UK leaders make bids for Jewish vote in closest election since 1974

By JERRY LEWIS
May 6, 2015 20:37

No clear favorite for control of 10 Downing Street in upcoming UK elections.




The statue of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill is silhouetted in front of parliament

The statue of Britain's former Prime Minister Winston Churchill is silhouetted in front of the Houses of Parliament in London. (photo credit: REUTERS)

LONDON – All three major party leaders – Prime Minister David Cameron, Labor’s Ed Miliband and the Conservatives’ coalition partner, Liberal Democrat’s Nick Clegg – made last minute appeals over the past week to secure the Jewish vote.

The politicians gave interviews or wrote for the community’s three main weeklies – the Jewish Chronicle, the Jewish News and the Jewish Telegraph (which circulates in Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Glasgow).

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But with all 10 national opinion polls showing a virtual dead heat between the Conservatives and Labor – both sitting at about 33 percent and the Jewish vote being so small – their appeals are unlikely to make a significant difference nationally.

Britain’s 270,000-strong Jewish community has little sway in the election, and while the majority are concentrated in just a few areas, electoral experts accept that they could affect – at most – the outcome in three key marginal seats in northwest London and a fourth in north Manchester.

A recent opinion poll published by the Jewish Chronicle suggested that 69% of the Jewish community would support the Conservatives while just 22% would give the Labor Party their support.

But these findings have been challenged by polling experts who indicated to The Jerusalem Post that the method used by the JC’s pollsters could have selected voters in areas where the public were more likely to vote Conservative and that they may have asked those more active within the Jewish community and thus less representative of the wider community.

Prof. John Boyd at the Institute for Jewish Policy Research confirmed that Jews as a group will have little influence over the final results.

“Not only do they represent less than half a percent of the total population of the country, they also do not vote in any way as a bloc,” he stated in a recent JPR survey.

Boyd explained that the common wisdom, based on longstanding survey evidence, suggested that political preferences of British Jews fall somewhat to the Right of the British population as a whole – i.e. whatever the current national polls reveal, collectively, Jews tend to be more right-wing.

He added that this “tilt to the Right is not surprising given the proportion of British Jews in middle class professional occupations, as there is a relationship between voting behavior and socioeconomic status.”

He noted, however, that British Jews fall consistently to the Left of members of the general population in equivalent occupations.

“For example, Jewish doctors and health professionals are noticeably less likely to vote Conservative than non-Jewish colleagues in the same professions. The same is true for business people and managers.”

His report also noted that according to survey data there was a relationship between levels of religiosity and political preferences, with the more observant more likely to vote Conservative and the more secular more likely to vote Labor. Education, Boyd added, played a part – better educated people (measured by their highest level of qualifications) tend to vote Labor. Age and gender were also factors, with men and older people more likely to vote Conservative than women and younger people.

In essence, JPR concluded, Jews are citizens just like everyone else.

“Jews vote first and foremost as British citizens, concerned about exactly the same issues as everyone else, such as the economy, employment, health and education.”

Last month’s Jewish Chronicle poll carried out by Suration, which surveyed 500 Jews, surprised observers who accepted previous findings that the community is pretty evenly divided between supporters of the Conservative and Labor parties with just a minority voting for the Liberal Democrats.

The JC poll reported that 73% of respondents said that their party’s attitude toward Israel was either “very” or “quite” important in determining how they would vote, and this apparently was reflected in the support they expressed for the two main party leaders, with Cameron reckoned to have the most positive attitude toward the Jewish community and acceptable attitudes on Israel, registering a 64% approval rating.

Miliband, who is Jewish but admits to being atheist and has claimed to have a “complicated” relationship when it comes to Israel, was acceptable to just 13% of those questioned.

The Liberal Democrats – who are persistent critics of Israel, were even less favored – just 6% said they would endorse party leader Clegg.

As for the (relatively) new kids on the political block, UKIP, less than 1% indicated approval for party leader Nigel Farage who previously has indicated his support for Israel.

Experienced political observers made clear to the Post that according to their canvassing across constituencies with significant Jewish populations, voters were in general still pretty evenly divided between Conservatives and Labor, and that the closer the election came the less the Israel factor would determine whom they voted for.

Strong anecdotal evidence, however, has shown that many Labor voters are either refusing to give local candidates their support because of Miliband’s switched policy toward Israel, or will vote “holding their noses” in disgust. Last year, the Labor leader ended the bipartisan approach toward Israel by heavily criticizing the IDF’s move into Gaza. And in October, he ordered his MPs to vote for a nonbinding Commons motion calling for an early recognition of a Palestinian state, without requiring a negotiated agreement with Israel.

Miliband keeps maintaining he is a “friend of Israel” and attempted in his weekend interviews and articles to justify his party’s stance which critics make clear is due to his chasing the estimated 2.7 million Muslim votes.

Inevitably, Cameron has reminded Jewish voters how resolute he was last summer in supporting Israel’s right to defend itself, and how he would never “blow in the wind” when it came to Israel.

All three main party leaders committed to safeguarding shechita, strongly condemned anti-Semitism and vowed to safeguard the extra money promised by the government earlier this year to protect synagogues, communal buildings and all Jewish schools and to enhance the Community Security Trust’s communications facilities.

Cameron also emphasized his commitment to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive with a £50 million donation to build a fitting combined Holocaust memorial and educational center, which Miliband, the son of Holocaust survivors, readily endorsed.

Party leaders pitched for the Jewish vote as never before and hoped it might sway undecided voters, but with Miliband sticking resolutely to his more Palestinian- friendly policies, if anyone is likely to lose votes, ironically it is the man who could become Britain’s second Jewish premier.


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