Tuesday’s pre-election hustings in Finchley and Golders Green proved to be the perfect opportunity to gauge the mood of the community.
Aside from talk of tax and treaties, this was a nostalgic event, because it was the last hurrah of Ivy House, the host venue and London Jewish Cultural Centre’s home for the past few decades, the scene of many a fine evening over the years. We all hoped its final bow would be full of bellowing, bluster and debate. This being the Jewish community, a finger-jabbing, fist pumping, vein bulging broyges would only have been right and proper.
All the ingredients were there: packed crowd, closely-fought seat, feisty chair (the former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie) and perfect timing, with only days to go before the vote. Conservative MP Mike Freer, presumed by Tory high command to be a shoe-in, isn’t. Labour’s Jewish 30-year-old challenger Sarah Sackman is breathing down his neck. Anticipation was evident by the fact that it was only five minutes late in starting. The whistle blew, and they were off…
There were questions on the economy (could Labour be trusted), Europe (could Cameron deliver), the Occupy movement (should Sackman have shown support), Right to Buy, Scotland, tax avoidance and many other issues. It was an hour gone before someone felt they really ought to ask about Israel.
Freer, whose party leader is bullet-proof on the Jewish state, gentlemanly acknowledged that both he and his rival were similarly supportive on Israel.
The difference, he said, to very loud applause, was that Miliband would recognise Palestine prematurely. It touched on one of the most interesting elements to this campaign.
Many members of the the Jewish community, who also swayed towards the Tories at the last election, have not been moved by the prospect of the first Jewish prime minister (ever/since Disraeli – delete as applicable). Why? Because he criticised Israel over Gaza and because he whipped his MPs on the vote on Palestine. Such is the community’s protection of Israel that these actions, on the evidence of Tuesday night, mean that he is no longer seen by sections of the community as a friend on this issue.
His supporters say that, on many basic measures of support, there is little to separate the main parties, particularly on boycotts, where Miliband has maintained his unequivocal opposition despite unions’ support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
It’s unclear whether that message will carry weight. It’s also unclear whether the different stance taken by Labour’s candidates in Finchley and Hendon – constituencies with the largest Jewish electorates – to the party leadership over the Palestine vote will be enough to sway voters uncertain of Miliband’s approach.
Either way, it was clear that Israel is far from the only issue on which community members will be making up their minds next week. Whatever the outcome, it seems there will be another coalition. If Cameron’s posse of Tory, UKIP and DUP politicians cannot command the confidence of the House, then the country will indeed have its (first/second – delete as applicable) Jewish prime minister, propped up by Lib Dems like David Ward and left-leaners from Wales, Scotland and the Israel-free zone of Bradford.
What he does with them, what sway they hold and whether it takes as long as it does in Israel to agree all this is anyone’s guess.