Hertsmere wracked by fear of Corbyn

The vast majority of Jewish voters here, who make up roughly 15 per cent of the electorate, will likely vote Tory or Liberal Democrat


Not that Conservative Oliver Dowden needed much of a boost with Jewish voters — sitting pretty as he is on a 17,000 majority — but his Labour challenger has delivered one in saying she has “not experienced any antisemitism in the party”.

The Hertfordshire seat of Hertsmere — which covers Borehamwood, Elstree, Radlett, Shenley and Potters Bar — is home to the biggest Jewish community outside London and the UK’s third largest overall.

It would appear that the vast majority of Jewish voters here, who make up roughly 15 per cent of the electorate, will either vote Tory or Liberal Democrat — such is the fear of a Jeremy Corbyn-led government. They will largely be divided along the Brexit line.

“I voted Labour all my life until 2017. I don’t think I would ever vote Tory,” said Elliot Cohen-Shtine, a father-of-four from Elstree, who will vote Lib Dem.

“If it was any leader other than Jeremy Corbyn I would be voting for the Labour Party. I just find both main parties repulsive. If it was a choice of just those two I would probably spoil my ballot.

“My two biggest issues in this election are Brexit and antisemitism — that sums it all up, really. The Lib Dems are clearly the only definitively anti-Brexit party, and they are not led by a bigoted liar.”

Fellow Lib Dem voter Roberta Klimt, a 32-year-old post-doctoral research fellow from Elstree, added: “The big one is that I can’t vote Labour because of all the antisemitism. I would otherwise vote for them.

“It’s not easy to find myself on the other side of so many people I would normally agree with politically. I am the descendant of Holocaust survivors — there’s no way I could vote Labour right now. I can’t do the mental gymnastics.”

Labour’s candidate in Hertsmere, Holly Kal-Weiss, is herself Jewish. Although she has no formal experience in politics, the 54-year-old dyslexia-specialist teacher has a long record of charitable work.

Beginning during the migrant crisis of 2015, the native Chicagoan frequently delivered essential provisions to the Calais camp known as ‘the Jungle’, and is a founder-trustee of Together in Barnet, the borough’s first night shelter for homeless people.

An active member of Finchley Reform Synagogue, it would only be fair to believe Ms Kal-Weiss when she says she has “not experienced any antisemitism” in Labour.

But according to the mother-of-two, allegations of antisemitism in the party are the result of a failure to “reach out and educate people” on the issue.

She told the JC: “If you build trust with people then when you call things out in a non-defensive way — that is the best defence against antisemitism.

“Many people don’t necessarily know about antisemitic tropes. They have no idea. People react how they react — people react because they’re upset. But I’m not telling anyone what to do. That just works for me.”

In his pitch to Jewish voters, Mr Dowden is, unsurprisingly, focusing on fears of antisemitism on the left, and his track record on local issues — such as lobbying to improve service provision on the Thameslink line running into London.

He was less keen to discuss the credibility of his own leader, Boris Johnson, but did describe the former London Mayor as a “One Nation Conservative who has the force of character to get Brexit done”.

On the issue of Brexit, Mr Dowden has avoided the common pitfalls which have claimed the political lives of a number of Home Counties Tories.

The voters of Hertsmere backed Brexit by the slimmest of margins — 50.8 per cent. The Remain-supporting Mr Dowden is now able to play it both ways, playing the role of reluctant democrat, having voted for Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement all three times, as well as Mr Johnson’s latest offering.

Brexit-backing voter Richard Sassoon, who represents the S&P Sephardi community on the Board of Deputies, said: “I voted Leave, my wife voted Leave. The kids voted Remain.

“To be honest, I just want the whole thing over with. I know a lot of people of in the community who don’t really care any more. I think there’s generally a lot of fatigue with politics. The whole thing has got so toxic. But the priority is anyone-but-Corbyn.”

Mark Selwyn, a fellow Leave voter who intends to vote Tory, added that his wish to prevent a government led by Mr Corbyn outweighed his desire to “get Brexit done”.

The 55-year-old IT consultant from Shenley said: “Labour has just become a cesspit of antisemitism – every day there’s a new scandal. I’m very pro-Brexit but I would rather give up Brexit than have Corbyn as Prime Minister.”

Running against Mr Dowden and Ms Kal-Weiss are Green candidate John Humphries, who was approached for an interview by the JC several times, and Stephen Barrett, the Liberal Democrat candidate.

Mr Barrett described himself as the “radically in-the-centre” option, pitching himself to Jewish voters as the sensible option between the extremism of the modern Labour and Tory parties.

He said: “When I’m knocking on doors every day between 5.30 and 7pm, I cannot believe how positive the response has been. We are tackling voter apathy — I am all for giving voters a real choice.”

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