The UK election aftermath

An uncertain future for British Jews.

UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis with his predecessor, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (photo credit: TOBY MELVILLE/REUTERS)
UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis with his predecessor, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
As Britain held its general election on June 8, British Jews were feeling unsettled.
Prime Minister Theresa May was forced to form a minority government backed by a small Northern Irish party (DUP) with 10 seats, after her Conservative Party dropped to 318, while Labour had 262 and the Scottish National Party 34.
May made a huge gaffe with an unpopular pre-election manifesto that jeopardized senior citizens’ retirement financial cushion with increased taxation, including what is being called a Dementia tax that would make senior citizens pay more for their social welfare. This would hit aging homeowners, a core support for Conservative, including many Jews living off their life savings.
Traditionally, Tory supporters are older, Labour voters are younger. Both parties left British Jews worried about an uncertain financial future. Labour was promising to spend eleven billion pounds, a full quarter of the Labour budget, on free student loans paid for by socialist-style tax increases.
British Jews disliked May’s budget but had nowhere to go. They couldn’t vote Labour as that party is exposed as being deeply entrenched in antisemitism, with a leader openly hostile to Israel and who expresses sympathy for Hezbollah and Hamas. In 2014, Jeremy Corbyn visited a cemetery in Tunisia to pay homage to PLO terrorists buried there, including a mastermind of the Munich Olympic Games massacre in which eleven top Israeli sportsmen were murdered.
Labour leader Corbyn was pressed repeatedly by BBC Radio 4’s Emma Barnett for the cost of his planned childcare package. He was unable to give an answer. For her pains, Barnett was called a “Zionist” shill by Corbyn supporters on social media.
Despite this, Corbyn’s popularity rose in pre-election surveys, while Theresa May was in free fall. Days before Polling Day, the Conservative lead, which appeared unassailable in early May, was down to just three points.
Theresa May seemed determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. What was clear during the campaign was that TM is no MT. Margaret Thatcher convinced people with the power of her political conviction.
Theresa May, in comparison, was stiff, defensive, lacking confidence. Thatcher never refused a direct televised debate against her main rival. May did.
The economy in post-Brexit Britain dominated public discussion. Even the Islamic terror horror at Manchester’s Arena failed to swing the needle. After the London Bridge terror attack, the Metropolitan Police arrested 12 hardcore radical leaders. But despite May’s statements that “Enough is enough” and “Things need to change,” it’s business as usual in Britain.
Jeremy Corbyn's soft approach on terrorism caused him little damage approaching Election Day. Britain had forgotten the Westminster vehicular terror attack. Britons were told by the authorities to get on with their lives after the Arena outrage. So they did.
They learned little. They failed to be influenced by Corbyn’s abysmal attitude to terror.
In 2016, Corbyn’s party was exposed as having deep-seated antisemitism within its ranks. A Spectator headline screamed, “The Labour Party has become institutionally antisemitic.” The article addressed the non-expulsion of former London mayor, Ken Livingstone, after making several snide anti-Jewish remarks. When Corbyn was confronted with it on a live TV election program on June 2, he gave a waffled non-answer.
The Labour Party had instituted a deplorable examination of in-house anti-Jewish sentiment that resulted in a slim denial, which opened with “The Labour Party is not overrun by antisemitism,” and deteriorated from there.
At the launch of the report, Corbyn, instead of calming Jewish fears, lashed out at Israel, comparing the Jewish state to ISIS.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews joined many leading voices in criticizing the report, calling it “a whitewash.” They further noted that it failed to explore “the history of antisemitism, including anti-Zionist antisemitism, on the Left.”
The author of the report, Shami Chakrabarti, was rewarded by Corbyn, who elevated her to the House of Lords.
It is little wonder there has been an exodus of British Jewish voters from the Labour Party. Board of Deputies Chairman, Jonathan Arkush, told The Jerusalem Report days before the election, “The Jewish community views the General Election with a fair amount of concern and apprehension because of the uncertainty of the outcome. In this, we are no different from the rest of the country. I have noticed the polling, which reflects a steep drop of Jewish support for Labour, and I view it as accurate.”
One poll showed that just 8.5 percent of British Jews intended to vote Labour. This was down from a 2015 mark of 15.1 percent when a Jew, Ed Miliband, was party leader.
Despite this, a number of Jews stood as Labour candidates, often in constituencies with a strong Jewish population.
Truth be told, the Jewish vote in Britain is irrelevant. There are a mere 250,000 Jews in the UK. Compare this, for example, with 2,600,000 Muslims in England alone.
What gave comfort to May was the sight of Corbyn being heckled on TV after he was repeatedly asked if he would never launch a first strike in a nuclear war. He virtually told the British public that, under his leadership, he would wait until the enemy had destroyed the country with a nuclear attack before he would retaliate.
The other factor that added precious votes to May’s insipid campaign were the hidden UKIP voters who rallied to the Conservatives in seats not contested by their party. Britain’s independent party had successfully initiated Brexit. Their voters had little alternative but to vote for Tory, the only party that would continue to champion their cause.
Despite the result, the future remains economically and politically uncertain for British Jews. May is damaged goods. The damage is self-inflicted. Corbyn, who was out for the count just last month, came through the campaign revived and with renewed resolve.
Barry Shaw is a senior associate at the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies and the author of the best-selling book ‘1917: From Palestine to the Land of Israel’.