Friday night dinner doesn’t make you a slacker

The Tory party offended us all by attacking Sir Keir Starmer for observing Jewish traditions


Defence Secretary Grant Shapps knows full well what trying to keep Friday night free for Shabbat means (Photo: Getty Images)

July 02, 2024 12:04

Benjamin Disraeli famously remarked that, “Desperation is sometimes as powerful an inspirer as genius.” Many are the ways in which Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives have managed to sully the history of the Conservative Party, but yesterday they showed that desperation can have quite the opposite effect to inspiring genius. Sometimes desperation can lead to behaviour that is not merely offensive but cowardly, crass and – yes – contemptible.

Interviewed on Monday on Virgin Radio by Chris Evans, Sir Keir Starmer spoke, as he has done many times before, of how he attempts to keep Friday nights free for a form of Shabbat dinner with his Jewish wife and their children: “We’ve had a strategy in place and we’ll try to keep to it, which is to carve out really protected time for the kids, so on a Friday – I’ve been doing this for years – I will not do a work-related thing after six o’clock, pretty well come what may. There are a few exceptions, but that’s what we do.”

It’s an admirable aim for anyone, but for Jews, this is deep in our DNA. Even for heathens like me who are otherwise entirely unobservant, Friday night dinner is different.

In a normal world, you wouldn’t be reading this column, because I wouldn’t have felt any need to write about Sir Keir Starmer’s commendable family arrangements. But we aren’t in a normal world. We are in a world where the Conservative Party has been so desperate to find anything with which to attack Labour that it decided in the final week of the election campaign to go on the offensive over the Labour leader choosing to have dinner with his wife and kids.

It did that not only by distorting his words beyond all recognition but, in the process, by effectively telling every Jew in Britain who spends time with his family on a Friday night, rather than working, that they – we – are lazy good-for-nothings.

The first Conservative Party response on social media read: “Keir Starmer has said he’d clock off work at 6pm if he became prime minister. You deserve better than a part-time prime minister.” (He didn’t say that, of course. He said nothing that even resembles that.) Tory deputy chairman Jonathan Gullis then posted: “Let’s hope Putin doesn’t choose 6.01pm when he wishes to go any further with his illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine.” Rishi Sunak then joined in, saying at an event on Monday night that, “I haven’t finished at 6pm, ever.” The Conservatives then sent out a mass email in the form of a fake out-of-office message from Keir Starmer, telling people to contact Angela Rayner after 6pm.

All of which is puerile, pathetic and degrading for everyone involved. Not least because during this very election campaign Rishi Sunak actually praised Sir Keir for carving out time with his children, telling LBC: “I think [Starmer] does a very good job of balancing family life and work life and making sure he prioritises that and makes time for it.”

Even by the desperate standards of a desperate party, desperate to find any way of attacking Keir Starmer, this is desperate stuff. But the desperation turns into the disgusting when it comes to Grant Shapps’ intervention.

The Defence Secretary is a proud Jew. He knows full well what trying to keep Friday night free for Shabbat with the family actually means.

Unless you’re fully observant (and unless I am missing something, even the Tories in their desperation haven’t gone so far as to suggest Sir Keir is an Orthodox Jew), it doesn’t mean switching off all electronics and refusing to answer the phone. It just means having dinner with your family.

But despite knowing that Sir Keir has said nothing remotely exceptional, and knowing from his own life exactly what the Labour leader means, Shapps went for the jugular: “Virtually every military intervention we’ve carried out has happened at night, partly to keep our servicemen and women safe.

"The British people will wonder who would be standing in for Starmer between 6pm and 9am – Angela Rayner, David Lammy, Ed Miliband? Defending Britain’s security isn’t a daylight hours only job.”

It is bad enough that the prime minister should resort to this desperate, baseless lie that Sir Keir Starmer has said he will clock off at 6pm every night.

It is even worse that the message underlying this smear is that any Jew who has Friday night dinner with his family – let alone anyone who actually keeps Shabbat – is a wastrel deserving of opprobrium from the government.

But what is truly foul is when that attack comes from a Jew. For shame.

July 02, 2024 12:04

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