Extreme caution on Starmer among Jews is overpowered by deep frustration with the Tories

JC / JLC focus groups reveal a community looking to the future – but with one eye on recent history


The JC-JLC focus group at South Hampstead shul (Image: Ben Castiel)

June 26, 2024 12:30

In 2019, just 5 per cent of Jewish people in the UK intended to vote for the Labour Party. The antisemitism crisis under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn saw not only the complete collapse in support for the party but a community in fear of a Labour victory.

Despite this election taking place in the wake of the worst period of antisemitism in modern British history, last week’s JC poll showed that one in three Jewish voters were ready to support Labour on July 4. It is clear that there has been a fundamental change in the relationship between our community and the Labour Party.

In the JLC/JC focus groups last week, we were able to look beneath these numbers. Why are Jewish voters returning to Labour? Does a fear of Labour remain among those still voting for other parties? How well do they think our political leaders have responded to events since October 7?

Unsurprisingly, the British Jews in our groups are looking at the election in a way similar to most British voters. We share the same priorities with regards to the cost of living, NHS, education, crime and housing. Both groups also shared a frustration with the  state of politics and there was very little enthusiasm for any of the major parties. Those who told us they would be voting Labour were mainly driven by a desire to vote against the current government.

However, it was evident from our groups in both Manchester and London that these issues are just part of how Jewish voters will be making up their mind. Regardless of how they were voting – if they were voting – participants spoke about the need to vote for parties who will protect the welfare and future of the Jewish community.

It was sobering to sit and listen Jewish people speak about their experiences over the last nine months. Across the board, participants revealed how they had felt the need to hide their identity or change their behaviour to stay safe. One woman said that she would not tell her colleagues that she has an Israeli mother. A man who wears a kippah in Manchester said he cannot remember the last time he went into the city centre.

Despite the fear on show, these voters were appreciative of the current government’s response to October 7. They also recognised that Starmer had made significant changes to his party, and many praised his response to the situation. However, it would be incorrect to assume that the party has been fully redeemed. Both groups spoke of a fear that Labour might replace Starmer with a leader who would undo the progress on antisemitism. The manifesto commitment to recognise a State of Palestine as part of a peace process has also cut-through and was seen negatively by most Labour and Conservative voters in the groups.

The focus groups highlighted the nature of being a British Jew in 2024. As Brits we worry about the cost of living and the NHS. As Jews we worry about our security and how the next government will tackle the rise of hatred. We will individually decide how we vote next week but, at least, unlike 2019, many of us at least feel like we have a choice.

Russell Langer is Director of Public Affairs at the Jewish Leadership Council

June 26, 2024 12:30

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