Labour candidate Jeremy Newmark faced tough questions over his party’s leadership at a hustings event for Finchley and Golders Green constituency.
Newmark, along with Conservative Mike Freer, Liberal Democrat Jonathan Davies and the Green Party’s Adele Ward took part in the hustings at Finchley United Synagogue, in an event convened by Jewish News and the London Jewish Forum. A candidate from UKIP was invited, but did not attend.
An audience member said voters were faced with two “catastrophic” choices for prime minister. To widespread derision from the audience, Newmark encouraged people to focus on local issues and candidates rather than the national parties.
Panel members were asked whether they supported their current party leaders. Freer, who has represented the constituency since 2010, said he backed Theresa May during her leadership bid. Newmark, however, distanced himself from Corbyn, whom he did not vote for.
He said: “The Labour Party is a movement. It’s much broader. It’s a movement that includes people like John Mann, who led the fight against anti-Semitism in Parliament over the past 10 years, and on our campuses and in civil society for many years before that. Our party is a party that contains within it people like me, members of the Jewish Labour Movement, in the tradition of Poale Zion, in the tradition of Cable Street, which says we stay, we stand and we fight.
“We don’t run away from anti-Semitism. We won’t be left politically homeless because of one or two individuals who may or may not occupy leadership positions in our party.”
Freer was also challenged by the audience, particularly over the Conservative government’s stance on refugees and the termination of a scheme begun by the Dubs amendment.
He defended the government’s record, saying: “My stance is quite clear, that this country has a fine and proud record of supporting refugees both when fleeing and actually still in camps, but also those when they get to a place of safety. And that remains the government’s view.
“You can argue whether the way the Dubs amendment was handled was right, and I think that wasn’t handled well.”
The Conservative manifesto’s plans for social care were also brought up by Davies, who said: “I think the issues that worry the Jewish community are largely exactly the same issues that worry the rest of the community.
“First and foremost, particularly in view of what has been said in the last couple of days, how we care for our elderly.
“We obviously in the Jewish community have the shining beacon of Jewish Care, but the suggestion that has been floated around over the last 48 hours, that elderly people who are being cared for
in their homes should be forced to mortgage their homes to pay for their care, fills us with horror.”
In response to a question over the respective parties’ stances on Israel, Freer said he supported Israel’s right to exist and defend itself. He added: “Living in Finchley, if we were having rockets fired on us from High Barnet or Highgate, we would expect our government to get stuck in to defend us.”
Newmark questioned if support for Israel’s right to exist went far enough. He said: “We would never say ‘I believe in the right of the United Kingdom to exist’, or ‘I believe in the right of France’. Let me be absolutely clear: I’m a Zionist.
“I grew up with Zionism in my blood, as did most of the British Jewish community. I grew up with a connection to Israel that sits at the very core of my identity.”
Ward said she had asked for clarification on the Green Party’s policy, which is not in their manifesto.
She added: “Where some people have considered boycotts, it would be on certain goods from certain settlements. It’s certainly not a negative view of Israel.”