Standing firm for the suburban minorities


Few constituencies are as politically, culturally and religiously diverse as Harrow East.

Its suburbs of north-west London, including affluent Stanmore and grittier Kenton and Queensbury, have swung between Labour and the Conservatives in general elections over the past 70 years.

For Bob Blackman, that diversity has presented an opportunity. Since being elected as the constituency's Tory MP with a majority of 3,403 in 2010, he has built strong relationships with the area's Jewish, Hindu and Christian communities.

He has leading roles on three parliamentary groups representing the interests of Hindus, Jews and Israel. He even describes himself as a "Chrinjew - a Christian with Jewish roots, and an honorary Hindu".

Harrow East does not attract the same level of Jewish attention as its neighbouring constituency of Hendon, but maybe it should.

Jewish people quite rightly don't trust the Labour Party

It is home to sizeable United Synagogue communities in Stanmore and Belmont, and parts of Edgware also fall within Mr Blackman's boundary. Of the 72,000-plus electorate, 7.3 per cent are Jewish, the sixth highest percentage in the country.

Mr Blackman is one of Parliament's strongest supporters of Israel and regularly defends the country from the backbenches. He said: "I've visited Israel six times over the years. I take a very strong view that no one should comment on Israel and its security without going to see it.

"I've had the opportunity to go all over Israel and be briefed. I have no qualms about it - I support Israel 101 per cent. That's always been my stance."

Mr Blackman travelled to the region during the Gaza conflict last summer "to show solidarity at a time when Israeli citizens were under threat from rockets. I saw what it was like for people to run to the shelters".

He was one of only 12 MPs to vote against a motion calling for the unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood, and takes the view that Jerusalem should be the capital of Israel and not be shared with the Palestinians.

These approaches play well when he makes his regular visits to the constituency's shuls, but he also believes Labour's approach during the Gaza conflict - with Ed Miliband taking a strong line against Israel's military actions – will harm his leading opponent in May - Labour candidate Uma Kumaran.

"Jewish people quite rightly don't trust the Labour Party to stand with Israel," he said.

"I hope they'll see the benefit of having a very strong advocate for their faith, for Israel and opposing antisemitism. I say the same things in a synagogue as in a mosque. Even if people don't like it, I think they accept where I'm coming from."

The key question for May 7 is whether Mr Blackman's efforts for minorities in his constituency - significant groups though they are - will be outweighed by voters' concerns about the economy, health-care and housing.

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