Keir Starmer leads tributes to veteran activist Lawrie Nerva, who dies aged 98
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Keir Starmer leads tributes to veteran activist Lawrie Nerva, who dies aged 98

Party leader says the stalwart of the Jewish Labour Movement was a 'member and activist since the days of Clem Attlee', as communal leaders pay respects to the campaigner

Lawrie Nerva with wife Ruby, (left) Dame Louise Ellman and Adrian Cohen (Credit: Adrian Cohen)
Lawrie Nerva with wife Ruby, (left) Dame Louise Ellman and Adrian Cohen (Credit: Adrian Cohen)

Sir Keir Starmer has led heartfelt tributes to veteran left-wing campaigner Lawrie Nerva, who has died aged 98.

The Labour leader said he was  “deeply saddened” to hear of his passing, calling him “a Labour member and activist since the days of Clem Attlee”.

Lawrie, who had a distinguished career as a local councillor in Brent, was a long-serving chair of the Jewish Labour Movement. In recent years, he became a vocal critic of Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of antisemitism claims in the party, but refused to leave.

His son Neil, who is himself a Brent Labour councillor, announced the “very sad news” on Saturday, saying his father “led an amazing life.”

He is survived by his wife Ruby, and two children, Neil and Anne Nerva.

The Jewish Labour Movement it was “saddened” its “former Chair and long-serving activist passed away earlier today.  He was a rock of our Movement, keeping the flame of Poale Zion [JLM’s former name] alive for many years.”

Its national secretary, Peter Mason, called Lawrie a “fixture of our movement, leading us over such a long period, and overseeing our modernisation from Poale Zion to JLM. His memory will be a blessing to generations of activists who take forward what he built and cherished.”  JLM’s chair, Mike Katz  reflected on various roles Nerva held, saying he was “totally dedicated, always enthusiastic, he was a real mensch.”

Dame Louise Ellman, former Labour MP told Jewish News: “He had that rare ability to relate easily to people of all ages and backgrounds, always ready to listen to younger people . And in return they benefitted from his wisdom.

“Lawrie’s work in Poale Zion, together with Judith Bara who was secretary, enabled Labour Zionism’s voice to be heard in very challenging times when the left started to turn against Zionism.” Read more here.

As well as being a local councillor, Nerva was active in the Jewish community, and represented Mosaic Liberal Synagogue (formerly Middlesex New Synagogue) in Harrow, on the Board of Deputies.

MP for Harrow West, Gareth Thomas said he was a “wonderful man – great company & a lion for Labour”.

Meanwhile Marie van der Zyl, President of the Board said she was “so sorry to hear of the passing of Lawrie Nerva. His contribution to the community was outstanding.”

Respects were from across the party, with London mayor Sadiq Khan saying the Nerva “family are in my thoughts”, while the chair of Labour Friends of Israel (LFI), and ex head of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East, Richard Burden, also paid tribute.

Lay chair of LFI Adrian Cohen, said: “Lawrie was imbued with the virtues of the old left and a sense of civic duty. He believed passionately in the importance of making a practical difference to people’s lives”. Burden, a former Labour MP and shadow minister responded to Lawrie’s son Neil, saying he was “sorry to hear your news” and that his “thoughts are with you and your family”.

Nick Thomas-Symonds MP, shadow Home Secretary reflected on having “served for many years in the Bevan Society” alongside Nerva.  Lawrie was a passionate advocate against injustice; a lovely, warm person; and always sparkling company”, he said.

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