Lined up for a photo opportunity outside a kosher hotspot in Golders Green, a suited Mike Katz – Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Hendon – was all smiles. Beside him stood Jeremy Newmark, the party’s candidate for Finchley and Golders Green.
Together the men, recognised for their respective roles as vice chair and chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, are calling on the community to vote them into Parliament ahead of the General Election next month.
But it has not been easy. Given Labour’s poor record on tackling anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activism within its own ranks under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, both candidates have been accused of treachery and putting personal ambition before their community.
“I cannot say I have not had those conversations,” admits Katz, 45.
Over black coffee and chocolate rice cakes at a university campus in Hendon, the West London Synagogue member says: “It is a shame when the Jewish community feels the need to criticise people for being ambitious.
“Both Jeremy and I get so much unpleasantness on social media from anti-Semites; so the idea that we go through that level of attack and then our community turns on us and tells us we are ‘traitors’ is hurtful, but it does not smash my resolve.”
Still, standing in the second-largest Jewish constituency in the UK (where around 17 percent of residents are Jewish), Katz needs to appeal to the community to get elected.
“I cannot pretend it has been an easy relationship between the Labour Party and the Jewish community over the past year,” he continues.
“But I think at its heart, Labour values are still Jewish values. Values of tolerance, social justice, equality, standing up for the underdog and making sure you do not do well on the backs of others.”
And the state school-educated father-of-two – who read philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford University before finally pursuing a career in the transport sector – believes he is best placed to bridge relations.
“How much greater a voice for this struggle would I be, if I was an MP? If I saw the party not taking action on anti-Semitism, I would call them out.”
While most candidates compete for their leader’s presence on the campaign trail, the further away Corbyn stays from Hendon, the better for Katz – who admits that are no plans for the party leader, a supporter of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, to visit the constituency.
“I make no secret of the fact that I did not vote for Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership election… he comes from more of a ‘left’ background.”
In fact, to Katz’s recollection, they have never had a meeting: “He is not the only person to engage with in terms of things
you want to change.”
A Tottenham Hotspur fan, Katz puts forward a football analogy: “Managers will come and go, but I will always be a Spurs fan. The leadership can alter, but the inherent values that keep you focused do not change.”
Regarding the Labour manifesto pledge to “immediately recognise the state of Palestine” – irrespective on initial conditions being met – Katz simply says: “I back a two-state solution and oppose BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions movement]”.
Straightening his red tie on a canvassing trail in Mill Hill, Katz distributes leaflets with Andrew Dismore, who sat as Labour MP for Hendon from 1997 until 2010, before losing his seat to Tory Matthew Offord.
Remainer Katz believes his commitment to a “decent Brexit”, combined with the party’s commitment to increasing the number of police officers and scrapping university tuition fees, could give him the edge.
Offord, however, disagrees. The Tory’s parliamentary candidate for Hendon, who sat as its MP from 2010 to 2017, believes Labour manifesto pledges are little more than an “empty promise”.
A canvassing session cancelled over unexpected rain, we settle for a phone interview. Speaking on the day Prime Minister Theresa May launched the Conservative manifesto, Offord says: “I am not convinced that Labour would be able to put 10,000 more police officers on the street. I think a lot of their manifesto is an empty promise. How would it be funded? There is no such thing as a ‘money tree’.”
And Offord, 47, does not believe that the cuts police forces have faced under his government has impacted security across the capital. He notes that his party has supported the Community Security Trust and, moreover, that his first question in Parliament called on the government to pay additional security costs at Jewish faith schools – which was granted.
Offord goes onto dismiss Labour’s pledge to scrap university tuition fees; fees he voted to increase to £9,000.
“It is only fair that you invest in your own future,” he says, noting that any bid to increase corporation tax to supplement tuition fees would “mean that a lot of companies will decide to go overseas; they won’t invest and the tax-take will reduce”.
Above all, Offord is committed to a hard Brexit, despite more than 62 percent of Barnet residents voting Remain. As well as increasing free trade, he believes it will enhance bilateral ties with Israeli businesses.
Understandably, Offord, a Conservative Friends of Israel Officer, is confident when questioned on his party’s record on tackling anti-Semitism and promoting relations between the UK and Israel. After all, there has been an increase in Holocaust education funding and a boom in UK-Israel trade.
He dismisses concern over the Conservative manifesto’s failure to directly address anti-Semitism or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He explains: “It has always been clear that we won’t tolerate anti-Semitism or any form of racism. [But] Jeremy Corbyn has stood back and allowed it to happen; and so is complicit by not acting quickly enough, or at all.”
An animal welfare campaigner, Offord is quick to insist that the Tory manifesto pledge to install CCTV in all slaughterhouses across the UK does not indicate a crackdown on religious slaughter. Noting that schechita would be protected under his government, he adds: “Our position has not changed at all. I think leaving the European Union will relieve the pressure somewhat, because a lot of the pressur–e – like labelling – was coming from the EU.”
He hopes his work will stand him in good stead when voters go to the polls on 8 June. But it is undeniable that Labour’s negative relationship with mainstream British Jewry has done much of the work for him.
Reflecting on previous canvassing experiences, Offord explains: “Constituents feel they just cannot vote for Jeremy Corbyn. They remember that Mr Corbyn once called terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah ‘friends’, the general narrative of anti-Semitism among supporters of Momentum particularly, and the perception that Mr Corbyn was reluctant to tackle it.”
“We need a strong opposition in this country,” continues Offord. “We certainly don’t have one at the moment. It is not good for democracy to have such a divided Labour Party.”
He adds: “If people are Labour supporters, this is not the election to vote Labour.”
Alasdair Hill Liberal Democrats
Biology teacher Alasdair Hill was placed fourth in Hendon for the Liberal Democrats in 2015 with just 2.2 percent of the vote, but believes he has the right mix for voters this time round, writes Marc Shoffman.
Hill was one of the first Lib Dem candidates to call for the sacking of David Ward as a parliamentary hopeful, stating: “Anti-Semitism is a scourge of society and its rise in recent times has been under a veil of open denigration of immigrants by the UKIP-inspired Leave campaign and through the inaction of Corbyn in the Labour party.
“As in politics as in life, anti-Semitism sadly exists and it is vital that it is challenged and halted quickly and effectively. My lead of the formal internal complaint about David Ward’s selection and his subsequent sacking demonstrates not only the seriousness with which I take concerns of my constituents and how I endeavour to do all I can to stop anti-Semitism in politics; it also demonstrates how other parties should act in the face of hate speech.”
He adds the constituency’s backing for staying in the EU – 62 percent voted in the referendum to remain – puts voters at odds with Tory candidate Matthew Offord. Hill explains: “The Liberal Democrats are a safe haven for Jewish citizens who may feel that the Labour party no longer takes seriously the dangers of anti-Semitism. Likewise the Tories’ divisive rhetoric about immigrants and May’s ‘citizens of the world are citizens of nowhere’ philosophy do not reflect the Jewish community, which shares many strong links across the continent and around the world. It is only the Liberal Democrats who remain open and outwardlooking in Britain today.”
Also seeking election in this constituency: Green Party: Carmen Legarda;