As the United Kingdom Heads to the Polls, Six Jewish Races to Watch

With anti-Semitism a major issue in Thursday's election, here are the constituencies where the Jewish vote could sway the results

A protest against anti-Semitism in the Labour party, central London, March 26, 2018.
AFP

LONDON - As the United Kingdom heads to a snap parliamentary election on Thursday, accusations of anti-Semitism continue to haunt the Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn. The country's chief rabbi even warned that the “soul of the nation is at stake” in the upcoming election.

As discussion of anti-Semitism abounds, and with Brexit still a primary issue for many voters, here are some districts where the Jewish vote may be the deciding factor.

Finchley and Golders Green

This north London constituency is poised for a battle between Liberal Democrat candidate Luciana Berger and the incumbent Tory MP Mike Freer. Berger is a former Labour MP who left the party earlier this year over anti-Semitism after suffering a long campaign of abuse.

The area is 21 percent Jewish and strongly voted “remain” in the 2016 Brexit referendum where the British public opted to leave the European Union.

Although Berger is well-liked in the area and appears to be doing much better than previous Liberal Democrat candidates in Finchley and Golders Green, the incumbent Freer also remains popular. 

A recent poll put Berger at 32 percent, with the Conservatives at 42 percent and Labour a distant third at 18 percent.

Luciana Berger addresses supporters in a pub in London on December 8, 2019.
AFP

Bury South

Labour has held this northern England seat for the last 22 years. It has a Jewish population of around 10 percent and has had a Jewish MP, Ivan Lewis, since 1997. But Lewis, who left the party in 2018 and is standing as an independent, has urged constituents to vote for the Conservatives.

In a surprise Facebook post last week, he wrote that it is “now clear that the best way to stop Corbyn in Bury South is to vote Conservative and support their candidate Christian Wakeford.”

Hackney North and Stoke Newington

This area is 11 percent Jewish and home to a large ultra-Orthodox community. Its MP, shadow home secretary and close Corbyn ally Diane Abbott, has represented the constituency since 1987 and has developed a close relationship with the local ultra-Orthodox community.

She told the BBC last month that “Not every element of the Jewish community says Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-Semite,” referring to her conversations with her own constituents.

“One of the biggest voting blocs in Hackney is in Stamford Hill, which historically is a large and vibrant Jewish community and I’ve spoken to them about this,” she said.

Abbott is unlikely to lose her 42,265-vote majority. However, Jewish support may nonetheless be eroded by the anti-Semitism scandal — particularly in gentrified areas that have become popular with younger, secular Jews.

Dianne Abbott speaks at the launch of Labour's Race and Faith Manifesto in London, November 26, 2019.
AFP

East Renfrewshire

Nearly half of Scotland’s Jews live in this constituency south of Glasgow. It was held by Labour until 2015, but this election looks like a race between the incumbent Tory MP Paul Masterton and Scottish National Party candidate Kirsten Oswald.

Around 2,400 Jews live in East Refrewshire — another area that overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU — and there is some Jewish involvement in local SNP politics. However, if the community has turned away from Labour due to the anti-Semitism controversy, they are unlikely to back the SNP in large numbers. The Scottish nationalists have not ruled out supporting a Corbyn-led Labour coalition if they are promised another referendum on independence.

Scottish Nationalist Party leader Nicola Sturgeon walks with Kirsten Oswald, Glasgow, November 17, 2019.
AFP

Stoke-on-Trent North 

Ruth Smeeth, one of only seven Jewish candidates running for Labour in this election, has held this Midlands seat since 2015.

Targeted by abuse from both the far left and the far right, she was recently issued with a police panic button that she must carry with her at all times. She told a local newspaper recently that the police had deemed her to be among the top 10 lawmakers at risk of being targeted, adding, “I think it’s because I’m Jewish, and because I’m a woman.”

Smeeth is one of only a very few “exceptional” candidates that the Jewish Labour Movement has agreed to support in this election, having declined to actively campaign for the party as a whole.

But electorally, she has only a relatively small majority and faces stiff competition from the pro-Brexit Conservative candidate Jonathan Gullis in an area that overwhelmingly voted to leave the EU.

Jeremy Corbyn gestures after voting in the European Elections in London, May 23, 2019.
Kirsty Wigglesworth,AP

Kensington

Although Kensington is far from being a heavily Jewish part of London, the Labour majority is so small that the incumbent, Emma Dent Coad, is in a precarious position.

This west London area, which encompasses some of the capital’s most affluent areas, has traditionally been a Tory stronghold and was only won by Labour in the last election.

In a recent article for the Jewish Chronicle, Jonathan Boyd, the executive director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, noted that the race would be “interesting from a Jewish perspective,” with around 1,500 local Jewish voters who “could make all the difference.”