Monday, November 24, 2014

Bob's timely election coverage 4: the "Jewish vote" and the "Jewish lobby"

This is the fourth and final post in my mini-series on British (and especially London) electoral politics. The first looked at UKIP, the second at a bunch of other parties, and the third at some left alternatives. The first half of this post, like the previous three, was written in May, in the wake of the European and local elections, but I didn't get around to posting it. The second half, however, was written today. We left off the story with George Galloway's "Respect" and Lutfur Rahman's "Tower Hamlets First" parties, which have both been alleged to have deployed ethnic machine politics (specifically those of British Muslim communities) in their electoral strategy.

May 2014: The Jewish vote is returning to Labour

Staying on the theme of the ethnic vote, this final bullet point is, in the greater scheme of things, one of the least significant here given that the Jewish vote in Britain is pretty negligible numerically. However, there were some interesting results in May. Ken Livingstone, a past master at manipulating ethnic machine votes, recently claimed that Jews are rich and therefore vote Tory, rather a crude generalisation that plays into antisemitic stereotypes: the kind of statement that has made Ken pretty unpopular with British Jews in the last decade or so.

With Livingstone’s departure from his role as the main face of Labour in London, there are signs the Jewish vote is returning to the party. Labour captured Brent from the Liberal Democrats, Harrow from no overall control and Redbridge from the Tories.

In Redbridge, although Israeli-born Labour candidate Tal Ofer narrowly missed election in Fulwell ward, it seems likely that the surge to Labour that I looked at in the second post in this series may swing Ilford North parliamentary constituency from incumbent Jewish Conservative MP Lee Scott to Labour's Wes Streeting, whose time as NUS president saw him work closely with the Union of Jewish Students.

UKIP performed poorly in most of these areas (e.g. a Jewish UKIP candidate in Harrow finished nine out of ten) suggesting little resonance for UKIP’s xenophobia in the Jewish electorate, despite other demographic characteristics of these white flight suburbs - if you  look at the maps in this post, you'll see that the more Jewish parts of London map on to red and some blue patches, and none of the purple suburbs.

The last few months have seen some speculation that Jews are deserting Labour again. In particular, various allegations, based on anonymous sources, have suggested that Jewish donors are leaving Labour, because Ed Miliband's leadership has been too pro-Palestine and insufficiently pro-Israel, as if British Jews vote primarily on Middle Eastern issues rather than domestic issues. Some of the coverage has had an antisemitic tinge to it, mirroring the "Jewish lobby" and "Jewish power" discourse to be found in some less responsible sources. (The Daily Mail's attacks on Miliband's father, Ralph, smacked of antisemtitism to me too, so there's nothing new here.)

Daniel Z, in an article in German for the Jüdische Allgemeine, points out that private donations only constitute 3% of Labour financing, so Jewish donors are not likely to make much difference, and that key Jewish donors are still donating anyway. 

However, he does report some long-time Labour voters saying that they are unhappy with his leadership, and, in one instance, that he is more courting Muslim grievances. (Daniel finishes with the story of Miliband's "sandwich moment", noting that the fact it was a bacon sandwich might have caught the eye of both Jewish and Muslim voters...) 

However, as with the UKIP "earthquake", I don't think we should read too much into this. In May, when people vote, they'll be thinking about more serious issues than sandwiches and white vans. 

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