Former Labour leader Tony Blair has attacked the party’s failure to tackle antisemitism — days after the local elections saw voters desert the party in wards with above average Jewish populations.
Writing exclusively in the JC, Mr Blair makes a thinly-veiled reference to Jeremy Corbyn’s refusal to take serious action against antisemitism in the Labour Party.
He writes that, “too often, we have seen how anti-Zionism trends easily into antisemitism. The scourge we fought to eradicate in the 20th century has been allowed to make a comeback.
“We must once again stamp it out, by progressive political forces ensuring that antisemitism is not allowed to take root in any space in our national life.”
Mr Blair’s intervention comes in the week after many long-standing Labour voters switched to support Conservative candidates in a protest against Mr Corbyn’s handling of the party’s antisemitism crisis.
A JC analysis of last Thursday’s dramatic election — in which the Tories won 38 seats to Labour’s 25 on Barnet Council, in North-West London — found clear evidence that left-leaning Jewish voters feared the election of a Labour-run authority would aid Mr Corbyn’s path to national power.
Labour had made Barnet — which had been under no overall control since March — one of its key targets and was widely expected to win the borough, in which 16 per cent of the electorate is Jewish.
In detailed research into how Barnet’s 70,000-strong Jewish community voted, Dr Daniel Allington, a Leicester University academic and expert in the study of antisemitism, concluded that wards with large Jewish communities had the highest switching of votes from Labour to the Conservatives.
“What I clearly see is the relationship between a ward having a high Jewish population and a ward having a swing from Labour to Conservative,” said Dr Allington.
“The Labour vote dropped by about eight per cent — while the Tory vote has risen by nearly as much as Labour’s has fallen.”
But unlike last year’s general election, in which many left-leaning Jews rejected Labour under Mr Corbyn but could not bring themselves to vote Conservative, this time residents actively voted to keep Labour out.
“It is clear that many Jewish voters on the left have voted tactically for the best chance of beating Labour,” said Dr Allington. “These people have decided not just ‘I can’t vote Labour anymore’ but ‘I’m going to stop Labour getting into power’.
“Voting for the Conservatives not only took a vote away from Labour – but it gave a vote to the party most likely to beat them. There is twice the effect.”
Dr Allington poured scorn on claims by some in the Labour Party that the effect of the antisemitism crisis on the Barnet Council result has been overstated. Some claimed Labour’s vote share rose three per cent.
“The wards where the Labour vote went up the most were the wards in Barnet where the Jewish population is quite insignificant,” he said.
He also suggested many non-Jews in Barnet who may have once been “baffled” by the idea of antisemitism in a Labour Party they believed was “anti-racist” had last week voted in “solidarity with their Jewish neighbours” who had made them “more likely to understand how serious the situation really is”.
Meanwhile the JC understands senior Conservative officials were so determined to stop Labour winning in Barnet – fearing that defeat could further destabilise the government – they poured resources normally reserved only for general election campaigns into the area.
At least three voter profiling experts were sent into the borough by Conservative HQ, with the specific aim of targeting concerns among the electorate – including highlighting Labour’s antisemitism problem.
A source confirmed: “The Tories fought a brilliant campaign – in stark contrast to the terrible one they fought at the last general election.
“In Barnet they were able to hone in on the Jewish community’s concerns over rising antisemitism, and to successfully get across the message that Labour was not on their side.
“The Conservatives’ use of voter profiling was far more advanced than Labour’s. They had at least three experts working in Barnet. They knew exactly where the Jewish voters were and how to get them out to vote.
“It has put an end to the claim after the June 2017 election that Labour, with the Momentum group, are far ahead of the Conservative Party when it comes to targeting voters ahead of elections in the digital age.”
Visiting the borough on the morning after the election, Theresa May said the results showed voters of all religious backgrounds had “rejected the vile antisemitism that has gone unchallenged in the Labour Party for too long”.
In the West Hendon ward, held by Labour for the past four decades, the Conservatives increased their vote dramatically and won all three seats.
Adam Langleben, one of the three ousted Labour councillors in the ward, told the JC: “A key section of Jewish left-wing voters in West Hendon decided they could not vote for any Labour candidate, including myself, a proud Zionist, because they felt a victory for Labour could compromise their safety.”
In Hendon, a safe Conservative ward, the party almost doubled the number of votes it won in the last set of elections in 2014.
In some areas of Golders Green, both Labour and Conservative canvassers were astonished to learn that turn-outs were in excess of 70 per cent, when the average turn-out for Barnet as a whole was 43.7 per cent.
One despondent Labour source in the area spoke of witnessing elderly residents from the nearby care homes being driven to polling stations and then realising “none were going to vote Labour”.
Labour’s defeat in Barnet has led to growing tension between the local party and Mr Corbyn.
Asked about the impact of antisemitism on the result, Barry Rawlings, Labour’s Barnet group leader, said: “What happened was an election day phenomenon that I never want to experience again.
“Jewish residents voted in protest against Labour. Non-Jewish residents voted against us in solidarity with their Jewish friends, neighbours and loved ones. “ Local Labour members were left fuming when Mr Corbyn visited the area three days before the election – but failed to inform them and ended up snubbing local council candidates, preferring to meet with a group of left-wing activists in a café in Finchley instead.
One of those present at the meeting was Fred Leplat, who was expelled by the party on May 1 over his membership of the far-left revolutionary Socialist Resistance group.
Mr Leplat had also sent a letter last month purporting to have been signed by 33 local Jewish Labour members to the JC, backing Mr Corbyn over his handling of the antisemitism crisis. It later emerged that several members had not given their consent for their signatures to be used on the letter, while others did not want it released during the election campaign.
Following the election, the Jewish Labour Movement said: “For the second time within a year, England has seen the electoral impact of the Labour Party’s problem with antisemitism. For the party of anti-racism to lose seats because of antisemitism is a sad chapter in our proud history.”
Mr Langleben called for Mr Corbyn to come to Barnet to meet the Jewish community and hear their concerns.
He said: “Activists were being told, ‘this is a racist party, an antisemitic party’, doors were slammed in their faces. We as Jewish Labour activists were told we were endorsing antisemitism. The reason we have lost here is the inability to deal with this issue and to tackle antisemitism.”
There were some successes for Jewish Labour candidates winning for the first time, with Rabbi Danny Rich, chief executive of Liberal Judaism, winning in West Finchley, receiving more than 2,000 votes and Sara Conway getting more than 2,440 in Burnt Oak.