I won’t vote Labour, but I’ve no plans to leave

'A Labour majority would announce that we, as a community, don’t really matter and can no longer take our security here for granted.'

November 21, 2019 16:15

Are your bags packed? Is your passport by the door, one-way tickets waiting? I jest, and I don’t; some 47% of British Jews would “seriously consider” emigrating if Jeremy Corbyn becomes prime minister.

Mine aren’t. My life is here, and anyway, I’m not overly worried about day one, or even day 101, of a Corbyn premiership. Or rather, I am worried, but not for the reasons you’d expect.

I’ve studied enough political history to know British public life moves at a snail’s pace. Election promises, even if kept, are rarely done so on deadline; laws take time to be scrutinised, especially when the government has a precarious grip on power. Change, when it comes, rarely does so overnight. Witness the fact that several years after the referendum, we remain snug in Brussels’ arms.

Equally, while politics may be led from the front, it is bigger than one person, or even a top team. Whitehall is populated by scores of sensible Sir Humphreys; moderating forces against wayward ministers. And if recent years have shown anything, it’s that parliament is well-equipped to frustrate the plans of Number 10. That’s not to say a Corbyn government couldn’t make life unpleasant for Jews (or many Britons), merely that I have enough faith in our structures and institutions to believe it wouldn’t happen quickly.

Nevertheless, I’m scared of a Labour Government because the election of one would challenge everything I’ve always believed about being a British Jew.

Aware though I am of being different to my non-Jewish countrymen, I’ve never felt that that difference mattered. I’ve always felt equally British and Jewish, and grew up proud to be of a community that was proudly British. Last Sunday saw the AJEX parade, commemorating the contributions of Jewish servicemen. That contribution has always seemed logical; of course we’d fight for Britain, because Britain fights for us. Britain has our back.

With an eye to history, I always believed that if the Jewish part of my identity was under threat, the British side would offer protection. And that the feeling of being unwelcome in one’s country was something for other Jews, from other places and in other eras.

If my countrymen give Labour a mandate, that tells me they have my back, but maybe only to a point.

No engaged voter can possibly be unaware of Labour’s Jewish problem. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the EHRC’s inquiry into institutional racism within Labour, the candidates and councillors whose tolerance does not stretch to Semites, or the party’s woeful response, you’d have to have been living under a rock not to know something is up.

A Labour majority – brought on not just by the party faithful, but by floating voters too - would say to me not that people are unaware, but that they’ve decided it doesn’t matter.

It would say they have considered the antisemitism issue and concluded that, either it’s a point in Labour’s favour or — perhaps worse — that bad as it is, it’s a price worth paying. That British Jews can be thrown under a bus for the greater good. Ultimately, it would announce that we, as a community, don’t really matter and can no longer take our security here for granted.

I understand why people want to vote Labour. Leave aside Brexit, I look at the shortfalls in healthcare and education funding, the increasing scale of homelessness, the procrastination around social care reform, and marvel that the Conservatives lead the polls. And Boris Johnson’s failure to adhere to the promise of an independent inquiry into Islamophobia is shameful, especially when his ministers make hay over Labour antisemitism.

As an erstwhile Labour voter, my heart breaks, because no likely national outcome is desirable. For despite some admirable policies, despite the desperate need for change, and despite some fantastic MPs, I cannot put a tick in their box. How can I back a party that, cognisant of history, considers Jews somehow “other”?

I desperately hope voters that will feel the same to deliver a result that puts to rest my fears and confirms British Jews are part of Britain’s fabric and future. That sufficient numbers will heed the point reassuringly made by 24 luminaries to the Guardian, that “antisemitism is central to a wider debate about the kind of country we want to be”.

Because it’s not just Corbyn, nor a few bad eggs. It is how Labour has handled the world’s oldest hatred, time and again, and what that says about them. It’s that even now, the party’s senior representatives are on the airwaves denying there even is a problem.

It should disqualify Labour from leading the country. That many voters will decide it doesn’t makes me more nervous than ever before as a British Jew.

My bags are not packed, not even close. But it no longer feels quite so preposterous.


November 21, 2019 16:15

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