The centre ground of British politics appeared to dissolve under the Government’s Brexit stance in the House of Commons on Wednesday, fuelling expectations of a Jewish “exodus” to the Liberal Democrats in the next election.
Former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a Jewish Conservative politician, said Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s hard-nose no-deal Brexit could nullify the electoral threat from Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party, but warned that this might come at a cost.
“They need to give equal attention to people – whatever their background, whether they’re Jewish or not – who disagree with Boris Johnson’s views on Brexit and who will never vote for [Jeremy] Corbyn,” he said.
“In current circumstances, being realistic, some relatively moderate people will vote for the Liberal Democrats as a nice half-way house, which means they don’t have to vote for Corbyn or Johnson, both of whom some of them will disapprove of.
“So yes, that will happen, and in the south and west of the country, the candidates who usually come second to the Conservatives are Liberal Democrats.”
Polls have repeatedly shown that the majority of British Jewish voters in recent UK general elections have voted Conservative, but Johnson’s no-deal Brexit strategy has alienated Tory voters who prefer to retain a close working relationship with the EU.
Lib Dem peer Lord Monroe Palmer agreed that there could be an “exodus” of British Jewish voters towards his party in any general election later this year.
“We expect substantial numbers of Jewish community members not to support Corbyn and we expect that many have now decided to vote Liberal Democrat,” he said. “But a week is a long time in politics. Watch this space.”
Jewish historian Sir Simon Schama described the week’s tumultuous events as “a kind of weird British revolutionary moment, minus the ferocious Calvinism of Oliver Cromwell”.
Describing the shifting political sands, he said: “It feels like the Gladstone ‘Home Rule’ movement, it feels like 1846 and the Repeal of the Corn Laws. It feels like a time when these parties that we’ve been so used to since the war, with these adamantine structures, could melt and dissolve and become something else.”