Parliament has its fair share of Jewish MPs. Marc Shoffman meets three first-timers trying to burst through the doors of the Commons by standing in some of the country’s stronghold and key marginal seats
CONSERVATIVE PARTY: Alan Mendoza
Alan Mendoza has already made a good impression on the Jewish community, having been placed 19th in this year’s Forty Under 40 list. But he will want to be number one among the voters of Brent Central after polling day.
Mendoza, founder and executive director of think tank the Henry Jackson Society, is looking to put Brent Central into Tory control. The constituency encompasses Greater London areas such as Willesden, Cricklewood and Harlseden.
It is a marginal Liberal Democrat seat and Sarah Teather won with a majority of 1,345 last time round, getting backing from 44 percent, ahead of Labour, which got 41 percent. The Conservative Party came third with just 11 percent of the vote, so Mendoza will be hoping for a big swing in his favour.
Mendoza is no stranger to diplomacy and differences of opinion, though, having helped found Tory discussion group the Disraelian Union and acting as a trustee of the Israel-Diaspora Trust, which hosts debates and discussions on Israeli political matters.
Last year, he oversaw the selection process of Chief Rabbi Joseph Dweck at The Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation, so an election battle should be simple in comparison. He says the history of the Jewish community, including aspects such as self-reliance and concern for those less fortunate, reflects his own political views. He adds: “British Jews had established an old age home, orphanage and hospital – but they did so utilising their own resources, rather than relying on others to provide this for them.”
Explaining why he wants to be an MP, Mendoza adds: “I am passionate about the future direction of this country and believe that the Conservative Party stands for the values and approach that will bring the most benefit to most people here in the UK. “If I can help my local community and my fellow citizens by standing for Parliament as an advocate – which I hope I can – then I consider it part of my public duty to do so.”
He says faith shouldn’t really be a major factor in the role of an MP, explaining: “As people of faith, and those of none, exercise their roles as MP equally well and badly, it doesn’t have any specific relevance beyond the moral and ethical code it encourages MPs to follow in their interpretation of it.”
Mendoza says he would like more work to be done on tackling anti-Semitism, explaining: “I think we saw last summer how what had previously been acknowledged as a decent strategy on anti-Semitism came unstuck in the wake of the spiralling of tensions caused by the Israel-Hamas conflict. “Unacceptable public displays and incidences of anti-Semitism showed that more work needs to be done to ensure that a zero-tolerance approach to anti-Semitic hate crime is both understood and enforced, both in the public realm and on social media.“
CONSERVATIVE PARTY: Hannah David
Hannah David is credited with helping build and bring to Borehamwood its only kosher restaurant, Let’s Meat, serving up anything from shishliks to shwarmas for the hungry folk of Hertsmere. But she won’t be interested in taste buds on election day, just the votes of Harrow West constituents, as the Tory candidate seeks to oust Labour incumbent Gareth Thomas.
Harrow West is a marginal Labour seat where Thomas has a majority of 3,143. The Conservative Party came second in the 2010 General Election and David thinks she has the recipe for success this time. She grew up in Elstree and is a property lawyer by trade. She already has political experience at a local level and was elected as a councillor for Hertsmere in 2004 and was also leader of the Elstree and Borehamwood Town Council.
David has also sat on the board of governors of Gilah Nursery and Hertsmere Jewish Primary school. She says she now wants to be able to make a bigger impact.
David says: “As I became more involved with local politics I saw what an impact I could make. “I thoroughly enjoyed helping my residents as a councillor and acting as their ‘voice’ and very much want to continue doing this on a national scale. “I have a clear plan for Harrow West – bringing Crossrail to Harrow and Wealdstone; tackling crime and anti-social behaviour; regeneration and taking the council to account particularly for wasting residents’ money and making bad decisions that affect people every day.”
David has already received strong support. London Mayor Boris Johnson has joined her on the campaign trail, describing her as a “fantastic candidate” who would do a “fantastic job” in Parliament. She describes herself as a proud Jew and is a member of Elstree and Borehamwood United Synagogue. However, she adds: “I do believe that an MP must represent all his/her constituents whatever their faith. I also believe that, if anything, my faith equips me, even better, to understand and deal with issues faced by the many diverse communities in Harrow.”
LABOUR PARTY: Ruth Smeeth
If at first you don’t succeed, try again, as the old adage goes. This is Ruth Smeeth’s second attempt at entering the corridors of the House of Commons. She stood for the Burton & Exeter constituency at the 2010 General Election, but saw a shock swing from Labour to the Tories with Andrew Griffiths taking a majority of more than 6,000.
This was attributed to a national backlash against the Labour Party, but she has not given up and is now standing in Labour stronghold Stoke-on-Trent North. This time round she is standing in an ultra-safe Labour seat and hoping to replace Joan Walley, who is stepping down having been the local Labour MP since 1987.
The constituency has been a Labour stronghold since 1950 and Walley had a majority of more than 8,000 at the 2010 General Election. Politics is, after all, in Smeeth’s blood, both professionally and personally. Her family is ensconced in the Labour movement: her mother is a former trade union official and her father was a trade union rep. Smeeth said she started leafleting for Labour at the age of eight. Her political beliefs were demonstrated in her pitch to be a parliamentary candidate at the last election.
She says: “My family has been in the UK for just over a century, arriving as immigrants fleeing persecution in eastern Europe. “We were welcomed and we worked hard to make a life in a country I am proud to call my home. But I was born just after Thatcher came to power and if there was anything that was at odds with my family values it was what she did to our country, our communities and an entire generation of the working classes.
“From the ‘milk snatcher’ to the miners’ strike and the Falklands war, Thatcherism nearly destroyed the Labour movement and our society. Simply speaking, I was inspired to make sure it never happens again.
“The vulnerable need advocates and they need people who care about what happens to them.” Smeeth’s support for Jewish life shines through her career. She is certainly up for a challenge, with a CV that includes stints as director of public affairs and campaigns for Bicom, as well as anti-racism campaign co-ordinator for the Community Security Trust, where she was instrumental in campaigns to get people to vote in 2008 local elections and defeat the British National Party. She is currently the deputy director of HOPE not hate, the anti-extremism and anti-racism campaign group.