A former Labour government minister and one of the only female Jewish MPs of recent times has been appointed to lead the Board of Deputies from July, writes Justin Cohen.
Gillian Merron, who represented the Lincoln constituency for 13 years before losing her seat in the 2010 election, will take over as chief executive.
A senior Government whip before taking on ministerial roles in four departments, the 55-year-old’s communal roles include being a vice-president of the Jewish Leadership Council – a role that could leave her well placed to play a key role in ongoing negotiations towards closer collaboration between the two organisations.
Merron – an active member of Lincoln’s Jewish community for the past decade – said: “I am proud to be on my own Jewish journey, taking up the exciting challenge of working with the Board to defend and promote the interests of the Jewish community.
“It is important we are proactive, safeguarding of our traditions and values, and speaking with a clear message… to decision-makers, the wide range of Jews across the country and the general public.”
The Board said her role would “further extend the Board’s influence as the first port of call for government, media and others seeking to understand Jewish communal interests and concerns”. She will also manage its move to new premises.
It has been a year since the appointment of Andrea Kelmanson as interim chief executive following the departure of long-time head Jon Benjamin.
The Board had been urged by senior members not to appoint a new chief executive while a unification with the JLC was still being discussed, but president Vivian Wineman said: “We are thrilled to have attracted a candidate of the calibre of Gillian Merron to this post. Gillian brings a wealth of experience fitting to the community’s leading professional post.
“I have no doubt whatsoever that she will greatly benefit not just the work of the Board, but the interests of the community as a whole.”
Vice-president and co-chair of Women in Jewish Leadership said: “Gillian is a fantastic new appointment, the best person for the job and, yes, a woman. We know that women break through the glass ceiling only when you recruit openly, fairly and using a rigorous system. Women in Jewish Leadership is encouraging all communal organisations to recruit in this way to break down the barriers to bringing more women’s voices into top communal conversations.”
JLC chief executive Simon Johnson said: “I’m delighted for Gillian that she has been appointed to this significant role in the community. Having worked with her as a vice-president of the JLC, I look forward to working closely with her in this new capacity and would like to welcome her to the growing band of Jewish community professionals.”
Merron – a member of Liberal Judaism’s Board of National Officers – has run her own business as an advocate on public health across Europe since leaving Parliament.
The former MP repaid in full more than £6,000 for mortgage interest on her second home after a panel set up to look at expenses claims recommended scores of MPs repay funds. She blamed “administrative errors” at the time, but insisted there was no suggestion of wrongdoing by the panel.