Barnet: What really happened
THE LOCAL ELECTIONS ARE OVER. Take a close look at Labour’s share of the vote over the last four elections in one London borough that it has never won outright:
2006 - 28.4%
2010 – 30.8%
2014 – 36.3%
2018 - 39.0%
Labour’s worst result here was in 2006, when Tony Blair was leader. That year the Tories won 45.8% of the vote in this borough, and it has never dipped below 41.7% over these four local elections. Labour’s biggest leap forward occurred under Miliband, but our highest vote-share was achieved under Jeremy Corbyn. In 2018 Labour added approximately 25,000 more votes.
This is the London Borough of Barnet, where Labour’s performance has been characterised by the mainstream media as “catastrophic” and “disastrous”, descriptions echoed by supporters of Blair, who presided over Labour’s poorest result. Although Labour increased its vote by nearly 3% since 2014, Barnet went from no overall control to Tory control. Labour lost seats in wards with a significant percentage of Jewish voters, and the mainstream media gleefully attributed this to Labour’s “antisemitism problem”.
One losing candidate, Adam Langleben of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), has been vocal about this, but doesn’t mention that he received the lowest personal vote of the three Labour candidates in his ward. He has a long record of sniping against Labour’s national leadership and has repeatedly described Labour as a party riven with antisemitism. I have not heard him make one comment about antisemitism and other forms of racism in the Conservative Party. Is it any surprise that potential Labour voters were unenthusiastic about voting for him? In two wards where Labour lost seats, the candidates included officers of the JLM. In most other Labour-held seats there was a swing to Labour.
The Tories ran a strong communalist campaign in Barnet, standing many Jewish candidates and focusing primarily on antisemitism. They generated a very high turnout of their supporters, and were boosted by UKIP’s absence. UKIP gained 4.7 % of the vote in 2014, and most of those votes surely went Tory. An alternative media headline might have been: “Tories mop up UKIP voters to fend off challenge, as Labour vote rises in Barnet”. Not as sexy as blaming Corbyn/ Labour antisemitism, but more accurate.
The laziest journalists tried to extrapolate from this ‘antisemitism’ factor to Labour’s performance elsewhere, despite the facts. Hackney is home to a large ultra-orthodox Jewish community concentrated in a few wards, and has many secular Jews spread around the borough. Labour lost seats to Conservatives in one ward with a large Chasidic constituency but gained three seats from the Lib Dems in another, with Labour’s victory there ascribed to its work on housing issues. In Gateshead, in the north-east, where Chasidic Jewish voters are concentrated in one ward, the Labour vote increased by a small percentage.
There was a very dramatic rise in Labour support in Redbridge in north-east London. Redbridge once housed around 30,000 Jews. That has declined to approximately 10,000, but, unlike Barnet, very few are young people, so most Redbridge Jews are of voting age. The number of Labour councillors elected here went up from 36 to 51 (including some Jewish councillors), while Tory representation halved from 24 to 12.
If we take media explanations at face value, what can we surmise? That
Redbridge Jews don’t care about antisemitism? Maybe they saw through the cynicism, opportunism and selective anti- racism behind the allegations that Labour uniquely has a problem with antisemitism? Maybe they noticed that the Tories suspended 18 of its council candidates in the week before the elections, mostly for racism. Maybe the Tory narrative, echoed by the Labour right, that Jewish voters elevated the issues of alleged antisemitism over all other economic and political considerations, just doesn’t hold water.
As a Jewish Labour member and active anti-racist, I recognise that there have been a small number of real antisemitic incidents involving Labour members. There are also many false allegations, loudly expressed, but lacking in evidence. When we expose the cynical and opportunistic use of scattergun accusations of antisemitism in Labour by MPs such as Luciana Berger and Ruth Smeeth, we should not engage in any denial of real incidents, which must be dealt with quickly and transparently.
I have no doubt that antisemitism in British society, and even more so in central and east European countries and in Trump’s America, is increasing, alongside other forms of racism. Only the left has positive solutions to racism and we need to grasp that narrative from the Tories. They themselves are deeply implicated in it, especially in Europe where they ally with open antisemites, Holocaust- revisionists, Islamophobes and anti-Roma racists in the European Parliament’s ‘Conservatives and Reformists’ group - but also here, where the Traditional Britain Group, led by Tory members Gregory Lauder-Frost and Lord Sudely, continues to invite speakers sharing these dangerous views and also promotes a renewed and menacing eugenicism.
Labour Briefing June 2018