Our community should take comfort from Keir Starmer's rebuilding of the Labour Party

As a rabbi, I say Labour is heading in the right direction

May 18, 2022 17:13

Last Channuka, I attended the Jewish Labour Movement annual event and was asked to speak. The Labour leader Keir Starmer was present, and I was able to speak openly about the importance of my Jewish and socialist values and how they could now work together. After speaking I went over to chat to Keir, and was struck by his deep seriousness towards tackling antisemitism. It felt personal for him. Of course it is. His wife comes from a Jewish tradition, and they regular partake in Friday night and festive meals.

We now know through Keir’s actions too that he is serious. His open and honest dealing with the Jewish Labour Movement, moving Jeremy Corbyn outside the parliamentary party where he belongs, and taking absolutely seriously the findings of the EHRC report into antisemitism in the Labour Party.

Things therefore feel different within Labour, feel safer. Many Jewish people who want dearly to associate with the party, are returning. More than this many Jewish Labour activists, people who have so much to give in Local Government, have been elected as Councillors in authorities such as Barnet and Camden.

Barnet is a story in itself. The swing towards Labour would most definitely have included Jewish voters, and many good people are now looking forward to serving on Barnet’s Labour benches. I wish them all good luck! It is a testament to where the Labour party is now, that so many of them could have stood, been selected and elected too.

But the reality is that the Labour party still has more to do if it’s to be a force for good in national Government again. That was the story of the local elections this month and I had a front row seat as a candidate in Crouch End in Haringey.

I had been interested in being involved in local Government leadership for a while, and now felt like an opportunity. I had received a lot of support from present Councillors and members of the party. I had made it clear that I would stand up against the Corbyn left, and that I would fight antisemitism in the party.

But after being resoundingly selected to stand as a candidate for Crouch End, nothing would prepare me for the positive reaction of the residents there, Jewish and non-Jewish. I was open that I was a Rabbi, after all my community work stood me in good stead for Council work. But apart from a few cranks on the far-left, I received a positive response. In fact, Jewish voters in Crouch End were over the moon that I was standing. Many wanted to vote Labour, and having someone like me, who would fight antisemitism and advocate for them locally brought delight. I was standing with two great candidates, who had strong connections with the Jewish community.

And so, after pounding the streets of Crouch End each day (except Shabbat!) and mobilising a great campaigning team, I was positive, although intrepid when polling day arrived. You see, most people don’t really know who they vote for – they just go for the parties that interest them. People often split their vote between two, and sometimes three parties and will choose names alphabetically. My name, Mason (Oh to be Aaronovitch!!) was third of the Labour candidates. So often, people would vote for my colleagues, and then a Liberal Democrat or Green candidate. The unfairness of politics!

And so it happened. But not quite. I received 1911 votes, a very large and good sum on all accounts. My two colleagues got more and will make great Councillors. The Lib Dem leader in Council, whose surname begins with C, also got more – but 31 more. That was how much I lost by.

It was gutting of course. But on reflection I realised that I had been given a resounding vote of confidence by the residents of Crouch End. The last time Labour had councillors in Crouch End the first two (surnames beginning with A and D) got in and the third (surname with K) lost by around 200 votes. I got much closer. I lost because of my surname, not because I was a Jew.

Ultimately, like the Labour Party nationally, we did well but not well enough to show we’re ready to take Downing Street. Instead we are heading in the right direction but with more work to do. That feels a fair assessment and I fully back Sir Keir Starmer to go on exhibiting the decency and integrity to get us there.

And crucially, even though the Labour party still has more to do to ensure it pushes out antisemitism and denial of antisemitism too; the Party does feel now more of a place of allyship, solidarity and support. That should be of great comfort to our community.

David Mason is rabbi of Muswell Hill Synagogue


May 18, 2022 17:13

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