Eric Pickles
Eric Pickles

How did Corbyn’s comments on Hamas not put off voters?

As Big Ben’s chime rang out at 10pm last Thursday, the BBC’s General Election exit poll was revealed. A possible hung Parliament. Impossible, screamed the Conservatives and, I’m sure, plenty in the Labour Party.

Going into election day, Conservative strategists and candidates had still expected a successful night. Instead, the British public delivered another political earthquake – the third in as many years. No one had foreseen this.

And yet, the youth vote had quietly turned out in huge numbers. The Ukip vote split as much towards the Labour Party as it did the Conservatives. A sizeable number of middle England had left the Conservatives and voted Labour to send a signal over their displeasure at Brexit. This silent storm had somehow gone under the radar of every political commentator.

It was, quite simply, extraordinary. Just consider that Theresa May had received more votes than Tony Blair during his 1997 landslide win. Many Conservative candidates lost despite increasing their vote by several thousand.

I myself had seen the strength of support for the Conservative Party on doorsteps from South Wales to the south coast of England and there was a genuine warmth for Theresa May.

Much has been made of the Conservative resurgence in Scotland, spearheaded by Ruth Davidson. Important though this is, commentators ought also to be looking at north London.

Were it not for the Jewish community’s strong support for Conservative candidates in north London, then Comrade Corbyn could well be in No 10 right now. The support prevented a near whitewash of the Conservatives in London. Steadfast friends of Israel and the Jewish community – Bob Blackman, Mike Freer, Matthew Offord and Theresa Villiers – held on narrowly thanks to support from Jewish constituents. Sadly, CFI officer David Burrowes lost in Enfield Southgate.

A Jewish Chronicle pre-election poll showed 77 percent of British Jews would vote Conservative. It’s only with hindsight that one can appreciate the significance of this. The UK’s Jewish community has a proud history of engaging in politics and this election offered a timely reminder of the importance of its voice.

Worryingly, it seems Jeremy Corbyn’s relationships with hardline and extremist groups, including Hamas and Hezbollah, simply didn’t concern British voters in a way one would have foreseen. It seldom came up on doorsteps. That this would fail to resonate at a time when Britain has suffered from three appalling Islamist terror attacks is acutely concerning.

This wasn’t an election dominated by Brexit. It revolved around austerity and traditional domestic issues: health and education. Newspapers went hard on Corbyn’s links to extremists and, when raised by the public, he simply, and disingenuously, presented himself as a key player in the Good Friday Peace Process. For some voters, this may well have been sufficient to allay fears, but it appears many others simply voted on everday issues. To this end, the Labour manifesto had pledged all manner of incentives and giveaways. There is much work to be done.

Anti-Semitism made the headlines during the election. In Bradford, Labour’s Naz Shah, who had last year been embroiled in an anti-Semitism scandal, was verbally assaulted by a constituent for daring to recognise Israel’s right to exist. Meanwhile, a large pro-Corbyn banner appeared on a Bristol roundabout with an image of May wearing a Star of David earring. The overtones were undeniable.

That the Jewish community would vote so overwhelmingly for the Conservatives indicates its fears over anti-Semitism within Labour remain very real. Corbyn’s record speaks for itself and yet he may well be thinking right now that his strong electoral performance indicates the public sees nothing wrong with his previous actions. But if Labour wants to proclaim to be a party ‘for the many’, he can’t continue to whitewash its problem with the Jewish community.

The latest political shock poses many important questions for May and the Conservative Party, but also about views on anti-Semitism in the UK. In my capacity as the UK’s Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues, I remain resolute in my determination to root out anti-Semitism and feel proud to be in a Party that will stand beside the Jewish community every step of the way.

About the Author
Lord Eric Pickles is the former Communities Secretary, and ex-Parliamentary chair of Conservative Friends of Israel. He is the current Special Envoy for post-Holocaust issues and co-chair of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation's advisory board.
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