Yvette Cooper secured the nomination of Jewish Labour. Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

There is still work to do to repair Labour's relationship with Britain's Jews

Last night's hustings were a vital step forward - but there is a lot of work to be done to restore Labour's relations with the community.

On Monday night at JW3, the Jewish Cultural Centre in North West London, Labour Leadership candidates pitched their vision to a part of the electorate that largely abandoned it in May. Not a group usually found to believe in second comings, the Jewish community was always going to be a tough gig for the leadership hopefuls trying to win back their votes. Tickets for this event had sold out in less than four hours (One Direction eat your heart out), and the desire to have grievances heard was evident from the very start.

For those concerned with Labour’s recent electoral (mis)fortunes, its dire performance in North West London was particularly striking. Hendon, Harrow East, Finchley and Golders Green – all seats with significant Jewish populations – bucked the London-wide trend and voted Conservative at the general election. Cited reasons range from the Party’s position on Israel, its inadequate response to a surge in antisemitism over the past year, and a lack of support for the former leader. Candidates were expected to deal with these issues in turn, and a tough 45-minute opening debate on Israel made sure there was little room for avoidance or obfuscation.
The questions submitted on Israel were so numerous that Jonathan Freedland, chair of proceedings, had to composite them in advance. It also became clear that questions would demand answers from Jeremy Corbyn. Fresh from his exchange on Channel 4 News, the audience was keen for clarity on his use of the word ‘friends’ in relation to Hamas. Further, he was questioned on his role with the Stop the War Coalition and whether he supported Al-Quds day, described by CST representatives as a ‘celebration of hatred’. It would be fair to say his answers did little to allay the concerns of an audience who place as much importance on the company politicians keep, as the intentions they may innocently state. Candidates too expressed their distaste for certain ‘friends’ being invited to the Westminster Terrace, with Burnham suggesting he would sanction Members for doing so should he be elected as Leader.
Despite imparting the commonly accepted platitudes urging  “honest dialogue” and “hard conversations” in resolving the Middle East conflict, Corbyn’s night will be remembered for his claim that the Balfour Declaration of 1917 was essentially pushed through by Jewish Cabinet members. The audible gasp from community leaders spoke volumes. It is for Jeremy Corbyn alone to explain why he thinks Jewish politicians of the day were able to leverage undue influence over their contemporaries in deciding this country’s foreign policy. I will not strive to explain this historically pernicious sentiment in this piece, nor anywhere else for that matter.
But this was not a one-man show. There was huge intrigue surrounding candidates’ views on a range of issues and the loudest cheer of the night came when an audience member dared to suggest asking a question on “something other than Israel”. The matter of child-benefits being limited to two children was a particular community focus and Cooper, Burnham and Corbyn were relatively united in opposition to the cap. Kendall stuck to her campaigning mantra i.e. the need to restore economic credibility, a view that received a mixed reception from those present. The Jewish community in this regard broadly reflects the position of the public at large in its belief that social progression can come both from government support, but also independent endeavour.

That said, there were divergent views on candidates’ performances following the event. In terms of “repairing the relationship”, it was suggested that Yvette Cooper carried herself most naturally, yet there was an evident fondness for Liz Kendall who seems a natural friend to a community that has felt so antagonized in the past year. Andy Burnham was acknowledged “for saying the right things”, with several big promises, including a visit to Israel surely to be remembered if he is elected. Corbyn’s foreign policy was always going to be a point of contention, but to his credit, many were taken by his calm demeanour when making his calls for domestic social justice.
Ultimately, there is still much work to be done if Labour is to win back the degree of support it saw from the Jewish community throughout the 1990s. Monday night was never going to provide closure on the residual issues from the Miliband era, but the display at JW3 was an important start. Whilst we do not vote as a homogenous block, the causes for angst were clear and whoever wins in September will have a real challenge in persuading Jewish citizens not to burn the fragile bridges that remain.

Jay Stoll works at the Jewish Leadership Council. He writes in a personal capacity.

 

Getty
Show Hide image

The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era