‘Anyone but Corbyn’: Jewish voters turn away from Labour | Politics
In the Three Bakers kosher cafe in Bury South, lunchtime customers agreed they had one thing in common with regard to the election: ABC – Anyone But Corbyn.
“You’ll get the same answer from everyone in here,” said Sara, a customer in her early 30s who has decided to vote Conservative. Indeed, none of those who spoke to the Guardian were planning to back Labour – in a seat it has held for 22 years.
Jewish voters are turning away in droves from the party, once seen as their traditional political home, owing to a combination of “extreme” left policies and poor leadership on antisemitism, which led to the recent unprecedented intervention from the chief rabbi when he effectively urged the community not to vote Labour.
“Jews have deserted the Labour party for two main reasons,” said Jonathan Boyd, executive director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR). “First, the party has lurched to the left; and second, the party has failed to understand or recognise how antisemitism manifests itself in leftist politics and as a result allowed it to fester and grow.
“To regain the support of Jewish voters, it would have to shift on both fronts: move back towards the political centre and root out the leftwing manifestations of antisemitism that exist – not only in the party itself, but in wider society.”
These factors play out in constituencies such as Bury South, with a Jewish population of 10%, as well as Finchley and Golders Green (21%), Hendon (17%), Hertsmere (14%), and Hackney North and Stoke Newington (11%).
Although historically there was a high level of support for Labour among Jewish voters, who make up 0.5% of the total UK population, in recent years there has been a significant shift towards the Conservatives.
In the 2017 election, 67% of Jewish voters backed the Tories and 11% supported Labour, according to figures supplied by JPR. A poll this autumn suggested that Jewish support for Labour in next week’s election could fall to 6%.
Aaron Kampf, eating lunch with his wife in the Three Bakers, said: “I’ve been a Labour supporter all my life, from when I was at school.” Judaism and socialism had much in common; for Kampf, the two were intertwined. “And Corbyn has some great policies – I can understand why people want to vote for them,” he said.
“But for me, and everyone I know, antisemitism is a deciding factor. I am proud to be a British Jew, but for the first time it’s also unnerving. Three of my grandparents are Holocaust survivors, and this country has been so good to them. I feel privileged to be part of this country, but it is shocking to see someone like Corbyn leading one of the main political parties.”
Kampf had planned to vote for Ivan Lewis, who won Bury South for Labour in the past six elections, and is standing as an independent after leaving the party in 2017. But, in a surprise move last Wednesday, Lewis effectively threw in the towel, urging voters to back the Conservative candidate. “It it is now clear that the best way to stop Corbyn in Bury South is to vote Conservative,” he said in a statement. “It will require much soul-searching. But it is the right thing to do.”
Another poll of British Jews, back in the spring, found that 86% of respondents believed there were high levels of antisemitism among Labour party members and elected representatives.
But there remain pockets of strong support for Corbyn and Labour – as groups such as Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL), who lobbied the BBC on Sunday for “sidelining expert Jewish commentators critical of the attacks on Labour”, can attest.
In Hertsmere, Holly Kal-Weiss, the Labour candidate, who describes herself as a “socialist Jew”, has appealed to Jewish Labour members and supporters to stick with the party to fight against antisemitism and for social justice.
“We’re trying to fix the country. I want Jews to join me. If there is antisemitism then we’ll fix it,” she told the Israeli liberal paper Haaretz. She is fighting an uphill battle in a seat where the Tories had a 17,000 majority at the 2017 election.
Twenty miles to the south, Luciana Berger, the former Labour MP who is standing for the Lib Dems in Finchley and Golders Green, also faces a tough fight with a Tory candidate. Berger, who is Jewish, left the Labour party this year citing “institutional antisemitism” and a “culture of bullying, bigotry and intimidation”.
Berger is popular and well known in the constituency, but a recent poll showed her support at 32%, the Conservatives at 42% and Labour at 18%. In 2017 the Conservatives held Finchley and Golders Green with a 47% share of the vote, Labour came second with 44% and the Lib Dems received close to 7%.
On Twitter, Berger urged Labour remainers to vote tactically for her, saying: “I am the only remain candidate who can win here.” Brexit is a significant factor among Jewish and non-Jewish voters in an area that voted 69% to remain in the 2016 referendum.
In Scotland, Jewish voters are “very concerned about the prospect of the SNP propping up a minority Labour government while they continue to deny that they have a problem [with antisemitism],” according to Ephraim Borowski, director of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities.
At a hustings in East Renfrewshire, home to Scotland’s largest Jewish community and now a tight Conservative-SNP marginal, Carolann Davidson, the Labour candidate, reportedly told the audience: “I won’t ask for your vote. We don’t deserve it. The Labour party, from the leadership down, has failed you.”
At another hustings for the Jewish community in north London, Labour’s Naz Shah reached out to disaffected voters. “I recognise the problems we have in our party, and I know that we didn’t act quickly enough in tackling them. I am sorry for this and for the hurt and pain that has been caused. We are determined to root out antisemitism and rebuild trust with the Jewish community,” she told the audience.
For many Jewish voters, such apologies – including the one wrung from Corbyn this week – are too late. In Bury South, Lewis estimated that 5-10% of Jewish voters in the area would back Labour next week, compared with 60-65% in recent elections. “It’s literally heartbreaking to see the chasm between the community and the party,” he said.
While acknowledging that Jewish voters were not a homogenous group, he said the “levels of anxiety and fear are really shocking. The sense that, for the first time in recent history, this country could become a cold home for Jews is probably held by 75% [of local Jewish voters].”
Some former Labour voters insisted they had not rejected the party for ever. If Corbyn was replaced as leader by someone more moderate with an unequivocal zero-tolerance stand on antisemitism, “we’re straight back there,” said Kampf.
Mark Borson, who has voted Labour or Lib Dem at previous elections, said he would definitely not vote Labour next week. But, he added: “It’s not broken for good. If Labour changes back to a centrist party, they’ll get the vote back. British people don’t want extremism. And literally no one I know has any time for Corbyn.”