Britain’s’ Labour Party suffered heavy losses in council elections in Jewish areas following widespread criticism of leader Jeremy Corbyn and his perceived failure to deal with anti-Semitism within his party.
Labour, whose leadership many British Jews believe is ignoring or encouraging the proliferation of anti-Semitism in its ranks, failed in Thursday’s elections to win from the Conservatives control of the council of Barnet, which is a northern borough of London where 14 percent of the population is Jewish. The council represents areas such as Golders Green, Hendon and Edgware.
Labour has never controlled Barnet Council since the borough’s creation as a municipal unit in 1964, but in West Hendon, which is an area of Barnet, and which the party had held for nearly 40 years, all three Labour candidates lost to Conservative rivals.
Barry Rawlings, Labour leader in Barnet, admitted the losses were because his party had not dealt with anti-Semitism properly. “It wasn’t because they disagreed with our manifesto, but because they felt the Labour Party has failed to deal with anti-Semitism at a national level. They are right,” he told the Daily Mail.
Rawlings vowed to tackle anti-Semitism and remove it from his party.
“I pledge that Barnet Labour will be a beacon to the rest of the Labour Party in tackling and defeating this anti-Semitism virus that has infected our party,” he said. “For me dealing with anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and all forms of hate is not an electoral issue, win or lose, it’s a moral responsibility that defines who we are as a party.”
Defeated Labour councilor Adam Langleben told the Guardian that Jews did not want to support the Labour Party even though they may have broadly agreed with its policies.
“Every Jewish Labour household we visited, people said, ‘Not this time,'” he said. “Activists were being told, ‘This is a racist party, an anti-Semitic party’, doors were slammed in their faces.”
The failures in Barnet followed street protests by Jews against Corbyn, who became Labour leader in 2015. Corbyn in 2009 called Hezbollah operatives his “friends” and Hamas an organization “dedicated towards the good of the Palestinian people and bringing about peace and social justice.”
He also defended an artist who drew a mural depicting Jewish men playing monopoly on the backs of black men.
He has expressed regret for these statements and vowed to kick out anti-Semites from Labour, but the Board of Deputies of British Jews dismissed these pledges as lip service, citing multiple failures to act on them and the absence of guidelines defining anti-Semitic speech.
The street protests were unprecedented and highlighted a deep crisis in relations between representatives of British Jewry and the party that used to be many of their constituents’ political home.
The Conservatives also appeared to have benefited in Thursday’s votes from the collapse of the right-wing UK Independence Party (UKIP), which was instrumental in the Brexit vote but has since lost its way.
With results in early Friday from 99 of the 150 English councils that were holding elections, the Conservatives had a net loss of two seats, Labour had a net gain of 37 and the Liberal Democrats were up 40. UKIP was down 92.
Despite Labour’s gain, it had been expected to do better, and analysts said it had little to celebrate.
This is because in local elections in Britain, the party that’s in national government usually loses seats as voters views at an opportunity to kick the party in national power. “For Labour to barely be ahead of the Tories in overall net gains is poor,” Robert Hutton, British political reporter for Bloomberg News, wrote.
UKIP general secretary Paul Oakley denied his party was all but over, bizarrely comparing it to the Black Death plague which wiped out as much as a third of Europe’s population in the 14th century.
“Think of the Black Death in the Middle Ages. It comes along and it causes disruption and then it goes dormant, and that’s exactly what we are going to do,” he told BBC radio.
“Our time isn’t finished because Brexit is being betrayed.”