Who will win head-versus-heart battle for votes in key Jewish seat?

In Finchley and Golders Green, where Jews make up more than one-fifth of the electorate, it would be hard to argue a case for the Labour Party doing better in 2017 than it did in 2015


For some voters, the “Jeremy Corbyn factor” has already turned the general election ballot in Finchley and Golders Green into a foregone conclusion.

In the north-west London constituency where Jews — many of whom are at the very least moderately politically motivated — make up more than one-fifth of the electorate, it would be hard to argue a case for the Labour Party doing better in 2017 than it did in 2015, or indeed five years earlier.

There is a sense of irony that both the Conservative candidate Mike Freer, who won here with a 5,662 majority at the last general election, and Jeremy Newmark, the newly-installed Labour candidate, are keen to play up the significance of Mr Corbyn. 

There has been criticism within the Jewish community of Mr Newmark, an observant Jew, deciding to stand as a representative of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party against Mr Freer, who is known for his strong support of Israel and understanding of issues relating to the Jewish electorate.

But Mr Freer appears to want to shelve talk of a Jewish bloc vote in his favour on June 8 — probably because he does not want to look like he is taking the support of most of their 20,000 votes for granted.

“You learn that there is not a homogenous Jewish community,” says Mr Freer of his seven-year spell as MP. 

“The Jewish community, whether it’s in terms of religious spectrum, or in its beliefs and through its opinions, is as diverse as any other community.

“But like all communities people want to get on with their lives, practice their faith in peace — just get on with things.”

With Mr Newmark, the fact he is an Orthodox Jew is of huge significance in the wake of Labour’s antisemitism scandal. But no-one seems quite clear as to who in the Labour Party stands to gain most from his selection.

At his campaign launch on Monday evening on Finchley High Road, I am told by senior Labour sources that Mr Newmark’s selection represents a victory for the party’s National Executive Committee over the hard-left leadership of Mr Corbyn and John McDonnell.

Others claim the Labour leadership are celebrating their success at having persuaded a “gullible” Jewish Labour Movement head to stand in the constituency — a PR coup Mr Corbyn and his allies could only have dreamt about a few weeks ago.

Mr Newmark says: “It’s always important that Jewish and Zionist candidates stand for Parliament. Given the experience of the past 18 months it is particularly important that we step up to the mark as Labour candidates right now.”

The only candidate really keen to talk up the Jewish factor is Jonathan Davies of the Liberal Democrats.

Mr Davies, Golders Green Synagogue treasurer, and vice-chair of the Lib Dem Friends of Israel, describes the candidacy of Mr Newmark as “peculiar”.

Having previously stood in the constituency himself, trailing in fourth place behind Ukip in 2015, Mr Davies attempts to pour scorn on Labour’s choice of candidate, saying: “Mr Newmark appears to be standing in opposition to his leader. Finchley and Golders Green has a little bit of history in that the party which wins here invariably goes on to form the government.

“If Jeremy Newmark is elected here as MP, then Jeremy Corbyn goes on to be Prime Minister. I’d like to hear the answer from Jeremy Newmark as to whether that is what he wants or not.”

But is there one other factor that could yet have a significant impact here? In last year’s EU referendum, 62 per cent of voters in the borough of Barnet voted Remain.

Now, both Labour and the Lib Dems are attempting to make mileage out of the fact Mr Freer had made no secret of his pro-Remain sympathies prior to the referendum. Mr Newmark says the Tory candidate has had to “flip-flop” in the wake of Theresa May’s own conversion to what is dubbed a “hard-Brexit”.

On Monday night, the Labour candidate was at pains to stress his own pro-EU values, even suggesting he would defy the stance of his party leadership on the issue.

“Let me be very clear,” says Mr Newmark, “when we win this election and I’m in Parliament I will call for a confirmation referendum on the terms of any final deal.

“Last year’s vote may have allowed the Prime Minister to start the ignition, but it didn’t give her permission to drive the car off the edge of the cliff.”

Adele Ward, the Green Party candidate who is calling for a ratification referendum over Brexit, says: “We campaigned hard for Remain and we had a high vote in Finchley and Golders Green, so this is especially important to our constituents.”

She has been asked to support constituents on issues including planning and air pollution. “I’ve been very involved in Barnet Green Party’s research into air pollution, which has identified illegal levels in a number of locations including near schools.” 

Mr Davies, who can at least explain his party’s clear pro-EU stance while the Labour leadership dithers over its position, makes no secret of his intention in the remaining weeks of the campaign to steal as many Conservative pro-Remain voters as he can.

But Mr Freer suggests: “I campaigned for Remain, I voted for Remain. But I stood on a manifesto that clearly stated a Conservative government would respect and implement the result. The vast majority of the people in this area recognise that is how democracy works. We can’t keep having referendums until we get the result we want.”

An earlier version of this piece said there would be no UKIP candidate. In fact UKIP are fielding a candidate, who was nominated at the last minute.

See all our Election 2017 coverage here

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