Was there a “Jewish” factor at work in the outcome of the general election? If so, in whose favour did it work?
These questions are worth asking — and must be asked — because the Labour leadership of Jeremy Corbyn has been plagued by accusations of antisemitism, levelled not so much at Mr Corbyn himself (whom I do not believe to be antisemitic) as at a significant number of his cheer-leaders, followers and “friends”.
The central accusation has been that within Labour ranks — including its National Executive Committee — a subset of the party faithful are resigned to tolerating an undefined but nonetheless genuine antisemitic cadre. Did that erode Labour support at the polls?
On the face of it, probably not. The national swing to Labour was of the order of 7.5 per cent. But look at the victories of some high-profile Jewish Labour candidates, notably Alex Sobel (the newest Jewish MP at Westminster) who took Leeds North West from the Lib Dems on a swing to Labour of 7.9 per cent, Fabian Hamilton who retained neighbouring Leeds North East for Labour (8.5 per cent) and Louise Ellman at Liverpool Riverside (8.5 per cent).
I must also draw attention to the victory of Ruth Smeeth in Stoke-on-Trent North. True, the pro-Labour swing here was just 3.4 per cent. But Ms Smeeth, the victim of a highly public antisemitic incident in June 2016 at the launch of the nonsensical Chakrabarti report into antisemitism in the Labour Party, retained the seat with a Labour vote that increased by almost 6,000 compared with 2015.
In the face of this evidence, the argument that Labour was poised to suffer electorally because of accusations of anti-Jewish prejudice does seem to have been misplaced.
Until, that is, we put the Hendon and Finchley and Golders Green results under the microscope. In neither of these very Jewish Tory-held seats was the sitting MP Jewish. But in both of them Labour chose to adopt as candidates high-profile Jews — Jeremy Newmark (chair of the Jewish Labour Movement and former CEO of the Jewish Leadership Council) in Finchley and Golders Green, and Mike Katz (vice-chair of the JLM) at Hendon.
Katz and Newmark did well, closing the gap on their Conservative rivals. Nonetheless, in Hendon the swing to Labour was just 2.7 per sent and in Finchley it was 4.1 per cent. Granted, Tory MPs Mike Freer (Finchley) and Matthew Offord (Hendon) were fortunate indeed to retain these constituencies by slim margins. But retain them they did, against the national trend.
Why? Anecdotal evidence suggests that both Mr Offord and Mr Freer might well have owed their victories to Jewish voters. The argument (put to me by two historically Labour stalwarts in Hendon who revealed they had voted Tory last week) is that some Jewish voters in both constituencies were convinced that Labour has chosen high-profile Jews as a deliberate but crude ploy, to counter “the Corbyn effect.” These outraged voters had as a result (so the argument went) decided to punish the party in the polling booths, with the result that Labour very significantly underperformed compared to the national swing.
As far as the other parties are concerned, the collapse of Ukip suggests that its 2013-15 love affair with British Jewry is truly over. But although there’s no hard evidence that there was a flow of disaffected Jewish voters from Labour or the Conservative to the Lib Dems, we cannot ignore the fact that in both Finchley and Hendon the Lib Dems increased their votes and their share of the votes.