Starmer’s tackling of Labour antisemitism was key for our community

It took time for trust to be restored but the party took the required action


Keir and Victoria Starmer arrive at a polling station to place their votes (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

July 05, 2024 11:30

When the exit poll dropped last night, we saw what most of us had been expecting all along; a landslide victory for Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party. However, we were also reminded of how far the party has come since 2019.

Hidden behind the numbers was the shock prediction that the Liberal Democrats would be 99% likely to win Finchley and Golders Green, the seat with the largest proportion of Jewish voters anywhere in the UK. This prediction was shown to be completely wide of the mark – the seat went to Labour’s Sarah Sackman – but there is a clear reason the model got this so wrong. In 2019, the Liberal Democrat candidate in Finchley and Golders Green was Luciana Berger, the former Labour MP who quit the party over the antisemitism scandal presided over by Jeremy Corbyn. Berger came second as Jewish Labour voters rejected their party. In 2024, this constituency and other areas with Jewish populations are no longer such extreme outliers.

A Labour victory in 2019 would have caused existential questions for the British Jewish community. When Starmer became leader, the key item on the agenda for communal organisations meeting him and other party figures was the antisemitism crisis. It took time for trust to be restored but the party took the required action to once again allow us to work with them as a realistic government-in-waiting. As a result, we have the necessary relationships with key Labour figures to engage with this government from day one.

This is vital. Labour come to power at a time of growing antisemitism as the events of the Middle East lead directly to hatred on the streets of the UK. The Israel-Hamas war continues and violence on Israel’s northern border threatens to expand the conflict further. One British citizen is still held hostage in Gaza and the outgoing government is challenging the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in the conflict. There are other imminent issues to be raised with incoming ministers such as serious concerns regarding the impact of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act which will come into force within weeks.

The legislative agenda of the incoming government will likely be dominated by their priority areas such as the cost of living, energy, health, and immigration. Amidst this, we will be keen to see the government continue its support for the Holocaust Memorial Bill’s passage.

Parliament itself will be a very different environment with plenty of new faces. Labour made a point of removing candidates who threatened to take the party back to the dark days of pre-2019. In their place, many of those now elected as Labour MPs have proven they are allies if the Jewish community.

The large Labour majority will see an increased number of backbenchers. While this in theory should make governing easier and reduce the risk of government defeats, the Conservative Party of Boris Johnson showed how large majorities can still be burdensome if not managed correctly. There is a real risk that Labour MPs who only narrowly beat anti-Israel independents in their constituencies will spend the next Parliament trying to defeat this threat by taking positions increasingly hostile to Israel.

Across the chamber, we have a diminished Conservative Party which will be desperately trying to figure out how to re-establish itself. With barely enough numbers to form an opposition, the forthcoming leadership contest could take it in any number of directions. A looming question for the contest is how the party will interact with Nigel Farage who has finally made it into Parliament after seven unsuccessful attempts. He is joined by three of his Reform colleagues.

The Liberal Democrats are now the clear third party with over 70 seats. This will give them an increased voice within Parliament and they will be able to lead opposition day debates. A key question is if they choose to use this platform in a way similar to the SNP by attempting to expose splits in the Labour Party. The Liberal Democrat manifesto called for an immediate recognition of a State of Palestine, a position likely held by a considerable number of Labour MPs, whereas the official Labour position is for recognition only as a contribution to a peace process. Even with 400 MPs, Labour could find this tricky.

Sitting nearby will be the small but significant cohort of independent MPs elected explicitly on platforms appealing to voters unhappy with Labour not being hostile enough towards Israel. Among them will be Jeremy Corbyn. The divisive George Galloway however, repeated his track record of failing to hold his by-election gains. This group likely benefited out of a combination of low turnout, an assumption a Labour win was guaranteed, and the strong feelings within areas with large Muslim populations as the conflict continues. This is one of the most concerning outcomes of the election and is an unusual development in our electoral system which favours major parties.

Last night’s result was historic. For the first time in 14 years, we have had a change in the party of government. Jewish people have the right to make up their own mind on how they view the performance of this new government over the coming years. However, it is in the interest of all Jewish people that our communal organisations are able to work with whoever is in government as well as with a broad range of MPs across the chamber who may realistically form a government in the future. That work resumes now.

Russell Langer is Director of Public Affairs for the Jewish Leadership Council

July 05, 2024 11:30

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