David Rose

Labour is heading for an earthquake victory – but battles with Jewish voters may lie ahead

This week’s JC exposé of The Muslim Vote could be a sign of political trouble to come


Keir Starmer meeting Jewish leaders in Alyth shul in Golders Green in April. The Labour leader has won back Jewish voters' confidence - but there are battles still to come

June 14, 2024 16:36

With less than three weeks to go until general election polling day, the horizon could scarcely be darker for Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives. I’m writing this on the day when opinion polls suggested Reform UK had pulled ahead of the Tories, a development that would once have seemed unthinkable.

Earlier this week, I had lunch with a seasoned Tory strategist. The only unresolved issue, he said, was whether the scale of his party’s looming defeat would mean it could never take power ever again. Should it end up with fewer than 120 seats, he suggested, Nigel Farage and Reform might be empowered to carry out a “reverse takeover” of the Tories, along the lines of what happened after the old Canadian right met electoral Armageddon in the 1990s.

Over the next two weeks, the JC will be reporting in-depth on what Jewish voters make of state of the parties and the campaign so far. But it already seems evident that the antisemitism that Labour failed to confront when it was led by Jeremy Corbyn has faded as a salient issue. The candidates exposed by the JC and others over the past few weeks for their sympathies with anti-Israel extremism have all been Greens, independents and members of George Galloway’s Workers’ Party - not Labour.

Under Sir Keir Starmer, Labour has also made it clear that while it will not shrink from criticising Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and will continue to advocate a two-state solution, it sees its role in relation to Israel as a constructive friend and ally. The days when it proclaimed it would recognise a Palestinian state immediately on assuming office lie in the past, and Starmer has been scrupulous in insisting that whatever the “day after” the current conflict may bring, no settlement is possible without, as the party manifesto puts it, “a safe and secure Israel”.

It is also likely that in power, Labour will proscribe Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organisation – a policy long supported by this newspaper, which would make it significantly more difficult for the hydra-headed offshoots of the regime operate on UK soil.

Nevertheless, there will still be battles to be fought under a Labour government which will be of concern to Jewish voters, and through the mists of uncertainty around the size of its majority after 4 July one can see their contours.

This week, the JC revealed that The Muslim Vote (TMV) , a coalition of 24 Muslim activist organisations, is putting heavy pressure on some Labour candidates over the party’s position on the Gaza war, especially in the Midlands and east London. Key figures behind TMV include several who signed a pledge on October 9 claiming that the Hamas attacks perpetrated two days earlier were an exercise in Palestinian’s “right” to resist occupation, and arguing that Middle East peace would be impossible unless and until the Jewish state was dismantled.

As a senior Labour source told me, TMV is not dictating Labour policy or its conduct of the campaign. However, in the local elections last month, the Labour vote fell 18 points in wards that were more than 20 per cent Muslim, in part thanks to campaigns backed by TMV. Should that pattern be repeated or (as I suspect it will be) amplified at the general election, Jews and those who support Israel will need to be vigilant, for the bald arithmetical fact is that Muslim voters outnumber Jews more than ten to one.

It is even possible that a TMV-backed candidate such as Birmingham Ladywood’s Akhmed Yakoob, who polled 70,000 votes in the recent West Midlands mayoral election, may unseat a sitting Labour MP – in his case, the shadow Justice Secretary Shabana Mahmood. Yakoob, lest we forget, has called Zionism a “fascist ideology”, asserted that Zionists “control everything”, and claimed that Allah chose him to go into politics in order to diminish their influence.

Another battle is likely over Labour’s manifesto pledge to “reverse the Conservatives’ decision to downgrade the monitoring of antisemitic and Islamophobic hate”. If that means getting the police to take action against the outright expressions of Jew-hatred that have marked some of the anti-Israel protests since October 7, all well and good.

But in government, the party may also consider whether to enshrine the 2017 definition of Islamophobia produced by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims – indeed, Labour formally adopted it in 2019.

It just so happens that some of those who helped draft this definition emerged from the some of the same organisations behind TMV, while among the group’s “expert witnesses” who gave evidence to it was one David Miller, the former Bristol professor sacked after voicing extreme anti-Zionism. If the definition were to become law, the implications for freedom of speech on subjects such as militant Islamism and anti-Israel terror groups would be serious.

The country, it need hardly be said, faces numerous intractable problems, and I suspect that Labour’s post-electoral honeymoon will be neither long nor ecstatic. It won’t be long before political strife resumes – and some of the issues it will probably involve will be of special concern to Jews.

June 14, 2024 16:36

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive