Voters face 'loyalty’ dilemma in Bury South

Given Ivan Lewis's personal popularity, you might think re-election would be assured.


Ivan Lewis, who has served as MP for Bury South for the last 20 years, is a popular man.

Perhaps the best measure of this can be gauged by how his political opponents speak about him.

“I think there’s a great sense of respect for Ivan,” says Andrew Page, the Liberal Democrat candidate. 

Robert Largan, the Conservative contender, agrees: “Ivan’s well liked in the constituency. He grew up here and he’s one of them.”

Given his personal popularity, you might think re-election would be assured. 

But voters feel very differently about the leader of Mr Lewis’s party. Mr Largan says: “A lot of people are thinking they can’t vote for him because if Ivan was to be re-elected, then Jeremy Corbyn would be able to claim he represents the people of Bury South, which is a very big issue.”

Mr Page feels the same way. “There is a sense of ‘we like Ivan, but we don’t feel we can vote for Jeremy Corbyn’,” he says.

Last month, the JC was told Mr Lewis was informing voters on the doorstep that they should vote for him because there was no chance of Labour winning, so it did not matter who the party leader was. 

Asked at the time, Mr Lewis refused to confirm or deny whether he had had such conversations.

“Of course there’s been discussions about the polls”, he said. “That’s just factually the reality. People will say to me all the time ‘your lot have got no chance of winning’ and I say, ‘well, what about me to represent you locally, do you want me to do that or don’t you? 

“This election is as much about that as it is about national opinion polls.”

However when the JC spoke to Mr Lewis this week after the Manchester bomb attack he said it was “important to understand that the aftermath is massively overshadowing any political debate or discussion in and around Manchester at the moment”. 

Nonetheless issues of local concern remain, including the imminent closure of an NHS walk-in centre in Prestwich, the lack of a secondary school in Radcliffe, and cuts to local policing and libraries. And for the Jewish community, many of whom have friends and family in Israel, the question of Mr Corbyn’s animosity towards the Jewish state looms large.

Mr Lewis, a former vice-chair of Labour Friends of Israel, takes a swipe at his own party’s manifesto position on unilaterally recognising a Palestinian state. 

“I’ve always been passionately in support of a two-state solution,” he says. 

“But equally I believe the notion of unilaterally recognising a Palestinian state is a complete nonsense. What state would the UK be recognising? 

“Gaza, controlled by the evil terrorist organisation Hamas? Or the West Bank, controlled by Fatah? The borders have never been agreed.”

Mr Largan, a Conservative Friends of Israel supporter, describes his time at Manchester University as having strongly influenced his views on the conflict.

“It was not long after the Iraq War, which was an incredibly unpleasant time to be on campuses, particularly for Jewish students,” the 30-year-old says.

“On the steps of the students’ union, huge groups of people were chanting ‘two, four, six, eight, let’s destroy the Zionist state. Three, five, seven, nine, death to Jews in Palestine’. It was right in the centre of Manchester, on Oxford Road. This was a horrific incident and it’s really shaped a lot of my politics.”

Meanwhile, Mr Page says his grandfather was Jewish and had been part of Nottingham’s Jewish community.

“I’m not Jewish, but I grew up knowing how important that Jewish community is. And I grew up with an appreciation of the state of Israel,” he explains. 

“That doesn’t mean I’m going to defend the government of Israel — in fact, I’m very critical of the current Netanyahu government. So I wouldn’t be pro-Israel in that sense.

“But I’d do more than defend Israel’s right to exist, I’d actually celebrate Israel’s existence. I think the current trend of delegitimising Israel is causing an increase in antisemitism. 

“And this political discourse, helped by people like David Ward and Jenny Tonge — who I’m very pleased are no longer in our party — has to be challenged.”

See all our Election 2017 coverage here

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