Grant Feller

One of us... but is that good enough?

April 20, 2015 10:47

I have a vivid memory of being about eight years old and sitting around Booba’s Saturday afternoon tea-time table in Golders Green, surrounded by the merry cacophony of family. Suddenly I announced that, no, I didn’t want to be a doctor or a lawyer or Malcom Macdonald, I was going to be Prime Minister. “Ah, my grandson the Prime Minister,” she said. And they all laughed.

Well they’re not laughing now. Because in three weeks’ time, a similarly tormented middle-aged Jewish man with bad hair and a dodgy relationship with bacon could finally be running the country. A man who, like me, was a bit of a nebbish growing up, was always an outsider among a privileged elite, who tried to be cool but instead retreated into books, solitude and cricket, who never looked anything other than a dork in photos, spent Thursday evenings on Hampstead High Street awkwardly trying to fit in, and whose teenage years were plagued by terrible taste in music, fashion and girls.

Ed Miliband and I have never met but I wouldn’t be surprised if we “knew” each other. That sense of not quite fitting in (and perhaps not wanting to), of using over-confidence to mask shyness, fear of failure and fraternal tensions, and knowing that our instincts are borne not from a religious upbringing but the freedom of thought our parents instilled within us.

So why wouldn’t Booba vote for me? At least that’s the message I took from last week’s extraordinary JC poll that revealed most British Jews — a tiny, if influential, minority of the electorate — would vote for David Cameron not Miliband.

They wouldn’t vote for the first true Jewish British Prime Minister, for the leader of a party that has traditionally enjoyed the backing of a community-minded left-of-centre population — an immigrant population at that — and for a north London boy whose parents brought him up with a healthy distrust of right-wing authority and greed.

We all root for the Jew, even if they are not very religious

One of us.

I should add here that I’m not Labour. I’ve voted for both Thatcher and Blair, drifted between Cameron and Brown, spoilt my ballot paper and even, forgive me, put an X next to a Green candidate once (I was in love with a vegetarian hippy, big mistake). I am the archetypal floating voter and really haven’t made up my mind yet.
But the JC poll has crystallised my thoughts in a way I hadn’t anticipated. I am politically tribeless yet always want to root for the Jew, even if they’re wholly unobservant. Don’t we all? Do we really care who won the Nobel Prize for whatever and why? Their Judaism is just as important. We rave about every Woody Allen film, Philip Roth novel or Bob Dylan album no matter how mediocre, desperately want young entrepreneurs to succeed especially if they’re Jewish, and even the Chelsea-haters among us hoped Avram Grant’s team would win something. I even started supporting rugby because Ben Cohen played for England, which turned out to be a costly case of mistaken identity.

Like the entire community, I am happy to admit my pro-semitic prejudices even though my religious observances are close to nil. So when there’s the prospect of a Jewish PM — as well as Speaker John Bercow and committee chairwoman-in-chief Margaret Hodge — I am enormously hopeful. In the same way, I suppose, as all those female columnists who want Hillary Clinton to be President simply because she’s a woman, or all the black writers who yearned for an Obama Presidency and now refuse to admit his two lacklustre terms were anything but triumphant. We want our team, tribe, type to win.

I don’t honestly know if Ed would be much of a leader, am not entirely sure he’s surrounded himself with much talent and cringe whenever he meets a “real” person but, well, he’s Jewish. I just wish he’d stop pretending he isn’t.

Maybe that’s why 69 per cent of those Jews polled by the JC would prefer a former member of the Bullingdon Club, not exactly a beacon for minority inclusiveness. Or for a man who did everything he could to form a government with a Liberal Democrat party whose members are openly hostile to Israel. Or for a man whose closest political colleague changed his name from Gideon because it sounded too… oh I don’t know, why don’t you tell us George.

Do Ed’s positive noises towards Palestine mean that he’ll abandon Israel? Does his quasi-Marxist intellectual upbringing mean he wants to redistribute everyone’s wealth? Does his apparent fear of talking about his Jewish past mean that he’s a traitorous self-hater? Or are those just the messages that have been effectively percolated through the clamour for our attention?

They say we vote for personalities not policies. Let’s be honest, there’s not an awful lot of difference between the two — the very wealthy will undoubtedly be worse off under Labour and the very poor will be worse off under the Conservatives. Everyone will “save” the NHS, no one will increase tuition fees and neither will ever pay off our national debt. It’s true, one of them might push harder than the other for a two-state solution in the Middle East and not take “no” for an answer. Well, good.

So it comes down to the free market toff with a worryingly vague political philosophy who’s a renowned Jew-lover, or the statist geek with an implausibly idealistic philosophy who’s a supposed Jew-hater. Neither of whom knows what working for a living actually means.

But one of them has the most inspiring story to tell. Of ancestral survival amid unspeakable evil, of rising to the top in the face of a prejudice we know still exists, of being the country’s ultimate servant a generation after his family had been welcomed in as penniless refugees who didn’t speak English.

So why doesn’t Ed tell it? Perhaps because he thinks being Jewish is not going to win him any votes north of Radlett. Quite possibly. Thus, readers of the JC become the acceptable collateral damage.

I honestly don’t know which way I’m going to vote. I live in a key London marginal and like to think that this time I’ll have some influence on forming the next Parliament. But I know that when I mark my card I will do so as a Jew whose still-geeky “twin” might win because of me.

Is it wrong, blinkered and shallow for me to want the Jew to win just because he’s Jewish? Of course it is.

And yet…

Read more of our Election 2015 coverage here

April 20, 2015 10:47

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