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Too close to call? Ilford North is the seat on a knife-edge, again

With a wafer-thin majority of just 589 for Labour’s Wes Streeting in the 2015 general election, none of the main candidates in Ilford North can afford to underestimate the importance of around 4,500 Jewish votes up for grabs next week.

    Labour's Wes Streeting will be fighting to keep the seat (Photo: PA)
    Labour's Wes Streeting will be fighting to keep the seat (Photo: PA)

    As David Miliband, the former Foreign Secretary, said in his social media video message recorded in support of Mr Streeting: “Everyone knows that Ilford North is going to be close.”

    Mr Streeting told the JC this week: “I think during the past couple of years, people have seen that I’ve poured my heart and soul into being a good constituency MP — as well as one of Parliament’s most active MPs.

    “I’m a fighter for our community — from opposing the closure of A&E at King George Hospital to opposing school cuts threatening every primary school in Ilford North. People have seen that I’m not a ‘yes man’ who just toes the party line. I know who I work for: the people of Ilford North, no one else.”

    But as Mr Streeting, a vice-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, is only too aware, the issue of his leader Jeremy Corbyn could prove just as important a factor on the doorstep — especially among Jewish voters for whom the party head remains a repellent figure.

    It is surely in Mr Streeting’s favour therefore that there have been few more outspoken critics of the leader than himself.

    Openly hitting out at Mr Corbyn’s admission that he was present at the laying of a wreath at the grave of a Palestinian terrorist involved in the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre less than a year before he became Labour leader, Mr Streeting said: “I don’t expect anyone to ignore this and I wouldn’t ask them to. 

    “I certainly won’t be and I condemn it without hesitation, which won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s followed my work during the past two years.”

    But in Conservative candidate Lee Scott, he faces a formidable, and familiar rival. Mr Scott had held the seat for a decade prior to Mr Streeting’s 2015 victory .

    The former UJIA regional director had previously said he would not stand again — having received antisemitic abuse in 2015 — but says he chose to run after receiving “200 calls” from supporters urging him to do so.

    Mr Scott told the JC the antisemtic abuse “reached fever pitch” during the campaign two years ago.

    He added: “I worried about receiving antisemitic abuse during this election campaign, not least because of the trouble the Labour Party has had with rising antisemitism in its own ranks. 

    “Jewish Labour MPs and officials have been threatened and abused relentlessly, without the problem being treated seriously under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. 

    “No Jew should be threatened for seeking public office in this country.”

    Lee Scott will be hoping to be elected as a Conservative MP, again
    Lee Scott will be hoping to be elected as a Conservative MP, again

    On the doorstep this time around Mr Scott says the question of leadership keeps cropping up, as does the issue of funding local schools and hospitals.

    “They tell me Theresa May is the best person for the job,” he claims, deflecting criticism that the Prime Minister has looked anything like the “strong and stable” woman she claims to be.

    “Theresa May stands up for and defends what she believes in, unlike Jeremy Corbyn, who has spent most of this campaign trying to pretend his views on Hamas, the IRA, Nato and the monarchy have changed in the past 40 years,” he says.

    Mr Scott also challenges Mr Streeting’s claim to be a candidate who is no friend of Mr Corbyn.

    “The simple truth is that my opponent knows his position is incoherent,” he says.

    “He asks Ilford North residents to vote Labour, while hoping that voters in other parts of the country are more sensible and do not back Labour, so that Jeremy Corbyn does not get into Downing Street.”

    With the two main parties likely to dominate the voting, Liberal Democrat candidate Richard Claire believes he can still have a significant say in the final result.

    Mr Claire, who also stood in the constituency in 2015, said: “Many local Lib Dems backed Wes Streeting two years ago but after he backed the Conservatives on Article 50 and the Snoopers Charter, and blocked an investigation into the illegal invasion of Iraq, that mood has definitely changed. 

    “We’re still being squeezed as Labour and the Tories are throwing the kitchen sink at this seat, but our supporters are much more bullish and proud of the Liberal Democrats than I can ever remember before.”

    Equally proud is Jewish great-grandmother Doris Osen, from Chigwell, who is standing as an independent candidate and hoping to become Britain’s oldest MP at the age of 87.

    Mrs Osen, who convinced 87 people to vote for her in 2015, wants to “stand up and do something about all the things wrong with our country”.

    See all our Election 2017 coverage here

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