The Tory incumbents in Britain’s two largest Jewish constituencies have triumphed again as their party confounded the polls to win a clear victory in the General Election.
Mike Freer won Finchley and Golders Green by more than 5,000 votes while Matthew Offord took neighbouring Hendon with a majority of just under 4,000, on a night when the possibility of a second Jewish premier for the UK was resoundingly snuffed out. It was also a night which saw Bradford MPs George Galloway and David Ward – two of Parliament’s most prominent Israel critics – kicked out of his office.
Despite a poll last month suggesting Jewish Labour rival Sarah Sackman had pulled ahead of Freer following a campaign that attracted widespread praise, the Tory vice-chair won 25,835 votes to Sackman’s 20,173 – seeing his majority fall by just 800.
Freer told the Jewish News his campaign was ratcheted up after that shock poll. “They threw the proverbial kitchen sink at us. Given that, I’m delighted to get a virtually untouched majority is fantastic. It’s humbling that people trust you to be their MP for another five years, I want to get cracking on the promises I’ve made.” He said he would work to increase housing stock and for a permanent breast screening unit at Finchley memorial hospital.
He also pledged to continue standing up “as a friend of Israel and the community, I’ll continue to stand up for what I believe in”.
David Cameron had warned that the ultra-marginal constituency of Hendon would be a measure of whether the Tories continued to govern – and so it proved as Offord defeated Andrew Dismore for the second consecutive election. Offord’s majority of nearly 4,000 – compared to just 106 in 2010 – was seen as not only a reflection of the extent of Tory successes nationwide but also by some observers as a result of Labour’s stance on Israel.
The contest’s two Jewish candidates, Raymond Shamash of UKIP and the Greens Ben Samuel put them in third and fifth respectively.
In what had been one of the country’s closest three-day marginals last time, Tulip Saddiq retained Glenda Jackson’s Hampstead, and Kilburn seat for Labour. Tory rival Simon Marcus was 1,138 votes back while Qulliam founder Maajid Nawaz was a dstant third. In a night of few positives for Labour, former NUS president Wes Streeting ended Lee Scott’s ten-year stint in the Commons by overturning a 5,000 majority to win by 589 in Ilford North.
Streeting, a close ally of the Jewish community, said he was “completely ecstatic and somewhat in shock”. He added: “We achieved a fantastic swing and with the best campaign team in the world. I can’t wait to represent the community I live in and have served as a councillor for. I owe my campaign team a drink or two for this sensational result against a challenging backdrop for Labour. I’m looking forward to some celebrations before getting to work on Monday.”
He also paid tribute to his Jewish rival as “a good man and a committed public servant. I wish Lee, Estelle and his family well for the future” The one-time student leader also said it was “frightening” that Scott was unable to attend some hustings due to the anti-Semitism and death threats that had faced during his time as an MP.
There were also victories outside London for Jewish shadow ministers Ivan Lewis in Bury South and for Luciana Berger in Liverpool Wavertree – with the later taking a 24,000 majority with one of the largest swings to Labour in the country. But the most senior Jewish member of the Coalition Government Lynne Featherstone was among a host of leading Lib Dem figures to lose their seats during a night which Nick Clegg said would have consequences for his party and himself.
Alan Mendoza finished second in Brent Central. Hannah David narrowly failed to unseat Shadow Midde East minister Gareth Thomas in Harrow West but Bob Blackman confounded the polls by winning Harrow East by more than 4,700 votes over Uma Kamaran.
There were also celebrations for Harlow MP Robert Halfon, noted in the last Parliament for his campaigning successes, after he nearly doubled his majority to over 8,000.
“I’m hugely grateful to the people of Harlow,” he said. “I love my constituency – I fight for it, champion jobs and work to protect the NHS. It’s been a hard slog but I’m really honoured the residents of Harlow put their trust in me again.” Looking at the national picture, he said he had anticipated a better performance for the Conservatives than the polls forecast “when people crossed the box and thought what the Conservatives have done for the economy.”
After six weeks of 16 hour days as a minimum, he told the Jewish News he couldn’t “wait to wake up like a normal person on Saturday”.
Amid eye-watering swings of up to 35 percent to the Scottish National Party which left them with almost every available seat, Scottish Labour chief Jim Murphy’s demise will be particularly felt by the community. One of Israel’s greatest allies in Parliament, he used a gracious losers speech to refer to the country’s Jewish and Muslim communities.