporters to switch to Mr Freer.

One senior Jewish Tory in Hendon attributed the victory there to tactics which included urging parents of British boys studying at yeshivot in Israel to encourage them to complete postal votes.

But there were also efforts to attract support from Greek, Nepalese and Sri Lankan families as well as other minority groups.

Read our full Election 2015 coverage here

November 24, 2016 23:27

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