Jack Mendel
The Online Editor at the Jewish News

Sadiq needs to up his game to see off straight-talking Rory

Rory Stewart during his visit to Golders Green and JW3 (Jewish News)
Rory Stewart during his visit to Golders Green and JW3 (Jewish News)

After four years of Sadiq Khan allying himself to the community, the entrance of Rory Stewart into the 2020 mayoral race is the first real test of his stickability.

The Mayor of London has somewhat been an exception to the rule of the community drifting away from the Labour Party.

Sitting in city hall, he has had sufficient distance from the antisemitism problem infecting his party in parliament, which has given him the chance to forge a personal mandate when it comes to courting our vote.

He has attended Yom Hashoah events and charity dinners, Mitzvah Day gatherings and hosted Chanukah in the Square. He has been vocal on antisemitism, Al Quds Day, and has fought specific issues, such as the dispute with coroner Mary Hassell.

There’s little doubt he has gone above and beyond to give the impression he’s not cut from the same cloth as Jeremy Corbyn.

Yet at times he can come off a formulaic and robotic, speaking in soundbites.

And however good Sadiq has been at distancing himself from the Corbynite element of Labour, in the back of many people’s minds will be, the fact that he is still Labour.

In spite of all this, one of the key reasons he has maintained support from the community is a lack of opposition.

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, attends the 2019 Yom Hashoah event alongside Chief Rabbi Mirvis and Board president Marie van der Zyl. (Photo: John Rifkin via Jewish News)

The Tory candidate, Shaun Bailey, is relatively unknown and has had to work hard to build up any political capital on community issues.  Especially against Sadiq, who’s had four years of photo opportunities and chances to air his views; Bailey doesn’t really stand a chance, as decent a candidate he may be.

But the entrance of Rory Stewart, whose charisma and personality even made Boris Johnson sit up and take notice during the Tory leadership race, could challenge Sadiq’s mandate. Not just because he is well known and well liked, but because Rory offers an alternative to both parties’ politics.

During Rory Stewart’s walkabout in Golders Green and JW3 on Monday, he touched upon serious and more trivial vote-winning issues. He jokingly spoke about having a smoked salmon bagel and possibly learning Yiddish, before meeting with community leaders and activists.

He also touched upon the difficulty of explaining antisemitism. Not just tackling it, say through more money or police; but tackling the nuances and complexities around it.

Speaking to Jewish News, he said he believed “one of the things which hasn’t worked is British reporting of this. Frequently the details are never quite put across clearly enough. I was asked by a non-British friend to explain about antisemitism in Britain and I pulled up a number of articles — I kept finding that, for whatever reason, journalists didn’t feel comfortable citing individual cases”.

Sadiq’s multiple pledges to tackle it in a practical way have also been reassuring; but Stewart’s approach is an attempt to look at the complexity and nuances around the issue, which British Jews have been talking about and campaigning on for years now.

Whereas the incumbent mayor of London is still likely to be ahead with the community because of his record, Stewart seems to not just speak in soundbites, but from some kind of experience.

Rory Stewart’s decision to run will put the Labour mayor’s four years of courting the community to the test, as Sadiq’s record will go up against his challenger’s more pragmatic and independently minded approach.

About the Author
Jack Mendel is the Online Editor at the Jewish News.
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