Is a vote for a Labour candidate a vote for Jeremy Corbyn? That’s the most hotly debated issue within the Jewish community before the general election. Should Jewish Labour supporters stick with the party and vote for good local MPs and candidates, or abandon the party because of its leader?
As a dual American-British citizen who votes from overseas, I faced a similar decision in the US election in 2016, but it wasn’t a difficult one to make.
From Ronald Reagan in 1980 to Mitt Romney in 2012, I supported Republican presidential candidates, and was a party member. But when Donald Trump became the party’s candidate, I decided immediately that I couldn’t vote for him. I felt that Trump’s policies and behaviour were toxic both for the Republicans and the country, and I wanted him to lose, so that the slate would be clear for a new figure to emerge.
I wasn’t alone. Many former Republican officials, conservative columnists, and even some elected Republicans in Congress announced they wouldn’t vote for Trump. The hashtag #NeverTrump was created by his Republican opponents, not the Democrats. Yet despite trailing in the polls, and despite Hillary Clinton winning three million more votes, Trump won all the key swing states and became president.
Fast forward to the UK in 2017, and Jeremy Corbyn is leading Labour into the general election. While it’s true that the American and British systems are not equivalent, with UK voters choosing only their local constituency MP, nevertheless the party that wins the most seats forms the next government. In urging people to vote for Labour candidates, do the Jewish Labour Movement leaders and members really want to see Jeremy Corbyn become Prime Minister?
After all, they have led opposition to Corbyn within the party, along with Jewish and non-Jewish Labour MPs. They’ve spoken out against the steady stream of antisemitic tweets and Facebook posts from Labour Party activists and local councillors. The Jewish Labour argument is that to fight against Jew hatred and anti-Israel extremism in the party, they must be inside it. They don’t want to be forced to flee a party that they’ve identified with for so long. I can understand the sentiment, but wouldn’t a crushing defeat for Labour serve their purposes better?
Ed Miliband won 232 seats for Labour in the 2015 general election. If Jeremy Corbyn wins anything near this total, his position as Labour leader might be secure. However, if Labour hemorrhages dozens of seats, it will demonstrate that the electorate has rejected Corbyn’s brand of far Left politics, and it will be much harder for him to hang on. If so, there’s a chance that a new, more moderate Labour leader can replace him.
It appears that the vast majority of Jewish voters have already abandoned the party. A widely publicised poll published in May 2016 found that only 18 percent of British Jews said they voted Labour in the last election under Ed Miliband’s leadership. With Jeremy Corbyn as head, that figure plunged to a minuscule 8.5 percent. Could it be even lower now?
It’s also an extraordinary situation in that Corbyn is even opposed by the vast majority of his own MPs within the Parliamentary Labour Party, around 80 percent. In June 2016, the party’s MPs passed a motion of no confidence by a staggering margin of 172-40, but the vote was not binding, and Corbyn refused to quit.
Now I’m not a Labour supporter, but many friends are. Some say they could never vote for the Conservatives, for issues such as the economy or Brexit, and this isn’t a plea for them to do so. But French voters also faced a ballot paper between choices that many rejected. In their recent presidential election, 4.2 million voters returned blank or spoiled ballots. A further 12 million voters simply abstained, leading to the lowest turnout figures for 40 years.
Again, France’s system is different from the UK’s, but does it point to a possible way forward? Their new president, Emmanuel Macron, won election with an entirely new party, En Marche, which he founded only a year ago. This came after the traditional left-wing party, the Socialists, received a pathetic 6.2 percent of the votes in the first round.
Back in the UK, hard-Left elements within Labour, like the Momentum pressure group, might succeed in retaining control of the party even after a big Corbyn defeat. Will the anti-Corbyn forces therefore be forced to break away to form a new Centre Left party? We’ll know a lot more after June 8th.