Marcus Dysch

Subdued Conservative Friends of Israel set to bounce back

This did not appear to be a group preparing to skulk off to the sidelines during its annual lunch.

December 14, 2017 10:43

Perhaps it was the snow. Perhaps it was the flurry of government business sparked by the Brexit divorce deal. Perhaps it was the scandal which led to the resignation of a cabinet minister just a month ago. Either way, the Conservative Friends of Israel lunch in Westminster on Monday was a more subdued affair than in past years. 

That said, it is rather difficult to have a “low-profile” event when there are 700 people attending, including the Chief Rabbi, various ambassadors, about 100 MPs and more than half a dozen Cabinet ministers.

The stardust sprinkled liberally around the event two years ago, when guest speaker David Cameron had secured the Tories a Commons majority and almost the entire parliamentary Conservative Party attended, was less in evidence on Monday. 

With Theresa May, Boris Johnson and their senior cabinet colleagues legitimately absent, it fell to Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, to deliver the keynote speech.

There are few safer pairs of hands when it comes to Israel than Mr Gove’s — he is the cabinet’s leading Zionist by a distance and he did not disappoint. 

The standing ovation he received at the conclusion of his remarks was as long and loud as any I can remember at a CFI event. 

After the fallout from the Priti Patel affair last month, some observers had predicted embarrassment for CFI around this annual jewel in the crown. Some thought MPs would stay away and donors would be less willing to dip into their pockets.

But this was emphatically not the case. Ms Patel made no attempt to hide her appearance at the lunch — chatting to diners and having her picture taken. 

Indeed, a couple of the speakers made thinly-veiled references to last month’s headlines — if not laughing off the controversy, at least giving a tongue-in-cheek nod to it. 

Lord Polak made his usual appearance to give the vote of thanks and threw in a joke for good measure. 

Hardly the action of a defeated man.

One senior communal figure had predicted the Patel affair would “set us back 20 years” as a community. So far, there is no evidence of such an outcome. 

Although the lunch was wrapped up in little over an hour, this did not appear to be a group preparing to skulk off to the sidelines.  

It would be no surprise to see CFI’s leading figures re-emerge in 2018, after a period of reflection, with all the vigour usually associated with one of Westminster’s most effective lobby groups.

December 14, 2017 10:43

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