Britain’s only new Jewish MP has spoken of his pride at representing the region he parents made home after moving from Israel four decades ago – as other high-profile community members celebrated being reelected.
Alex Sobel, a long-time supporter of the Jewish Labour Movement, secured one of his party’s 30 gains nationwide when he took the Leeds North West seat from the Liberal Democrats with a majority of 4,226.
Sobel, 41, said he was “delighted” to be the country’s newest Jewish parliamentarian. “My parents came to the country in 1971 from Israel. I’m very proud my parents came here as immigrants and that I’m representing the area they moved to,” he added. He will now likely commute to Parliament from his mum’s home in Beaconsfield, adding: “She’s a typical Jewish mother – very practical. She has already started talking about me getting key cut and buying a new suit.”
He admitted that becoming an MP had “definitely been on my mind” since fighting Beaconsfield for the party in the 2005 election. The father-of-two has until now run a voluntary organisation working with social enterprises and also serves as a councillor on the city council – a role he plans to continue for now.
While insisting there had been “some good action” in regards to anti-Semitism and that many who have made unacceptable remarks are no longer members, he told the Jewish News he would be raising the issue with Jeremy Corbyn: “I want to help start a new chapter. “I will do everything I can to address, together with JLM, cases where people shouldn’t be part of the party. Labour is a party that Jewish people can be part of and represent.” Stressing the historic links between his party and the community, he recalled how Labour had joined forces with community members to battle Mosley, as at Cable Street.
Though he wouldn’t be drawn on Corbyn’s future, he said the feelings of the parliamentary Labour party – a majority of whom expressed no confidence in him previously – had been “ameliorated by the manifesto. It was popular in the country and every MP I spoke to was supportive. I think it changed the atmosphere in the PLP”. Fellow Jewish MP Fabian Hamilton retained the neighbouring seat of Leeds North East.
Meanwhile, Luciana Berger said she was “humbled and overwhelmed” at being re-elected in Liverpool Wavertree with an increased majority of nearly 30,000 – helped, she says, by a higher turnout among young voters. The MP – whose maternity leave was interrupted by the snap poll – said: “In Liverpool, we are very much aware of the impact of seven years of Tory government. We have had the largest cuts per head in the country. During the campaign, the Tories said they would cut school lunches, so people were reminded of when Margaret Thatcher took away school milk.”
There had been a mixed reaction to Corbyn himself on the doorstep, she said. But Berger, who was among those to resign from his shadow cabinet, praised the leader’s “fantastic campaign. He was everywhere across the country. He and his team leveraged social media to emphasise their message in stark contrast to Theresa May who was nowhere to be seen.” Neighbouring MP Louise Ellman was also comfortably returned, as was Ruth Smeeth in Stoke on Trent North, despite concerns early in the campaign she could be vulnerable in a big Tory victory. Ivan Lewis won a sixth term in Bury South.
Among the other Jewish MPs re-elected were Conservatives Andrew Percy, Michael Ellis, Grant Shapps, Lucy Frazer and Jonathan Djanogoly, as well as former Labour Ed Miliband.
But there was disappointment for the oldest MP in the last Parliament, 83-year-old David Winnick, who lost out in Walsall North after 38 years representing the seat.
Two other Jewish candidates fell short in their bids for a first term. Tory Hannah David missed out for the second consecutive election to Gareth Thomas in Harrow West, while Rhea Wolfson, a member of Labour’s national executive committee, reduced a majority of 17,000 to 4,000.
But she said the party has shown that “with a radical, transformative manifesto and a leader who can inspire people up and down this country we can build something unbelievable. I’ve stood side by side with Jeremy Corbyn since day one and now might watch him become prime minister”.
Despite concern when campaigning began that several key allies of the community and the Jewish state would lose their seats, a staggering 77 out of 78 supporters of Labour Friends of Israel triumphed.
Among them was the organisation’s parliamentary chair Joan Ryan, who was “absolutely thrilled” after defying expectations to extend her majority from just over 1,000 to 10,000. “We were concerned we might lose,” she said. “Given everything that’s happened, we didn’t want a diminishing of support within the parliamentary Labour Party. The positions we take are mainstream and morally right. LFI will continue to be as robust and clear about Israel and why it matters.”
Also triumphant was former LFI chair John Woodcock and Ian Austin, one of the most prominent supporters of the Holocaust Educational Trust, who scraped home by just 22 votes in Dudley North. In Bassetlaw, John Mann, chair of the APPG against anti-Semitism, won a majority of nearly 5,000.