Starmer says he never thought Corbyn would be PM – but do Jews believe him?

The JC asked Jewish voters on the street what they thought of the Labour leader


LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22: Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer addresses charities at the Civil Society Summit on January 22, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

Last week, Sir Keir Starmer told ITV that he had joined Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet and campaigned for him in elections out of a sense of “responsibility” for shaping post-Brexit Britain but he never thought the leftwinger would win.

On Thursday, the JC asked Jewish voters in Golders Green whether they believed him.

About three-quarters were strongly critical of the Labour leader. A handful, however, saw him more favourably and backed him for PM, saying he was “honest”.

It came as Labour’s battle to reassure Jewish voters was in the spotlight at Prime Minister’s Questions this week. Tahir Ali, Labour MP for Birmingham, apologised after saying Rishi Sunak had “the blood of thousands of innocent people on his hands” over Gaza, prompting cries of “shame”. Sunak said: “That’s the face of the changed Labour Party”.

Speaking to ITV last week, Sir Keir insisted that his party was not “in a position to win” under Corbyn but he felt a “responsibility” nonetheless to join the shadow cabinet to help formulate policy on Brexit following the EU referendum.

He said: “I didn’t obviously vote for Jeremy Corbyn in 2015 or 2016. On the contrary, I resigned…

“I thought that once that 2016 Brexit referendum had happened, I took the view that what then followed in the next few years was going to be felt for generations. And that I thought it was my responsibility to play a full part in that.”

Responding to Sir Keir this week, some Jewish voters in Golders Green said they thought that his claims were nonsense and showed he could not be trusted.

Shopping for her family in Kosher Kingdom, Debbie branded the Labour leader’s comments “rubbish”.

“I don’t trust Keir Starmer,” she told the JC. “I wouldn’t vote Labour ever.” Insisting that she would not even take the time to watch his comments in full on ITV, Debbie added: “I’m going to vote Tory.”

Shami, a young Jewish woman, agreed, saying that Sir Keir’s disavowal of Corbyn was “all talk”.

She would not support him at the next election, she said, because of the antisemitism crisis that engulfed the party from 2015.

“I know it’s not everything, but for Jews it’s a big deal,” she said. “I’m not voting Labour. There are problems on both sides, but I’ll vote Conservative.”

Shami added: “All talk or not, if Keir wants to change Labour’s reputation it’s not just one comment. He needs to work on it over months and years.”

A YouGov survey published earlier this month suggested that the Conservative Party would win again in Finchley and Golders Green at the next election. It would be a fifth successive victory for the Tories in the constituency.

Moshe, serving customers behind the counter of a local kosher shop, told the JC he thought Starmer was “lying” about his previous support for Corbyn.

During the 2019 election campaign, Sir Keir said Corbyn “would make a great prime minister” and on winning the Labour leadership described him as “a friend as well as a colleague”.

Responding to these remarks, Moshe claimed: “I don’t like Labour at all. The attitude — they’re maybe now quite quiet but before they were aggressive.”

Asked if Sir Keir’s party could win in Golders Green, he said: “I don’t think so. They’ve got so many antisemitic people. I don’t think I’ll vote Labour.”

Others were more sympathetic to the prospect of a Labour government taking office, however.

Jonathan, standing outside Kosher Kingdom, said he liked Sir Keir “as a person”, but that his grandfather would “roll over in his grave if I voted for Labour”. Asked whether he thought Sir Keir was telling the truth when he said he only backed Corbyn because he believed he would lose the 2019 election, he said: “I think it’s true. I think he’s honest.”

Jonathan added: “I think he would make a great prime minister. The Tories have run this country into the ground.”

John, a Jewish resident of south London who had travelled north of the river, said: “I don’t find him inspiring. I think there was a huge problem with antisemitism in Labour, but what he may have done is remove many people from the party who are themselves Jewish, some will now not doorknock.”

He added: “It puts Jews in a dilemma. Would you want the government we have? From Boris Johnson, to Liz Truss, to Rishi Sunak, it gets worse and worse. As someone who lives alone and followed the Covid rules I was appalled by [the Conservative government].”

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