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How the Jewish Vote May Have Helped Decide the UK Election

Theresa May’s Conservatives have clung to power, while Corbyn’s Labour surged into contention but came up short, thanks in part to his alienation of key Jewish constituencies

by
Yair Rosenberg
June 09, 2017
Daniel Sorabji/AFP/Getty Images
Daniel Sorabji/AFP/Getty Images

On the eve of the British election on Thursday, Nate Silver and Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight offered three equally probable outcomes for the contest: 1) a landslide win for Theresa May’s ruling Conservatives, 2) a narrower win for the same, or 3) a hung parliament with no party garnering a majority but the Conservatives remaining the largest party. Last night, Britain got outcome number three, and this morning, a chastened but outwardly defiant May vowed to form a coalition government, whose most likely partner is the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland. As the Tories received 318 seats (42.3% of the vote) to Labour’s 261 (40%), the DUP’s 10 seats would provide the Conservatives with a governing majority.

It is a testimony to the low expectations for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour that this result is being hailed as a victory for the party, even though it lost to the Conservatives by about the same popular vote percentage as Donald Trump lost to Hillary Clinton. May’s collapse in the polls and the Tory loss of its previous majority has now given the hard-left Corbyn a new lease on life, and he will doubtless contest the next election in hopes of becoming the first Labour leader not named Tony Blair to win an election since Harold Wilson in 1974.

When that election will take place is an open question. May will face the tall task of first fending off challenges to her own leadership and then attempting to negotiate a satisfactory Brexit with a razor-thin majority. If May (or her successor from within the party) proves unable to navigate this dynamic, Britain could see the quick collapse of the coalition government and new elections.

Indeed, had Labour gained just a few more seats, May would not have been able to form a majority coalition at all, leading either to Corbyn being asked to form a government, or new elections being called. A key factor in enabling the Conservatives to cling to power, however, may have been Corbyn’s alienation of the Jewish vote.

Pre-election polling found that just 13 percent of British Jews planned to vote for Labour, largely due to concerns about Corbyn, whose associations with anti-Semites rattled many. This ultimately came back to haunt Corbyn, as Labour lost the so-called London “Bagel Belt”—even as the rest of the capital swung Labour—preventing the party from taking enough seats to deny May a coalition majority with DUP. To take one example, even as broader London swung 9.4 percent to Labour, in Finchley and Golders Green, Britain’s most Jewish constituency, Tory MP Mike Freer was reelected thanks to just a 4.1 percent Labour swing. (Throwing another ironic wrinkle into the mix, Bard College’s Walter Russell Mead notes that the newly empowered DUP, the kingmaker of Britain’s likely coalition, may be the most staunchly Zionist party in the United Kingdom.)

The upshot: If Corbyn can finally show that he is serious about cracking down on anti-Semitism to win back some of Labour’s erstwhile Jewish supporters, he might be well on his way to 10 Downing Street.

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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