Our Government, Regional & Religious Affairs Officer Daniel Elton, analyses the results of the local elections and what they mean for Jewish communities in the UK.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews represents the community to all levels of decision-makers including local government. Working with local Jewish communities, we produced the Jewish Manifesto for Local Government, intended as a starting point for councillors to begin to understand how to serve their local Jewish residents.
Local Government impacts our lives in dozens of ways, and the 2022 local elections and the campaigning that led up to them revealed some interesting trends. From an analysis of the election results, to supporting local Jewish community hustings and engaging with council candidates on the Manifesto, there are at least five points that emerged from the Board’s work in this area in the run up to the elections.
According to the 2011 census, around 187,000 Jews live in local authorities with Jewish communities of more than 2,000 people. Before the elections last Thursday, around 102,000 of those Jewish residents lived in areas run by local authorities where either Labour or the Greens – in the case of Brighton – were part of the administration, or around 56 per cent. However, since the election, that number has gone up to around 155,000 or 81 per cent.
This should not surprise us. Jews tend to live in the suburbs of big urban centres, and the suburbs of big urban centres have been drifting leftwards for arguably 30 years. This is true even as many wards with a large proportion of Jewish residents, such as Golders Green (Barnet), Stamford Hill West (Hackney) and Kersal (Salford) return non-Labour councillors. Areas that Labour won in the 1997 General Election that at the time were thought of as shocking – such as Hove or Leeds North West – are now part of the bedrock of the Labour vote. Left-learning parties do not have absolute carte blanche in these areas – as Labour losses in Harrow and Croydon showed, but the trend is clear.
That means that for now and the foreseeable future, if a Jewish resident wants to engage in their local authority for whatever reason, the overwhelming majority of the time – it means engaging with a Labour local authority.
At several of the hustings held by the Jewish community, Labour apologised to the community for the party’s conduct during the Corbyn years. It was clear that for some in the crowd, such an apology was well-received. This was a feature of those hustings organised by the London Jewish Forum, supported by the Board of Deputies, the JLC and the Jewish News. There have been local elections since Jeremy Corbyn stood down. Most would agree that the current leader had made progress on tackling antisemitism. But for many Jewish voters, the Labour antisemitism crisis is a political landmark they are likely to refer back to when thinking about politics.
For lots of citizens, who do not think about politics the vast majority of the time, a single event or episode is recalled whenever they make a political evaluation. It is often different for different generations – it could be the Winter of Discontent or the Iraq War. For a proportion of Jewish voters, the Corbyn years have that significance, and Labour Party candidates will have to reassure Jewish voters for years, if not decades, to come.
One theme of the Jewish community hustings has been a concentration on general issues, such as development, roads and green topics. ‘Jewish’ issues only took up a minority of the time. This should be welcomed as a development. Jewish voters thinking primarily of Jewish issues, which has been a feature of the last few years, was in many ways a signal of crisis, and we should be relieved it has passed.
There has been a small but definite trend of professional Rabbis engaging in electoral politics. (The word ‘professional’ is important. If we used the word ‘qualified’ – i.e. individuals with semicha – there may be many such people already acting as councillors).
Notable examples have included Care Home Rev Arnold Saunders – a councillor for the most Jewish ward in the country – Kersal in Salford, and Rabbi Plancey – Emeritus Rabbi of Borehamwood and Elstree United synagogue in Hertsmere. Rabbi Danny Rich, former Chief Executive of Liberal Judaism was re-elected in Barnet. Rabbi David Mason only narrowly missed out in Haringey while still occupying the pulpit at Muswell Hill United Synagogue.
What are we to make of this trend? Are political parties turning to Rabbis as figures that can command respect across party lines? Have the Corbyn years politicised Rabbis? Whatever is driving the trend, it is fascinating watching these dedicated public servants juggle two of the most explosive topics – politics and religion.
It was clear from the hustings that parties from across the spectrum had mobilised their Jewish members to attend. Party political membership is very much a minority pursuit – Less than 2 per cent of the electorate. The Jewish community is fortunate to have members engaged in all mainstream parties. The community’s representative organisations do a vital job in engaging with national and local decision-makers. But ensuring there are Jewish voices in the thousands of voluntary political spaces that collectively have a huge impact on our lives is of massive benefit for UK Jewish citizens.
You can read our full Jewish Manifesto for Local Government here:
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