British Jews and the General Election 2024

If numerous opinion polls on the forthcoming general election in the UK are to be believed, Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party is on course to achieve its lowest number of seats in the House of Commons since 1906. In contrast, the victory of Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour party is predicted to exceed Tony Blair’s landslide in 1997.  

While there are caveats such as an anti-politics apathy, leading to many “don’t knows”, the chameleon-like Conservative party — which had periodically adapted to changing circumstances for over 300 years — now seems destined for oblivion and the rubbish-dump of history.  

Many voters have noted that there have been five Conservative prime ministers from 2016-22, reflecting the many embittered factions in the party. There is also a growing belief that Brexit has been disastrous for the UK and an all-pervading sense that nothing works any more.  

This has been supplemented by a series of remarkable gaffs by Sunak on the campaign trail and ballooning scandals amongst his advisers. As the election nears, Labour’s predicted majority grows.  

Starmer has acted strongly against the antisemitism in the far Left in the party and there have been numerous expulsions. Jeremy Corbyn remains outside the party that he once led and it is likely that he will lose to the official Labour party candidate in his Islington constituency.  

Starmer, whose wife is Jewish – and is familiar with Jewish tradition – is aware of Jewish sensibilities especially when anti-Zionism tips over into antisemitism. This led to a rare juncture, typifying the Corbyn interregnum, when there was talk of British Jews leaving the UK. Starmer’s principled stand will return many Jewish voters to Labour.   

Although Jews are concentrated in specific constituencies such as a 20% representation in Finchley and Golders Green in north-west London, Jews have generally voted according to their socio-economic status unless there is some overriding fear, such as the possible election of the Hamas-friendly Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister in 2019.  

Whereas Jews in the post-war years voted in droves for Labour and even elected a Jewish Communist MP, Phil Piratin, in 1945, their children have moved away from their working- class base and joined the professional middle class. This has resulted in an embrace of the Conservative party – in particular during the premiership of Margaret Thatcher during the 1980s – and undoubtedly when the far- Left Ken Livingstone was mayor of London.  

Michael Howard (born Hecht), whose grandmother was murdered at Auschwitz, managed to become leader of the party during 2003-05. This was a far cry from the distancing of Jews from the Conservatives in the past. 

Yet Jews who live in the poorer parts of London vote Labour. The haredim, concentrated in areas such as London’s Stamford Hill, vote according to their communal interests but more often than not are more attracted by the traditionalists of the Conservative party in parallel with their American cousins voting for Trump. Socialism remains a foreign country for them in the twenty-first century.  

The Conservatives are also threatened on the Right by the emergence of Nigel Farage’s populist Reform Party which projects itself as the true Conservative party. Farage, acclaimed as the architect of Brexit, is a cheeky-chappy, beer-swilling, pantomime politician, but he has tremendous appeal to the extent that one poll indicated Reform overtaking the Conservatives in the election.  

Farage hopes that a positive result for Reform will be the first step in absorbing the Conservative Right and becoming the real opposition in the next parliament. Reform’s manifesto – or contract with the British people – concentrates exclusively on domestic questions and, significantly, says nothing about foreign issues such as the war in Gaza. Even so, last Friday, Farage finally wandered into the international arena when he implied in a BBC interview that NATO’s expansion rather than Putin’s aggression was to blame for the conflict in Ukraine.  

The former prime minister, Boris Johnson, exiled from parliament because of his own chaotic inability to govern rationally, has continued with his own brand of vaudeville politics. He recently labelled Starmer as ‘Sir Keir Schnorrer’ in his column for the Daily Telegraph.

This brought a torrent of criticism from many Jews who found Johnson’s comments to be “offensive”. Johnson has form in the past, regarding throwaway comments about Jews.  

Both Labour and the Conservatives have attempted to steady the ship regarding the eight-month war in Gaza, by saying as little as possible. Labour has called for “a viable Palestinian state alongside a safe and secure Israel”.  

Yet this is merely a work in progress with an eye on a long-term peace, whereas Corbyn’s Labour party had previously called for “an immediate and unconditional recognition of the State of Palestine” in past election manifestos.  

Both the Greens and the Scottish National Party have called for a ban on arms sales to Israel. The Greens, who have only one seat in the current parliament, have said that there is “strong evidence of genocide” in Gaza and do not specifically mention a two-state solution.  

The Conservatives have pointed out that they are led by a Hindu who implicitly understands the concerns of minority religions. The party’s manifesto projects the Conservatives as standing four-square behind Israel and promises to pass an anti-BDS bill which would prevent local councils from engaging in boycotts of Israel. This bill was held up in the last parliament by scores of amendments.  

Sunak has endorsed the Biden proposal to rescue the hostages and end the war. As with many British Jews, there is a clear differentiation between the state of Israel, which is strongly supported, and its government, which is not.  

Whereas the war in Gaza was an issue during the local elections in May, when many Muslim refused to vote Labour because of the vague ambiguity of Starmer’s stand, this protest vote is unlikely to be repeated in a general election. The rocketing cost of living is deemed far more important. 


The traditional British attitude towards the Israel-Palestine conflict of “a plague on both your houses” seems to be solidly immoveable. A major YouGov survey conducted on October 24 (2,868 respondents) suggested that only 21% sympathised with Israel while 18% sided with Palestine. This suggested that even a short time after the pogrom of ethnic cleansing on October 7, such normative attitudes had hardly shifted.  

Another large YouGov poll (3.,848 respondents) on October 13 noted that 66% of respondents regarded Hamas as a terrorist organisation but only 41% of 18-24-year-olds did so. In the urban capital of London, the figure fell from 66% to 59%. Views on the Gaza war, bolstered by a wall-to-wall depiction of Palestinian suffering by the BBC, have not disappeared during the election period.  

Ongoing surveys suggest an increasing sympathy for the Palestinians. These issues currently remain in the background but are ripe for debate and action in the future, not least by a younger generation – and almost certainly in the new parliament. 

Jewish Conservative supporters warn that a huge majority for Labour will also mean a large number of MPs on the far Left who implicitly support the Palestinian cause. To this must be added, an increased number of Muslim MPs and those parliamentarians who have a sizeable Muslim population in their constituency.  

While most Jews support Israel, most Muslims, numerically more than ten times the size of the Jewish population, naturally support the Palestinians.   

Many Jews will enthusiastically applaud a Labour victory on July 4 but it may also mark a watershed in the ability of the Jewish community to defend its interests – in view of an expanding range of potentially hostile opponents, elected to parliament as part of a vast Labour landslide – and not least the sovereignty of the State of Israel amidst the wreckage of Netanyahu’s follies. 

Jewish Independent 25 June 2024

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