Analysis

10 contests for Israel supporters to watch in the UK’s July 4 general election

High-flying young Jewish candidates, pro-Palestinian activists and a former Labour leader booted from his party vie for votes ahead of the polls

Robert Philpot

Robert Philpot is a writer and journalist. He is the former editor of Progress magazine and the author of “Margaret Thatcher: The Honorary Jew.”

Britain's Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty launch the Conservatives' general election manifesto in Silverstone, England, on June 11, 2024. (Benjamin Cremel, Pool Photo via AP)
Britain's Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty launch the Conservatives' general election manifesto in Silverstone, England, on June 11, 2024. (Benjamin Cremel, Pool Photo via AP)

LONDON — For Britain’s governing Conservative Party, things could barely be bleaker.

With the July 4 general election just three weeks away, the BBC’s poll tracker has the opposition Labour Party 20 points ahead.

The first of pollster YouGov’s sophisticated MRP projections shows Labour leader Keir Starmer winning a parliamentary majority of close to 200 — a landslide greater than that achieved by Tony Blair in 1997 or Margaret Thatcher in 1983 — while the Conservatives fear being reduced to their lowest representation in the House of Commons since 1906.

Amid this potential electoral tsunami, young Labour candidates are hoping to take seats with a strong Jewish vote; senior Jewish Tories are predicted to be swept away in a red Labour wave; and, with conflict raging in the Middle East, anti-Zionist and pro-Israel candidates from all parties are vying for the electorate’s votes.

So which contests might Jewish observers and supporters of Israel want to look out for as the campaign enters its final stretch?

‘Purge of the left’

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s decision to call a snap election — he was widely expected to wait until the autumn — allowed the Labour leadership to remove some of its hard-left critics. In Chingford and Woodford Green, a constituency in northeast London currently held by former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, Labour chose to deselect its candidate, Faiza Shaheen, after she allegedly liked social media posts downplaying antisemitism. In response, Shaheen — known as the “Chingford Corbynite” — said Labour was targeting “socialists [and] anti-imperialists who want to speak out on Palestine.” She’s now quit Labour to run as an independent. The seat is highly marginal and is projected to fall to Labour. The question is: Will Shaheen’s candidacy split the opposition vote and allow the Tories to cling on?

Jeremy Corbyn and Faiza Shaheen address a gathering during a visit to Chingford in east London on September 28, 2019. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP)

Independence day

Shaheen isn’t the only fierce critic of Israel mounting a high-profile independent candidacy. Having been ditched by the party he led to a historic defeat less than five years ago, Jeremy Corbyn is hoping to retain his north London seat of Islington. His decision has won plaudits from the hard left, which is urging him to “put Palestine front and center.” At his campaign launch, commentators noted, Corbyn listed his priorities as “Palestine, poverty and racism.” Despite the antisemitism scandal which swirled around his leadership — and led to him being booted from the parliamentary party — the former Labour leader has a strong base of local support. But how much of the 26,000-majority he clocked up in 2019 was a personal endorsement of his brand of far-left populism, and how much was voter loyalty to the Labour Party in a seat the party has won repeatedly since the 1930s, probably won’t be apparent until after the polls close on July 4.

In areas with large Muslim populations — such as Birmingham, Britain’s second biggest city — Starmer’s support for Israel after October 7 is also giving his party electoral headaches. Independent Akhmed Yakoob, who took third place in the contest for the West Midlands regional mayoralty in May, is running in Birmingham Ladywood — one of Labour’s safest seats where over four in 10 voters are Muslim. His message — “for Gaza,” as all his leaflets put it — is attracting attention and giving Labour’s Shabana Mahmoud, a member of Starmer’s Shadow Cabinet, a run for her money. Even as Labour glides to victory nationally, it could thus be in for some distinctly uncomfortable local contests.

Another Shadow Cabinet minister being targeted by independent pro-Palestinian campaigners is rising star Wes Streeting in the east London seat of Ilford North — home to both a large Muslim and Jewish vote. That campaign has reportedly been hit by infighting and Streeting, a popular local MP, is likely to see off the challenge.

Pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel protesters hold banners and placards ahead of a march in support of Gaza, in London, April 27, 2024. (AP/Thomas Krych)

‘Gaza George Galloway’

Labour’s fears about the domestic political fallout from the war in Gaza were heightened in February when the virulently anti-Israel former Labour MP, George Galloway, won the northwest England constituency of Rochdale in a special election. Galloway, who was kicked out of the Labour Party under Blair and is now leader of the Workers’ Party of Britain, will hope Rochdale’s strong Muslim vote — 27% of voters in the district are Muslims — will see him to victory again. As he did in February, Galloway is seeking to turn the battle into a referendum on Labour’s position on the war. Campaign literature then described him as “Gaza George Galloway” and he recently described Gaza as “the moral centre of the world right now.” However, Galloway will have more of a fight on his hands this time: In February, Labour was forced to disown its candidate after he was revealed to have made antisemitic remarks following the October 7 attacks. The party has picked a new candidate, prominent journalist Paul Waugh, and will hope to send Galloway packing.

George Galloway, center, holds a rally at his Rochdale headquarters after being declared winner of the Rochdale by-election, which was triggered after the death of Labour Party’s member of parliament Tony Lloyd, in Rochdale, England, February 29, 2024. (Peter Byrne/PA via AP)

‘The Bagel Belt’

Starmer’s road to Downing Street will almost certainly pass through north London’s “Bagel Belt,” which includes Finchley and Golders Green — where around one in five voters, the highest concentration in the country, is Jewish — as well as neighboring Hendon and Chipping Barnet. All three seats are marginal and held by the Tories. Once represented by Margaret Thatcher, Finchley was captured by Labour in 1997 before switching back to the Conservatives when the country swung to the right in 2010. The Labour antisemitism scandal boosted the Tory majority in 2019 to over 6,500 and saw Corbyn’s party pushed into third place by the centrist Liberal Democrats (represented by Luciana Berger, a Jewish Labour MP who quit — but has since rejoined — the party). But the popular Tory sitting MP, Mike Freer, is standing down and Labour’s Sarah Sackman, a super-smart attorney and leading light in the Jewish Labour Movement, should easily take the seat.

Then-independent MP Luciana Berger leaves Milbank Studios near Parliament in London on February 21, 2019. (Tolga Akmen/AFP)

Another highly accomplished Jewish candidate, David Pinto-Duschinsky, should wrest Hendon from the Tories’ Matthew Offord for Labour. Its political history mirrors that of Finchley: Represented by the strongly pro-Israel Andrew Dismore during the Blair-Brown governments, Labour lost the seat in 2010. Pinto-Duschinsky was an adviser in the last Labour government and is the son of Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, a Holocaust survivor and eminent academic.

Neighboring Chipping Barnet has never elected a Labour MP in the seat’s 50-year history — although the Blair landslide nearly saw it switch — but the incumbent Tory MP, former cabinet minister Theresa Villiers, is defending a wafer-thin majority of just over 1,000 votes. Like Offord, Villiers is a staunch ally of the Jewish state. Labour’s Dan Tomlinson, a former economist at the Treasury, isn’t Jewish but has visited Israel — traveling to Kibbutz Kfar Aza just weeks before the October 7 Hamas atrocities — and spoken out strongly against the surge in antisemitism.

Giant slayer?

Home to one of the largest Jewish populations outside of London, Hertsmere is represented by Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden. The Tories’ majority of over 21,000 should make this a safe seat. But YouGov shows Labour just six points behind. The party has picked Josh Tapper, a Jewish star of the popular reality TV show Googlebox. After fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe, Tapper’s great-great-grandfather opened Bloom’s kosher restaurant in the East End, which has been passed down through generations.

“I’m from this community — it taught me to work hard, stand up for others, give back and fight for what you believe in,” Tapper has said of his Jewish heritage. In an interview with the Jewish Chronicle, Tapper said that he’s “working hard every day” to rebuild the trust of the community in Labour which was shattered by the Corbyn years. But, he says, thanks to Starmer’s efforts to change the Labour Party, “people are willing to have that conversation.”

Members of the shadow cabinet listen as Britain’s Labour Party leader Keir Starmer speaks on stage at the launch of the Labour Party’s 2024 general election manifesto in Manchester, England, June 13, 2024. The election will take place on July 4. (AP/Jon Super)

Top scalp

Labour will also be working hard to unseat the most senior Jewish member of the government, Defense Secretary Grant Shapps. He has held his commuter-belt Welwyn Hatfield seat since 2005 and is currently defending a majority of nearly 11,000. However, YouGov shows Labour easily taking the seat. If Shapps falls and Labour wins nationally, the new highest-ranking Jew in the government is likely to be Ed Miliband. Miliband, who served as a cabinet minister in the last Labour government, is Starmer’s climate change secretary. On the “soft left” of the party, Miliband led Labour until its heavy defeat in the 2015 election. He proved lukewarm in his support for Israel during the 2014 Gaza War and, critics say, laid the groundwork for Corbyn’s election as leader in 2015. Miliband’s Doncaster North seat is part of the “red wall” — once-staunchly Labour constituencies in the Midlands and north of England which began to shift to the Tories after the 2016 Brexit referendum — but, despite seeing his majority fall sharply in 2019, the former Labour leader is a shoo-in for re-election.

Britain’s Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Defence leaves after attending a cabinet meeting in Downing Street in London, May 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

New faces

Makerfield in Greater Manchester was also once one of the safest Labour seats in the country. The party narrowly held on in 2019 but, with the collapse in Tory support, expect Josh Simons, one of a series of new Jewish faces expected on the Labour benches, to easily hold the seat. With a Harvard doctorate, Simons is a high-flyer who led the pro-Starmer Labour Together think tank. Close to the Labour leader, he’s likely to rise quickly in the new government.

So, too, will Georgia Gould. The daughter of Phillip Gould, a strategist who was one of Blair’s top aides, and Gail Rebuck, a Labour member of the House of Lords and top publishing executive. Gould has been picked by the party to defend Queen’s Park and Maida Vale, a newly created west London seat which it is projected to easily win. Gould, a youthful Jewish leader of London’s Camden council, has spoken of her pride in “the huge contribution Judaism has made to social justice movements.”

Another former London local authority running for Labour is Damien Egan. Egan, who converted to Judaism in 2018 two years after meeting his Israeli husband Yossi Felberbaum, won a stunning special election victory in February. He’ll be defending his Bristol North East constituency and polls show a comfortable win.

Labour candidate Damien Egan gives a speech after being declared MP for Kingswood, after being declared winner in the Kingswood byelection, at the Thornbury Leisure Centre, Gloucestershire, February 16, 2024. (Ben Birchall//PA via AP)

Green tide?

Labour may have a less enjoyable night in Bristol Central, another constituency in southwest England’s biggest city, where the Green party is hoping to pick up its second seat in the House of Commons. The left-wing Greens picked up a record number of seats in local authority elections in May, with the party’s fierce criticism of Israel resonating in some of Labour’s urban liberal and Muslim strongholds. But an influx of hard-left Corbynites disillusioned with Starmer’s centrism and support for Israel has brought with it a string of negative headlines about antisemitism in the party. The Greens say they’re taking action and the party’s Jewish deputy leader, Zack Polanski, has accused opponents of dirty tricks. Labour is far ahead enough in the polls that it can probably ignore defections to the Greens this time, but the party could prove a thorn in Starmer’s side when his government hits political rocky waters.

He believes in Israel

Luke Akehurst, director of the We Believe in Israel advocacy group. (Courtesy)

A notable likely addition to the pro-Israel ranks in parliament could be Luke Akehurst, who Labour has picked to defend the northeast England seat of North Durham (another safe seat where the Tories sharply cut Labour’s once-impregnable majority in 2019 but which is now firmly in Starmer’s column). Akehurst is a member of the party’s governing National Executive Committee and has played a leading role in helping moderates regain control after the hard-left takeover during Corbyn’s leadership. His strong organizational skills haven’t just been used on behalf of the Labour Party. Until he was selected for North Durham late last month, Akehurst ran We Believe In Israel, a grassroots pressure group which has gone from strength to strength on his watch.

Artists display padlocks they have decorated on the Lovelock Hostage Bridge at JW3, in London, June 5, 2024. (AP/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Burying the Tories

Another strongly pro-Israel voice on the Labour benches who is likely to be returned to parliament is Christian Wakeford. Wakeford narrowly snatched the seat of Bury South, a seat in Greater Manchester with a large Jewish community, from Labour for the Tories in 2019. (His predecessor, Jewish Labour minister Ivan Lewis, quit the party over antisemitism in 2018 and later urged voters to back Wakeford). But in early 2022, Wakeford’s anger over former prime minister Boris Johnson’s rule-breaking during the pandemic led him to defect to Labour — the first sitting Tory MP to do so in 15 years. Wakeford subsequently joined Labour Friends of Israel, became a vice-chair of the group, and visited the Jewish state in 2023 before joining a “solidarity delegation” that met with President Isaac Herzog in January.

However these individual contests pan out, with Labour expected to make sweeping gains and a record number of Conservative MPs staring down the barrel of defeat — or opting to jump before they’re pushed — one thing is for sure: There will be lots of new faces on the House of Commons’ famous green benches after July 4.

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