15 DECEMBER 1984, Page 13

Labour loses the Jews

Robert Silver

Mr Ken Livingstone's remark, made to a paper published by the Israeli Labour Federation, that the leader of the Board of Deputies of British Jews were 'reactionaries and neo-Fascists', has been Widely publicised in the British press this week. The front page of the Spectator of 24 November bore the headline: 'Mrs Thatch- er chooses the Jews'. Inside, Alan Watkins drew attention to the Member for Finchley's predilection. To what extent do such observations reflect a real political trend?

As a patron, of course, Mrs Thatcher has rivals — including Harold Wilson and Eternal Providence. Her Jewish associates are a mixed bag. Sir Keith Joseph, whose father was a baronet, hardly conforms to Watkins's sketch of the self-made man. Sir Alfred Sherman is an ex-communist. Nigel Lawson doesn't practise Judaism, married a gentile and christened his daughter. Lord Young is a businessman with an active social conscience — not a committed party Politician. Mostly, they formed their poli- tical identities a generation or more ago. Jewish Conservatives have, historically, been an odd breed — since Disraeli, an early Zionist and baptised as an Anglican. Sometimes they convert or do not describe themselves as Jewish — like two current MPs, Robert Adley and Mark Wolfson. Alternatively, if they're voters, often they deny that they're Conservatives — a point Which Geoffrey Alderman, the doyen of Anglo-Jewish psephologists, has identi- fied.

Oddities or not, they are becoming more frequent. In 1966, there were 40 Jewish MPs, 38 of them Labour. At its peak, after the October general election in 1974, there ,Were 46 Jewish members of the House of Commons — 35 Labour, ten Conservative and one Liberal (Clement Freud): By 1983, the distribution had been radically reversed. There were 29 Jewish MPs — 17 of them Conservative. The tally of Roman hand, is roughly similar. On the other nand, the Anglo-Jewish community accounts for 0.7 per cent of the population Which suggests that it is highly politi- cised. Evidence of membership of political parties is lacking, but Alderman has con- ducted well-researched surveys of Jewish

oters in three constituencies — Ilford North, Hendon North and Finchley. Six Polls Indicate a significant rightward shift.

1le percentage of voters who said that they had voted or would vote Conservative Varied between 53 and 68— a loyalty ratio markedly higher than the wider elector- ate s, even in these Tory-held seats (see Geoffrey Alderman's book, The Jewish ommunity and British Politics, published last year). Comprehensive research hasn't been undertaken, so we don't know whether Jews are disproportionately less likely to vote Conservative than other members of their social class.

No one has yet analysed the reasons for the shift — and it is a shift, given evidence of Jewish voting behaviour at the 1945 general election. There are obvious par- allels between movements in this country and trends abroad — notably the United States, France and, of course, Israel. Events in the Middle East have played a part in the Anglo-Jewish community's sense of estrangement from Labour. Its attitude to the Middle East between 1945 and 1956 — first Bevin, then Suez — created a sense of distance. Harold Wil- son's friendship with leading members of the community and sympathy for Zionism temporarily reduced the gap. Recent events have increased it. Recent Labour Party conferences have seen the passage of pro-Palestinian resolutions. The party is tainted by association with the new Left, where there has recently been disturbing evidence of a revival of anti-semitic motifs in anti-Zionist literature. Some Jews be- lieve that the Militant Tendency has a hit-list of Jewish Labour MPs for reselec- tion — Reg Freeson and Stanley Clinton- Davis, before the last election, and Gerald Kaufman and John Silkin now.

Suburbanisation and upward social mobility have clearly been a factor. Many Jews were affluent before the war, but it wasn't accompanied by social acceptance — probably the critical element in the formation of political identity. Alderman has identified middle-class Jewish voters with working-class roots who call them- selves Conservative as a badge of their middle-class status. This is the classic

'embourgeoisement' thesis. Older working-class or lower-middle-class voters appear to remain loyal to Labour — for example, in Hackney. The pressure group Labour Friends of Israel attracts a largely middle-aged audience to its meetings. It seems that younger professionals from working-class or socialist family back- grounds don't like the present Labour Party, can't bring themselves to vote Con- servative and back the Alliance — like a series of Jewish Labour politicians who defected (Lord Dell, Lord Diamond, Neville Sandelson, Edward Lyons, David Ginsburg). A residual Jewish intelligentsia — to some extent cut off from the main body of the community — clings to its left-wing commitments; Poale Zion, Labour's Zionist affiliate, continues to have a paper membership of 2,000.

More than half the working members of the Jewish community are self-employed, an extraordinary proportion. It is likely that many of them vote Conservative for tax reasons and because they dislike state regulations. Jewish loyalties, though, are something of an enigma. Watkins cites a member of Mrs 'Thatcher's entourage: 'Simple. No mystery at all. They work jolly hard. There's no nonsense about them. Most of them have made their own way. Broadly, they share her approach to life.' Yet other self-propelled, hard-working Jewish businessmen joined the Labour Party when it was more sympathetic. There continue to be socialist Jewish millionaires — Robert Maxwell, Lord Lever, Sir Sig- mund Sternberg — but there are fewer of them around, and they don't take their allegiance for granted. Hard work doesn't of itself imply loyalty to the capitalist ethic — and two outstanding Jewish Labour MPs, at the moment, Greville Janner and Gerald Kaufman, have a reputation for working astonishingly hard. Events in the Middle East and trends at home can be brought together in a single thesis. Zion- ism, once part of a universal world- outlook, linked to socialism and sympathy for other oppressed peoples, has been realised. With the establishment of the state of Israel, Jewish voters, who have moved into the suburbs, have abandoned universal ideals in favour of local attach- ments — homes, businesses, synagogues, charities.

Two well-publicised recent departures from the Labour Party — by Eric Moon- man and Philip Kleinman — confirm the trend. Eric Moonman, a former MP, re- signed, taking exception to Michael Meacher's circular on the political affilia- tions of members of area health author- ities. Philip Kleinman, a journalist, was expelled when he published a newspaper article which attacked the Labour MP for Islington North, Jeremy Corbyn, who sup- ported the PLO and appeared to support the IRA. In both cases, they were reacting to developments in the Labour Party which, by the standards of democratic socialism, weren't quite kosher. At its best, the Anglo-Jewish community is a sensitive barometer of enlightened liberal attitudes. If Labour wants to regain its support, it will have to show a clearer commitment to traditional parliamentary values.