Marcus Dysch

What's next for the Tory government and British Jews?

Mr Timothy was the greatest influence on Mrs May on Israel and was utterly determined to see Britain draw closer to its ally.

June 15, 2017 12:05

It was at 3.23am last Friday that the previously unthinkable became obvious. During her acceptance speech in her Maidenhead constituency, Theresa May said: “More than anything else, this country needs a period of stability.”

At that very moment, as she prepared to utter the word “stability” — such a regular feature of her election campaign — the Prime Minister stumbled, and it was clear: she was finished, and she knew it.

Billed as the new Iron Lady, expected just a few weeks ago to win a landslide victory, and still coming to terms with three major terrorist attacks, Mrs May began in that speech to unravel. She has hardly managed to stem the unravelling since. However hard she has worked to prove otherwise, Mrs May now faces a Herculean task to save her premiership.

Where exactly her phenomenal political miscalculation leaves us as a country and as a Jewish community remains to be seen. There seems little point in making predictions at this stage. The election campaign has made obvious the fallacy that any of us truly knows what is going on in politics at the moment. Take for example my belief last week that the Conservatives “will win comfortably, finishing with a majority of around 40 seats or more”.

While Mrs May struggles on — a leader on political life-support — there are, behind the scenes, a few indicators of whether the Jewish community will be better or worse off politically in the months to come.

On the face of it, little has changed in the Commons. There remain the same number of Jewish MPs as in the last Parliament. There is a strong cohort of friends of Israel. A number of those who are opposed to the community’s interests and to Israel have been removed. It may seem parochial given the shambolic state of the nation’s affairs, but this does matter, especially when there are challenges to shechita and brit milah, or debates, as there inevitably will be, on the Middle East.

It goes almost without saying that the community also needs these strong advocates in the Commons to explain the harm done by contemporary antisemitism, especially within political parties themselves.

In the cabinet, meanwhile, there are still no Jews in Mrs May’s top team. Robert Halfon, the re-elected Harlow MP, was removed on Monday night from his government role as Apprenticeships Minister — a point of personal disappointment, but one that has little wider effect on British Jews. Likewise Andrew Percy’s decision to quit as Northern Powerhouse minister.

Mrs May has never been surrounded by the number of Jewish advisers and friends that David Cameron kept close. She was, however, practically glued to Nick Timothy, her joint chief of staff. He quit after the fiasco of the campaign and his role in putting together the disastrous manifesto, the launch of which precipitated the Tory collapse.

Mr Timothy was the greatest influence on Mrs May on Israel and was utterly determined to see Britain draw closer to its ally.

As Mrs May’s key aide during her time at the Home Office, Mr Timothy — whose brother, John, was a public affairs officer at the Israel think tank, Bicom — was a regular at meetings with Jewish groups and, other than the Prime Minister herself, could have been regarded as British Jewry’s most influential friend at the top of the government.

If, as is widely believed, he was responsible for focusing Mrs May’s thinking on Israel and for helping to formulate Britain’s policies such as the condemnation of the UN Human Rights Council’s “disproportion and bias” against Israel, then his departure is a serious loss. At this stage, it is unclear who will be next to take on that role.

Perhaps the pro-Israel camp will emerge in the unlikely form of the 10 MPs from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party?

Add to this mix the return to the cabinet of the most fervent Zionist in British politics, Michael Gove, and things may not look that bad.

It is worth adding that, as Environment Secretary, Mr Gove will oversee the government’s position on food and rural affairs, taking in shechita and all matters related to religious slaughter. It is, therefore, probably safe to assume the future of kosher food is as secure now as it is ever likely to be.

Where does all this leave us? My mind keeps turning to the responses to a tweet posted by political journalist Jane Merrick on Sunday.

She wrote that, regardless of your political view, or personal feelings towards Mrs May, it was worth remembering how tough the previous few days had been for the Prime Minister and “ask whether we could do it”.

It was, I thought, a very human response to the fall-out from a campaign that was, at times, inhumane. Sitting opposite Mrs May during my interview with her a fortnight ago, I was mindful of the fact she is not some virtual reality “Maybot” as the jibes suggest, but a normal person in abnormal circumstances, trying to do her job to the best of her ability and taking on a level of responsibility from which the vast majority of us would run a mile.

But Ms Merrick’s compassion and thoughtfulness was met by a barrage of vitriol encompassing racism, misogyny and general hatred.

It may be one small issue in a week during which our nation’s political foundations have been rocked. But it stands as a good example of just how malignant British politics has become. And it will only get worse as this time of uncertainty continues, almost undoubtedly for years to come.

That is bad news for the Jewish community, for reasons sufficiently obvious as to not warrant explaining. We are crying out for our politicians to show integrity, humility and, more than anything, real leadership.

The only way out of the political, economic and social mess we find our country in is, I believe, through the emergence of an energetic, dynamic figure who is able to pull the nation together and to drag us kicking and screaming into the new world.

Names are constantly bandied around on all sides of the political spectrum. Boris Johnson? Ruth Davidson? Chuka Umunna? Yvette Cooper?

None has the broad appeal needed to heal the fractures of post-Brexit Britain.

You may not agree with the policies of Justin Trudeau or Emmanuel Macron, but you cannot deny they have tapped into what people in their respective countries want.

There is no comparable leadership figure in Britain. Unless we are content to sit back and stare into the abyss, into a future of contentious elections followed by hung parliaments, then that is what we should fear most.

June 15, 2017 12:05

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