LONDON – There is less than a week to go before the UK’s closest general election for decades, and regardless of the outcome, many members of the Jewish community will forget political affiliations and cast their eyes down the lists of new and reelected MPs to see how many Jewish candidates have been successful.
However, the next parliament – which is due to start its session on May 27 – may well have fewer Jewish MPs than the 24 in the last Parliament.
Since the World War II the number of Jews in the House of Commons had been steadily increasing, though in the last few elections the number remained relatively static – around 20 to 25, out of a total of about 650 constituencies.
The 2010 general election returned 13 Jewish MPs on the Conservative benches; 9 Labor MPs; and just two Jews among the Liberal Democrats.
Absent from the ruling Conservative Party benches in the next Parliament will be the high profile former foreign and defense secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who was forced to resign just before the end of the session after foolishly being stung in a television interview admitting he was willing to charge serious money to provide lobbyists with access to Parliament.
Sadly his distinguished career ended in a “moment of madness.”
The same could be said of the much less well known junior minister, Brooks Newmark who last year sent a selfie of his genitalia to a fake female admirer – he too was forced to give up his safe Commons seat just before the election.
The rest of the current Conservative Party’s Jewish contingent, are all standing for reelection, and four of them, Jonathan Djanogly (a former minister), Michael Fabricant, Julian Lewis and Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps should be returned with little problem, each having substantial majorities.
Commons Speaker John Bercow, was originally elected as a Conservative but effectively gave up party politics on being voted in as speaker – as traditionally the holder of that role is not opposed by any mainstream candidates in subsequent general elections. He has a safe seat and will sail through the general election, but having made himself unpopular with many of his former party colleagues, he narrowly overcame an attempt to remove him from his post on the last day of the parliamentary term, and may face further moves to unseat him as speaker when MPs vote on who should chair them at their first formal sitting in mid-May.
Six other Jewish Conservative MPs represent relatively marginal constituencies; Michael Ellis, Robert Halfon – who is one of his party’s most powerful advocates for Israel, Richard Harrington and Oliver Letwin (presently the Cabinet Office minister) may face being unseated.
Meanwhile, Lee Scott who has had to decline invitations to speak at some of his East London Ilford North constituency hustings because of death threats related to being Jewish and Zac Goldsmith also face close contests.
The Conservative Jewish contingent anticipate being joined by a new recruit, Lucy Fraser, who has a “safe seat” and are hopeful that Simon Marcus will beat his Labor opponent in the most marginal constituency in the UK, that of Hampstead and Kilburn, where former actress Glenda Jackson was MP until her retirement. She won the seat last time by just 42 votes.
Meanwhile among Labor’s Jewish MPs, the party leadership rests with Ed Miliband, who is hoping to become Britain’s second Jewish premier (the first was Benjamin Disraeli) though he has conceded he is an atheist, and has admitted to having a “complicated” relationship with Israel.
Labor MPs who are likely to be reelected include Sir Hugh Bayley and Luciana Berger. She has been rapidly promoted since entering the Commons in 2010, is currently shadow public health minister and may well make cabinet rank in a matter of months. Last year Berger was the subject of a barrage of anti-Semitic abuse emailed by a Liverpool-based Nazi supporter who was subsequently jailed.
Louise Ellman, who until the election chaired the important Transport Select Committee, has been both Israel’s and the Jewish community’s most powerful voice on the Labor benches and has a safe seat as do Fabian Hamilton and Margaret Hodge.
She was chairwoman of the influential Public Accounts committee and may well be given a government post if Labor returns to power.
Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Ivan Lewis whose Bury South constituency contains many of North Manchester’s Jewish population, has a relatively marginal seat and was worried that his party’s stance during the last Gaza war of being critical of Israel may have dented his chances, but he remains optimistic he will be reelected and he should be rewarded with a senior cabinet position if Labor forms the next administration.
Two veteran Jewish Labor MPs, both strong critics of Israel, are likely to be returned to the Commons.
Sir Gerald Kaufman has a safe inner city Manchester seat, and if he survives the next five-year Parliament will be just under 89-yearsold.
David Winnick however, who is 81-years-old, faces a tougher fight in his more marginal constituency.
Three Jewish would-be MPs are women; barrister Sarah Sackman faces a very tough fight in the North London constituency of Finchley and Golders Green and a recent Conservative-backed opinion poll has suggested she could win. However both Ruth Smeeth and Deborah Sacks are in less winnable constituencies.
The Liberal Democrats have two sitting MPs; the Home Office and Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone who, latest opinion polls suggest, will be very lucky to keep her North London seat of Hornsey and Wood Green and Dr Julian Huppert, whose Cambridge constituency has in the past been considered a highly marginal one. Robin Meltzer is standing in the South West London winnable seat of Richmond Park where he is trying to oust fellow Jew, Conservative MP Goldsmith.
Finally UKIP, the newest of the political parties, which has just two MPs – both of whom defected mid-term from the Conservatives – winning the subsequent by-elections. They have put up at least eight Jewish candidates but none of them have any serious expectation of being elected; though should party leader Nigel Farage win his constituency of South Thanet, faction sources have told The Jerusalem Post that he will resign his existing European Parliament seat and allow Donna Edmunds to become the first Jewish MEP since 2009.