Who are going to be our champions at Westminster now?

November 24, 2016 23:21

Gold may be the colour we have all been focusing on this week with Team GB's successes in Rio, but a couple of bronzes really got me thinking.

Two leading Jewish figures in Labour's mayoral candidate selections in Liverpool and Manchester went largely unnoticed last week.

Luciana Berger and Ivan Lewis both finished third in the respective races to wear the red rosettes in the two northern powerhouses.

Their defeats mean there are few, if any, Jews in prominent positions on the political scene.

Ms Berger quit the shadow cabinet in June, while Mr Lewis was sacked by Jeremy Corbyn last September.

Britain's youngest Jewish MP, Ms Berger already has years of shadow cabinet experience behind her. Mr Lewis is a veteran who served as Middle East Minister under Gordon Brown. But, after their failed mayoral bids, what options are open to them?

At 35, Ms Berger has plenty of time on her side. But she may need it. As things stand, Labour is unlikely to be back in government much before she reaches her 50s. Mr Lewis, who hits his own half-century next March, may not be thrilled at the thought of waiting until the mid-2020s for even a glimpse of another chance in the cabinet.

Unless Owen Smith springs a surprise and wins the leadership, these Jewish figures face lengthy spells on the backbenches.

Who, then, is likely to become the most high-profile member of the tribe in Westminster?

Robert Halfon and Richard Harrington both moved sideways at best when Theresa May made her first government appointments. Earnest as they may be, neither man is likely to become a despatch box sensation while discussing apprenticeships or winter fuel payments in their new roles. Nor can Michael Ellis, now deputy leader of the Commons, be expected to make a sudden transformation to become the community's parliamentary poster boy.

Arch-cynics may think it best for Jewish politicians to keep their heads down while political antisemitism is on the rise. I disagree. Better to be seen by the public fighting for what you believe in, than to stay out of the way and hope all will be OK.

Perhaps eyes should turn to the Lords for comfort. It is from the red, rather than green, benches that the most noticeable Jewish voices are now being heard. They often command greater respect than their elected Commons colleagues, and almost always speak more freely.

Peers, including Parry Mitchell, Leslie Turnberg, Jonathan Sacks, Robert Winston, Ruth Deech Jeffrey Sterling, and Monroe Palmer, are among the most significant figures who regularly put their points across.

For the foreseeable future, these are the experienced Jewish men and women who could have the greatest impact on Westminster.

● Last week, I said the number of Jewish voters who would back Jeremy Corbyn at a general election had probably plummeted from the 8.5 per cent who admitted in April they would vote for him.

The Jewish Labour Movement's nomination result - with 92 per cent preferring Mr Smith to Mr Corbyn - suggests I was right.

But would Mr Smith improve relations in a meaningful fashion? Don't bet on it.

For weeks, I have been fighting to interview the Welshman on his take on Jewish issues, but to no avail.

His key campaign organisers have, I understand, taken to approaching summer cocktail party attendees with the classic political chat-up line: "You're Jewish, how do we get to speak to the Chief Rabbi?"

Relations between the party and community are unlikely to be improved at Labour's annual conference next month when the hard-left Momentum group holds a panel session titled "Anti-Zionism is not antisemitism: opposing the smear campaign".

Among the planned speakers is activist Jackie Walker, who claimed she was the victim of a conspiracy when she was first suspended from, and then re-admitted to, the party for suggesting Jews were the "chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade" and responsible for an "African holocaust".

November 24, 2016 23:21

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