Brexit the biggest issue for Jewish voters in Welwyn Hatfield

National issues more than local issues are playing heavily on the minds of Jewish voters in the Hertfordshire constituency


National issues such as Brexit are the most pressing for Jewish voters in the constituency of Welwyn Hatfield in Hertfordshire, a seat held by the Conservative Transport Secretary Grant Shapps since 2005.

“Oddly enough, first time in my life, I’m almost thinking Lib Dems,” said Timothy Cole, former chairman of the Welwyn Garden City Synagogue. Brexit was the reason, he said, as he wants his two daughters to have the same travel options he did.

“Because there’s so much changing at the moment, it’ll be so much more on national issues,” said Janine Ajoodan-Poor, a young professional who recently moved to Hatfield with her husband, Michael.

“I don’t know how productive it is, whether we’re just going further towards a stalemate, but […] I would regret it if I didn’t vote Lib Dem.”

Mr Shapps dismissed these considerations, telling the JC: “In Welwyn Hatfield, a vote for the Lib Dems — who only attract a few per cent of [the] vote here at General Elections — is effectively giving your support to Jeremy Corbyn.”

However, the Lib Dem candidate for the area, Paul Zukowskyj, rebuffed this claim, saying: “Well, the Lib Dem vote wasn’t so small in the European election, was it Grant?”

Welwyn Hatfield voted Leave in 2016 by 53 per cent to 47, and the same split was reflected in this years’ EU elections, with the Brexit Party and the Lib Dems being the two most popular parties by a large margin.

Referring to Mr Shapps’ claim that a vote for the Lib Dems helps Mr Corbyn, Mr Zukowskyj said: “It’s just a fallacy, it’s Grant desperately trying to hold onto every last single vote he can.”

Mr Zukowskyj hopes to reach out to the minority of Leave voters who have changed their mind over Brexit with the Lib Dems’ “revoke Article 50” message, but has also experienced the deep divisions over Brexit in Welwyn Hatfield. Knocking on doors, he said he has been marched off properties for suggesting the UK should remain in the EU.

“I struggle to understand what their conception of democracy is, because democracy changes, democracy evolves, and we now know what Brexit really looks like, and what it looks like is risking a return of the IRA violence we saw in the 1990s.”

Despite not having a particularly large Jewish community — 0.75 per cent at the last census — it is tight-knit and one with growing numbers: in 2017, there were an estimated 1,100 Jews in the area.

Rabbi Yakov and Rebbetzen Eliana Tatz of the United Synagogue in Welwyn Hatfield told the JC: “It’s probably not surprising that the community here cares about the same issues as other communities — Brexit, antisemitism, jobs, housing, education and transport.”

And it seems Mr Corbyn’s leadership has turned at least some Jewish voters off the idea of voting Labour.

“I would never be able to vote for him [Corbyn],” Mr Ajoodan-Poor said, while his wife added: “I’d vote Labour, but not for Jeremy Corbyn.”

Mr Shapps has played to these worries, saying: “My message to Jewish voters, as with any others, is that we need a moderate one-nation government with an actual majority in order to prevent Jeremy Corbyn getting into Downing Street and wrecking our country.”

At the time the JC went to press, Labour candidate Rosie Newbigging could not be reached despite repeated requests for comment.

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