‘There’s only one Jeremy on this ballot’
Jeremy Newmark, the chairman of the Jewish Labour Movement, and his team, are setting up in the Labour Party headquarters in East Finchley, ready to go out on their first door-to-door canvass of voters since Newmark launched his campaign on Monday evening.
Although he is an observant, kippah-wearing Jew, Newmark’s campaign speech at his launch was notable for its lack of reference to the Jewish community, instead focusing directly on local issues.
If elected, Newmark would be the first Orthodox Jew in the House of Commons, but he makes little of this. Jews in the 21st century, he says, should be able to be represented anywhere, and participate in all walks of life.
He makes clear that his selection as the Finchley and Golders Green Labour candidate was the choice of Labour’s central office, not the local party.
He laughs at the suggestion that he and Mike Katz have been given Finchley and Golders Green and Hendon to fight as “a sweetener” by a leadership surrounded by allegations – not least from the JLM – of failure to deal with anti-Semitism.
“Anyone who knows the Jewish community would not say that being given a Jewish constituency to fight was any sort of a sweetener”. In fact, says Newmark, it is the reverse: “We have six hustings arranged in the next few weeks and five of those are in synagogues. But I think it is a wonderful thing that the Jewish community have an active interest in politics. The suggestion that our fighting these seats is part of a grand plan bears no resemblance to reality.
“There are very sound reasons for having members of the community engaged across all the political parties. I don’t think that Jewish community issues, or issues to do with Israel, should be politically partisan.”
He admires Mike Freer for his support of the community, he says, “but the idea that because someone is a supporter of the community or Israel, that they should get a free pass in this election, is childish and silly. I have worked with Mike Freer on a whole range of communal issues in the past – and I expect I will again, after the election.”
And he doesn’t believe in “communalist” politics – he thinks people get elected to parliament to represent a whole range of issues, not just the “narrow interests” of one community.
Though Finchley and Golders Green is not his local party – he is a member of Hertsmere CLP – Newmark is particularly happy to have been chosen for the seat because Finchley and Golders Green was the first CLP to speak up against antisemitism in the Labour Party.
It was also, he says, one of the first to call for Ken Livingstone’s expulsion — an issue Newmark is urging gets reinvestigated – “and it was one of the first to call for a support for JLM’s move to change party rules on dealing with anti-Semitism. So I’m standing with the backing of the constituency party which has made its position clear and I have been overwhelmed with the level of support I have had.”
Newmark is all too aware of the toxicity of his leader, Jeremy Corbyn, among potential voters in the seat, who he says has failed to demonstrate “sufficient understanding of the nature of contemporary anti-Semitism” and a willingness to act on community concerns.
But, Newmark says, when he launched his campaign: “I talked about a range of local issues and my politics. I did not talk about Jeremy Corbyn. There’s only one Jeremy on the ballot paper in Finchley and Golders Green.”
Much to his amusement, an unknown admirer has set up a Facebook group called “Jeremy’s supporters” – but it is drawing traffic from Corbynistas. In fact, not only is there “only one Jeremy on the ballot paper” but there is no sign of Corbyn on Newmark’s campaign literature.
Asked directly if he wants Corbyn as prime minister, however, Newmark gives a politician’s answer: “As the prime minister said, this is a Brexit election that will determine our country’s future, not just for one parliament, but for the next 50 plus years and more.”
He insists Jewish voters still have many friends in Labour and says the party can still be trusted, particularly in light of the cuts proposed by the Tories that would harm the community.
Out on the doorsteps of East Finchley, on a long, tree-lined road, Newmark and his team energetically knock on doors and are received with a general welcome. A few residents promise Newmark their vote.One woman tells him – in remarks likely to be echoed countrywide – “For the first time in my life I don’t know how to vote.”