From multiple minyans to a shwarma at Sami’s, Hertsmere hosts the UK’s biggest Jewish community based on United Synagogue membership. It is traditionally an ultra-safe Conservative seat with the same MP for two decades before James Clappison stepped down at the 2015 General Election.
His Tory colleague Oliver Dowden took over, growing the party’s majority from 56 percent to 59.3 percent.
Dowden is standing again this time against Labour’s Fiona Smith and Joe Jordan from the Liberal Democrats.
Oliver Dowden – Conservative
It is often said that a week is a long time in politics, and in his first two years as MP for Hertsmere, Dowden has plenty to highlight.
He points to his support for Israel in Parliament, where he raised concern about the UK government support of the United Nations condemnation of Israeli settlements, as well as his backing for the opening of Yavneh Primary School, where he welcomed Prince Charles and the Chief Rabbi.
Dowden says: “I’m particularly proud that I was able to help them secure a new primary school and children are now able to enjoy their excellent education from four to 18.
“I was also particularly proud to host local Holocaust survivors from Hertsmere in Parliament, as part of work alongside the Holocaust Educational Trust.
“As that generation begins to pass away, it’s important that we never forget the lessons
Dowden is an officer of the Conservative Friends of Israel and chair of the All Party Parliamentary group on British Jews, and has used his role to oppose prejudice, anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli sentiment.
“This has included interventions at Prime Minister’s Questions, Foreign and Home Office Questions, as well as lobbying Ministers from the Prime Minister down on issues such as UN Security Council Resolution 2334 and the misdirection of British foreign aid,” he says.
If re-elected, Dowden says one of his areas of focus will be establishing an additional form at secondary level in the Hertsmere and north London area to help parents wanting their children to go to a Jewish school.
He adds: “The choice is between a prime minister with a track record of supporting the Jewish community, including through faith schools and additional funding for community security, as well as supporting the state of Israel, and Jeremy Corbyn, who has described Hamas and Hezbollah as ‘friends’ and failed to properly tackle anti-Semitism in his own party.”
Joe Jordan – Liberal Democrats
Software engineer Joe Jordan stood in Hertfordshire North at the last General Election, coming fourth behind UKIP, Labour and the Conservatives, who retained the seat.
Coming from a Catholic school background, he supports religious freedom and the quality of faith-based education, but would not back more faith schools.
He said: “By their nature, faith schools can be restrictive of students’ freedom of thought and exposure to other cultures and beliefs, both religious and secular, which I believe to be vital to a tolerant and open-minded society.”
Jordan has an affinity with the community, having lived in Hackney while doing a PhD in physics and witnessing the pervasiveness of anti-Semitism.
He says: “Anti-Semitism disgusts and shocks me. While working with the Liberal
Democrat Orthodox Jewish councillors in Hackney, I became aware of the prevalence
of this awful type of hate crime. There are practical steps that can be taken to reduce
the probability of such crimes: private security, CCTV, police presence, local planning,
and so on.
“Alone, however, these policies do not tackle the root cause of such crime – intolerance.
The Liberal Democrats are committed to working for community cohesion, reconciliation, and unity against hate at community and national levels, as our party’s history shows.”
Fiona Smith – Labour
Labour came second the last time round and grew its share by 3.7 points to 22.4 percent of the vote, but this was more at the expense of the Liberal Democrats.
However, the Labour Party’s candidate did not get off to the best of starts when a three-year-old tweet was spotted that appeared to show her backing an arms
embargo of Israel.
She has since said she was mortified by the message, which came as a result of clicking on an Amnesty campaign, and insists she has “no animus towards Israel”.
The former Essex police and Royal Air Force recruit now says she can battle against Dowden as well as helping restore the Jewish community’s faith in the Labour Party.
Smith says she would never have forgiven herself for not taking the opportunity to stand for Labour, explaining: “It’s my long-term aim to be an MP, combining community representation and activism, and public service following the police and military. I’ve long worked around human rights and have a strong sense of social justice. We also need more women, more young MPs and more representatives who have lived a life outside the Westminster bubble. ”
She already has strong links with the community, having interned at the Three Faiths Forum as well as joining the Jewish Labour Movement.
Smith acknowledges Labour does have an anti-Semitism problem, but insists it will be challenged and says it is better for members to tackle it together to make the party open to all.
Highlighting issues the party has had success in sticking up for the community, she says former London Mayor Ken Livingstone should have been expelled over his Hitler remarks and expresses regret that the Shami Chakrabarti inquiry failed to heed concerns.
Smith adds: “We can mend this relationship. Labour exists for working people, for all people, for the under-represented, for the many and the few. As socialists, we don’t discriminate, we don’t ignore.
“We are living through difficult times; tensions are running high across various communities, but I believe a unified Labour Party can reach out not just to Jews, but
every citizen. ”