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

 

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Can the disciplined Democrats defeat Trump’s maelstrom of chaos?

The Democratic National Convention has been exquisitely stage-managed and disciplined. But is it enough to overcome Trump’s news-cycle grabbing interventions?

The Democratic National Convention did not begin auspiciously.

The DNC’s chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, was unceremoniously launched as if by an ejector-seat from her job on the eve of the convention, after a Wikileaks dump of internal emails painted a picture of a party trying to keep the insurgent candidate, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, from blocking Hillary Clinton’s path to the nomination.

One email, in which a staffer suggests using Sanders’ Jewish faith against him as a candidate in order to slow his insurgent campaign, was particularly damning in its optics and Schultz, who had tweeted with some hubris about her Republican opposite number Reince Priebus during last week’s Republican convention in Cleveland, had to fall on her sword.

Clinton’s pick of Tim Kaine as a running-mate – a solid, safe, and unexciting choice compared to a more vocal and radical campaigner like Elizabeth Warren – was also criticised, both by the media, with one commentator calling him “a mayonnaise sandwich on wholewheat bread”, and by the left of the party, who still held out hope that the Democratic ticket would have at least one name on it who shared the radical vision of America that Sanders had outlined.

On top of that, Kaine, who is a Catholic, also disappointed many as a vice-presidential pick because of his past personal history of opposition to abortion. Erin Matson, the co-director of the reproductive rights group ReproAction, tweeted that Kaine being added to the ticket was “tremendously disappointing”.

On the other side, Donald Trump had just received a poll bump following a terrifying speech which recalled Richard Nixon’s 1968 convention address. Both speeches appealed to fear, rather than hope; many are calling Trump’s keynote his “Midnight in America” speech. Just before the Democrats convened, analyst par excellence Nate Silver and his site, 538.com, forecast Trump’s chance of victory over Clinton in November at above 50 per cent for the first time.

On top of that, Bernie Sanders more vocal supporters arrived at the Democratic convention – in Philadelphia in the grip of a heatwave – in relative force. Protests have already been more intensive than they were at the RNC, despite all expectations to the contrary, and Sanders delegates disrupted proceedings on the first day by booing every mention of Hillary Clinton’s name.

But then, things appear to turn around.

The second day of the convention, which saw Hillary Clinton formally nominated as the first female presidential candidate in American history, was less marred by protest. Bernie Sanders addressed the convention and endorsed his erstwhile rival.

Trump’s inability to stop prodding the news cycle with bizarre non-sequiturs turned the focus of what would otherwise be a negative Democratic news cycle back onto him; an unforced error which led to widespread, if somewhat wild, speculation about his possible links with Putin in the wake of the news that Russia had been behind the email hack and lightened some of the pressure on the Democrats.

And then Michelle Obama took the stage, delivering an oration of astonishing power and grace (seriously, watch it – it’s a masterclass).

Compared with the RNC, the Democratic National Convention has so far been exquisitely stage-managed. Speakers were bookended with pithy, designed-for-virality videos. Speakers started on time; headliners played in primetime.

Both Trump and Clinton have now addressed their conventions before their headline speech remotely, via video link (Trump also engineered a bizarre early-convention pro-wrestling-style entrance), which put observers of both in mind of scenes from V for Vendetta.

But the imagery of Clinton’s face appearing on screen through a graphic of shattering glass (see what she did there?) will likely be one of the moments that sticks most in the memory of the electorate. It must kill the reality TV star to know this, but Clinton’s convention is getting better TV ratings so far than the RNC did.

Michelle Obama’s masterful speech in particular provided stark contrast with that of Melania Trump – an especially biting contrast considering that parts of the latter’s speech last week turned out to have been plagiarised from the former. 538’s forecast saw Clinton slide – barely – back into the lead.

A mayonnaise sandwich Tim Kaine might be, but he is nonetheless looking like a smart pick, too. A popular senator from a key swing state – Virginia – his role on the ticket is not to be a firebrand or an attack-dog, but to help the former secretary of state reach out to the moderate middle that Trump appears to be leaving entirely vacant, including moderate Republicans who may have voted for Mitt Romney but find Trump’s boorish bigotry and casual relationship with the truth offputting. And the electoral mathematics show that Trump’s journey to victory in the electoral college will be extremely difficult if Kaine swings Virginia for Clinton.

Ultimately, the comparison between the Democratic convention in Philadelphia so far and last week’s chaotic, slapdash and at times downright nutty effort in Cleveland provides a key insight into what this election campaign is going to be like: chaos and fear on one side, but tight discipline on the other.

We will find out in November if discipline is enough to stop the maelstrom.

Nicky Woolf is a writer for the Guardian based in the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.