Marcus Dysch

Dysch on Politics: Mirth-free May hits the right note

Small talk and one-liners do not feature in Theresa Mays speech-making repertoire.

December 16, 2016 14:12

So when she addressed the thronged masses of the Conservative Friends of Israel on Monday, the Prime Minister cut straight to the serious stuff.

There was none of the shmoozing and old boys’ network backslapping associated with the David Cameron era.

Mrs May ploughed into outlining the government’s position on the Balfour centenary, her experiences of Israel, and her hopes for collaboration.

This calm, steely delivery gives little opportunity for lighter moments but Mrs May means business and, in a time of such political, economic and social instability, the public warms to her style.

As we know from her appearances in front of the Police Federation as Home Secretary, she is not one to dodge tough talk. Her uncompromising denouncement of Israeli settlements was met with absolute silence by the 800-strong crowd, which moments earlier had been savouring her every word of praise.

Two months ago in this column, I suggested the Tories might be becoming complacent in their relationship with British Jews. How wrong I was.

On Monday morning, Mrs May adopted a new definition of antisemitism which should make prosecutions of Jew-haters far easier, and Amber Rudd, her Home Secretary, banned a neo-Nazi group.

In two hours, the Tories did more for us than even the most philosemitic Labour politicians could hope to achieve in years.

The scale of the CFI lunch is staggering, and completely without parallel for British Jewry politically. Media moguls, diplomatic dignitaries and business executives mix with cabinet members at the leading networking event of the year, albeit with a worrying predominance of grey-haired men in suits.

Mrs May looked somewhat uncomfortable as Lord Polak, CFI’s honorary president, praised her “amazing” speech in his vote of thanks. Seconds later she was gone, out of the back door and back to work.

A couple of hours later, on the other side of Westminster Bridge, community leaders reconvened at the annual Board of Deputies Chanucah reception in Parliament.

Aside from Board president Jonathan Arkush almost tumbling off the stage, it was the apparent resurgence of the organisation that was notable.

The Board has had a good 2016 and is regarded far more warmly in political and communal circles than it was a few years ago.

There is some way to go for Labour in its efforts to repair the damage done by its antisemitism crisis, however. Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, preaching about the horrors of Jew-hate with only the briefest mention of her own party’s role is unlikely to do the trick.

And Dawn Butler may find her role as Shadow Minister for Ethnic Minority Communities a little easier if she uses occasions such as the reception to actually speak to Jewish community members, rather than arriving and leaving within five silent minutes.

December 16, 2016 14:12

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