Veteran MP is 'rooted in the community'


Ivan Lewis was just 30 when he was elected to Parliament in the New Labour landslide that swept Tony Blair into Downing Street.

Eighteen years on, the Bury South MP is nearing veteran status in the party that he has served as a minister in government and on the opposition frontbench.

Currently the Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, he could expect another ministerial role if Ed Miliband is Prime Minister two months from now.

But Mr Lewis feels a new sense of anxiety. The rise of antisemitism across Britain has had a serious impact on his Jewish constituents in Prestwich and Whitefield, and more widely across Manchester, he believes.

The city was one of the flashpoints of protest during last summer's Gaza conflict, with weeks of demonstrations taking place outside the Israeli Kedem store in King Street.

Bury South

Location: Greater Manchester
Sitting MP: Ivan Lewis (Lab)
Majority: 3,292
Size of electorate: 75,140
Percentage of Jewish voters: 10.2
Also standing in May: Daniel Critchlow (Con), Paul Ankers (Lib Dems), Seamus Martin (Ukip), Glyn Heath (Green)

"The rise of antisemitism is a cause of great concern to many of my constituents," Mr Lewis said.

"One of the dominant situations was the Kedem protests and then the new, assertive grassroots groups emerging and a new generation of leaders which came through almost overnight.

"It was a significant moment. The demonstrators were absolutely determined to drive the shop out of business. The Jewish community spontaneously said 'not in our city'. We have seen in other places Jewish shops have been driven out of business."

He highlighted one of the grassroots groups set up following the conflict - North-West Friends of Israel - as an example of "the torch of leadership passing from one generation to another. Sometimes out of bad comes some good".

Concerns about antisemitism and Israel are significant issues in a constituency with the highest proportion of Jewish voters outside London.

Mr Lewis said: "The Jewish community, on the whole, is like any other - it cares about the economy, the NHS, public services and the government cuts.

"But it would be a mistake not to acknowledge that in the last nine months there's undoubtedly a growing concern among Jews of all backgrounds. There can be no room for complacency. There is a threat. The communal leadership must step up and recognise that."

The former Middle East minister recognises the damage done to Labour's relationship with Israel supporters by Ed Miliband's comments during Operation Protective Edge last summer.

Mr Lewis joined a number of fellow shadow cabinet members in abstaining from October's Commons vote on recognising an independent Palestine.

He said: "People were very disappointed with my party's stance on Gaza and the recognition vote. They still raise the issue and I understand their concerns. But my constituents know I've always spoken out against those who boycott and delegitimise Israel. They have never had any questions about my strong, vociferous voice when it comes to boycotts, delegitimisation or those displaying criticism."

There is a further, robust defence of Mr Miliband's efforts. "There's a long track record of Labour being incredibly supportive of Israel and Ed Miliband has spoken out against antisemitism.

"He does not get sufficient credit for starting his speeches with his immigrant story and outlining his Jewishness. People have reached the top in politics and played down their Jewish identity. You may disagree with Ed, but you have to respect that he does not play down his identity - far from it."

Mr Lewis's majority, which stands at 3,292, was more than 12,000 in 1997. It has been reduced at every election since then, so does he believe his political future will be in peril come May?

"I have to keep working for every vote, but also to retain a sense of enthusiasm and ability to make a difference. That's still as strong now as it was back in the halcyon days of 1997. That year was a phenomenon that was never going to be repeated," he said.

"I continue to work hard and I'm proud my office is effectively a citizens' advice bureau running seven days a week helping people. I'm rooted in the community and providing leadership."

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