Marcus Dysch

Did Jewish voters cost Jeremy Corbyn the election?

Will Labour's leadership be counting the cost of the party's antisemitism scandals, asks JC politics editor Marcus Dysch

June 09, 2017 15:14

Britain’s political outlook may resemble a horror film’s impression of a post-apocalyptic landscape today, but the election outcome has, ironically, thrown up a series of positives for Jewish voters.

While Jeremy Corbyn outperformed every possible expectation, his chances of becoming Prime Minister seem slim – for now at least.

Across the country, veteran Jewish candidates such as Robert Halfon, Louise Ellman, and Fabian Hamilton held their seats.

Of course there were losers too. Lee Scott will be astonished to have lost by 9,639 votes to Wes Streeting in Ilford North given that two years ago he missed out by just 589.

Rhea Wolfson, the pro-Jeremy Corbyn Labour candidate in Livingston in Scotland, is likely to be well-placed to become an MP in the future after a decent campaign saw her miss out by a few thousand to the SNP.

Two months ago, Labour sources were predicting a wipeout of MPs, including many of the party’s pro-Israel cohort. We predicted the loss of figures such as Joan Ryan, the chair of Labour Friends of Israel; John Woodcock, a former LFI chair; Ian Austin, son of a Holocaust survivor; and many others.

A group of 10 key Jewish and pro-Israel figures with previous majorities of less than 8,000 were expected to be heavily beaten. All but one of them – David Winnick, who had been Britain’s oldest Jewish MP – won, mostly with increased majorities.

And who is that backing up the government – the Democratic Unionist Party. The DUP is one of the most pro-Israel groups in Westminster and its 10 Protestant MPs are likely to provide the sort of staunch, reliable support that their leader in the Commons, Nigel Dodds, has regularly shown.

It is hard to single out results on a night of such shocks and, frankly, inexplicable outcomes in so many constituencies.

But consider for a moment the scene in Finchley and Golders Green, the constituency with the largest proportion of Jewish voters in the country.

Mike Freer won the seat for the third time, and will return to Westminster as a Tory MP. His majority, which he had increased two years ago, was slashed back to 1,657 by Jeremy Newmark, head of the Jewish Labour Movement.

Yet this looks like a gigantic success for Mr Freer. The national swing to Labour was 9.5 per cent, but in this patch of north-west London, Mr Newmark’s gain was restricted to 4.1 per cent.

Is it possible that it was Jewish voters who kept the seat out of Mr Corbyn’s hands?

Mr Freer thanked the community for “sticking with me”, and well he might. If you accept both the anecdotal and polling evidence that the Tories were likely to take huge swathes of Jewish votes, then the 14,000 such ballots in Finchley and Golders Green must have been key to his re-election.

The strength of feeling against Mr Newmark’s decision to “kosher” the Labour vote surely played a role? Many Jewish voters were outraged at his surprise candidacy for Mr Corbyn’s party after the JLM had spent the past two years condemning at every turn the Labour leader and his response to the antisemitism crisis in the party.

It’s possible that Jews punished Mr Newmark – and Mike Katz, his JLM vice-chair who fell 1,000 votes short in neighbouring Hendon – in a way that they did not take revenge against incumbent Labour MPs who stood again. It’s one thing to be a veteran MP like Mrs Ellman and seek a win under Mr Corbyn’s leadership, quite another to volunteer for the task at the least likely time.

Which brings us to two other key seats. Do the increased majorities of Wes Streeting and Tulip Siddiq – two philosemite Labour MPs who have been critical of Mr Corbyn – back up or knock down these theories on voting and morals?

It’s hard to say while looking at a web of results which in so many areas defy logic. They may both have lost their Jewish support, but covered for it by attracting the young, pro-Remain voters who have helped Labour pick up so many votes and seats.

The psephologists and their students will be studying the results of the June 2017 general election for generations to come.

We will be poring over these details for weeks and months, trying to work out how the winners and losers met their fate.

Theresa May, certainly, is unlikely ever to recover from the events of the past few weeks.

But one thing seems more obvious - in two small patches of the capital, Jewish voters made their feelings towards Mr Corbyn abundantly clear, and withheld from him two seats which could, with the odd vote going differently elsewhere in the country, have been absolutely vital. 

June 09, 2017 15:14

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