OPINION: Vote according to your finer instincts

OPINION: Vote according to your finer instincts

Sarah Sackman (Blake Ezra Photography Ltd. 2013.)
Sarah Sackman (Blake Ezra Photography Ltd. 2013.)
Sarah Sackman
Sarah Sackman

By Sarah Sackman, Labour Party candidate for Finchley and Golders Green

Growing up, my political beliefs were strongly informed by the values of the community in which I was raised.

Whether through the voluntarism and reciprocity I observed at our synagogue, Norrice Lea, the acts of tzedakah I saw from the Jewish charities who supported my elderly grandmother, or the love of learning and idealism of our youth movements and organisations, such as Limmud, being Jewish was integral in shaping my world view.

Sitting around my grandparents’ dinner table, my sisters and I had drummed into us the words of Rabbi Hillel in Pirkeh Avot: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I?” Few lines capture better the values of self-reliance and a concern for the collective that characterise our community.

And when I got to university and became more politically engaged, I was co-president of the Jewish Society and active in the university’s Labour club. I saw no contradiction between the two.

People don’t just vote according to their income, or even for what’s best for them individually. The people I meet are just as concerned with what’s best for their family and the wider community.

And there are genuinely shared values across all the communities. Even in more affluent parts of what is a very mixed constituency, the people I meet on the doorstep tell me: ‘We’re worried about our children struggling to find decent jobs’. They say: ‘We’re concerned about how we treat the elderly in this country and the fact that those who care for them are poorly paid’ and ‘We worry about how we treat the vulnerable, the weak, the sick and those less fortunate’.

Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone recently said Jews, who used to vote Labour, vote Tory since they became rich, but the fact is that it is impossible to generalise about the way Jewish people vote.

Yes, Mrs Thatcher had Jewish support when she was the local MP. But Finchley and Golders Green had a Labour MP between 1997 and 2010, with the backing of thousands of Jewish voters.

Politics is more than just a battleground between different income groups over resources. It’s a battleground between competing ideas and philosophies.

We Jews relish a good argument. An argument about what kind of country we should live in and the values of the people who make decisions on our behalf. An argument in which anyone, no matter their religion or income bracket, is welcome to join on one side or another.

It’s a role of politicians to propose and articulate those arguments. Since becoming a candidate, I’ve spoken at business breakfasts, a madrasa and on student radio with the aim of communicating a positive vision that the Labour Party stands for.

Speaking to sixth formers at Hasmonean School or youth groups at New North London Synagogue, I’ve been struck by how politically engaged young people across our diverse community are. They can’t wait to challenge and debate with me, whether we’re discussing increases in the minimum wage, tackling the inequality that has seen the arrival of food banks in Finchley or how we can support an intelligent immigration debate.

What we all agree on is that being Jewish does not tell us which party to vote for, but it does demand that we take an interest in the issues affecting wider society.

Politics is at its best when it appeals to the best instincts of and reaches across all communities.

The campaigns I’ve been involved in locally are doing exactly that: helping save Friern Barnet library from closure and helping prevent cuts to playschemes for disabled children at Mapledown School in Cricklewood. These services are a vital part of the lives of people from very different backgrounds who live in the same community.

More and more people are agreeing with our vision, regardless of what they earn, where they worship, who their friends are or what kind of property they live in. I know we won’t convince everyone, but we should not write off sections of the electorate based on assumptions about people’s perceived wealth.

We understand people don’t just vote according to how their community does and they don’t just vote according to the size of their wallets.

They vote based on their values and according to the kind of society in which they want to live.

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