Oliver Kamm

Ed's out-of -touch feeling

April 19, 2015 16:15

On general election day in 2010 I went out for lunch with Daniel Finkelstein. "Now tell me," he said, "how did you vote?" I didn't feel it was open to me, as one columnist to another, to protest that it was a secret ballot, so I mumbled, in a half-hearted hope that he might not hear correctly, that I had voted Labour.

The knowledge that I had sought the continued tenure of Gordon Brown in Downing Street, a post for which he was plainly unsuited, has ever since provoked jovial incredulity from my friend and fellow JC contributor. This time, if I vote Labour again, the derision will be greater. Though Daniel is a Conservative peer, his views are not merely partisan; he plainly speaks for a large constituency of British Jews.

It is striking that, according to polling evidence in the JC last week, Labour attracts little more than a fifth of Jewish voters. It's also, in my view, dispiriting that the community's support is not more evenly spread across the mainstream parties. Yet I have no hesitation in holding Mr Miliband responsible for this outcome.

In part, it's about Mr Miliband's approach to Israel. But it's important not to caricature Labour's stance, just as British Jewry's attitude to the politics of the Middle East is far from monolithic. Labour is historically a party with strong links and sympathies with Labour Zionism. Declared friends of Israel are numerous and senior within the Labour Party. The formal stated position of the party – in support of a two-state solution between a safe Israel and a sovereign Palestine – is held by most Israeli voters, by a large proportion of British Jews, and incidentally by me.

Labour's position is certainly more balanced than that of the Lib Dems, whose leader, Nick Clegg, called in 2009 for an arms embargo on Israel and who tolerate in their ranks the egregious bigotry of David Ward, who is seeking re-election in Bradford East. The problem with Mr Miliband, as I interpret it, is his instinctive lack of solidarity with the forces that most need it.

I think it’s dispiriting that support is not more evenly spread

These forces include Israel, which must indeed make concessions to secure a land-for-peace deal, yet which has a genuine and pressing problem of security. Mr Miliband doesn't talk about this. It's as if he doesn't understand the dilemma. Even his father, the Marxist academic Ralph Miliband, gave every indication of understanding Israel's plight in the Six-Day War of 1967, despite his far-left revolutionary stance. "Being Jewish," wrote the elder Miliband to another Marxist academic, Leo Huberman, "does not mean that one must, to prove one's socialist bona fides, be Nasserite à outrance [to the utmost]."

Ed Miliband has shown himself also helpless and indifferent in aiding the victims of President Assad's repression in Syria. Perhaps Labour was right (though I don't believe it was) to oppose military strikes against Assad's forces. But Mr Miliband's eagerness to condemn "cavalier and reckless leadership" at home, rather than declare solidarity with an oppressed people, is what stays with me.

Finally, Mr Miliband has turned Labour back to being an insular party that talks of immigration only to depict it as a problem. It's an economically absurd case but it exemplifies how Mr Miliband is out of touch with the liberal and internationalist ideals that most British Jews who count themselves on the moderate left would instinctively advocate. He may yet be prime minister by an arithmetical fluke but he doesn't look like one; not even remotely.

Read more Election 2015 news here

April 19, 2015 16:15

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