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Meet the Orthodox Jewish candidate who wants to be Ukip's first Manchester mayor

Shneur Odze is running against Andy Burnham in the metro mayor elections. 

According to a 2015 YouGov poll, Ukip voters are more likely to agree with anti-Semitic statements than the Conservatives, Labour or Lib Dems. 

But from the close-fitting black skullcap perched atop his head to the full, free-flowing beard flecked with grey, Shneur Odze, Ukip's candidate for Manchester Mayor, wears his Orthodox Judaism with pride.

And he is no rank and file party member, but a close confidante of both former Ukip leader Nigel Farage and new leader Paul Nuttall.

Odze is running against the firm Labour favourite, Andy Burnham, for the Manchester metro mayor. And Ukip’s popularity is growing. 

Of 11 local election seats contested in May 2016, the party won the second highest vote-share in nine of them - and they were snapping at the heels of the top party in wards across the wider 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester.

Odze himself stood in Salford, coming second to Labour’s 1,580 ballots in Broughton with 368 votes.

He admits he was unsure about joining Ukip, which he once perceived as "BNP in blazers". He said: “I thought it wasn’t going to be the party for me because they would be anti-Semitic [at the start]. I was convinced of it.”

Having previously served as a councillor in Hackney, north London back in the noughties - for the Conservatives - Odze lost his passion for the party and spent some years in the political wilderness.

On his return to politics, he found himself to the right of his original position. He ran to be the Ukip candidate in 2014’s London mayoral selection, but lost out to Peter Whittle.

Now he is settled in Salford with his wife and children, and the 33-year-old Lubavitcher - a strain of Orthodox Jews descended from a village in Belarus - is enjoying his return to the fray.

Odze describes his interest in people and making a difference to real lives as the crux of his mayoral candidacy in a contest which heralds the devolution of England's regions from Westminster’s grip.

“I wasn’t surprised that Ukip were willing to take me as a member per se,” he says of his Damascene conversion from true blue to Kipper purple. “[But] I was very concerned that they were racists, or anti-Semitic, and that I was a bit of a fig leaf. It took a long time to get over that.”

Rather than immigration, his main political stamping ground is the NHS - Odze was a public governor of the University Hospital of South Manchester in Wythenshawe for six years until 13 months ago - transport, housing and employment across the region, as well as putting police back on the streets.

He insists that Ukip have never pushed him forward, instead allowing him to take his own steps into the limelight.

But he has willingly basked in that fame, and seems to enjoy being a member of a party many wouldn't have associated with Orthodox Judaism.

He says that occasionally "the average Joe Public would have at the start had a double take” at the the uniform of his faith, but he has never had an issue in Ukip. 

"In all parties, particularly in Ukip, anyone who stands out seems to do well," he says. “In the MEP selection we had Amjad Bashir, Steven Woolfe - we’re a colourful party. We attract people of character and charisma.”

Oh, yes - Steven Woolfe. The mixed-race Ukip MEP, once tipped as a leader, instead quit the party, describing it as “ungovernable” after a colleague punched him. As for Amjad Bashir, he defected to the Tories.

Indeed, June's Brexit vote was something of a high for Ukip in 2016. Since then, the party has been consumed with factional infighting, with Ukip leader Diane James quitting after just 18 days in the job, and later leaving the party altogether. Farage was forced to take the helm again, before Nuttall was elected to the post. Meanwhile, Theresa May's Tory government has hoovered up some of Ukip's most popular policies. Support for Ukip in the polls has hovered around 13 per cent. 

Odze - Chair of Ukip’s Friends of Israel grouping - dismisses Woolfe's criticisms, and quips that Ukip don’t mind how “far out you are” - meaning unusual - “just that you’re not far right”.

“It’s showbiz, it’s people who don’t fit into the straitjacket of the other mainstream parties," he says. “We’ve attracted a lot of other people at the time who had been deselected by other parties.”

As far as Ukip's future goes: “The number of times that people have said ’this is a disaster for Ukip, this is the end’, and it isn’t. 

“I was concerned when we were at 1 or 2 per cent in the polls. Paul Nuttall said that we were going to overtake the Lib Dems and everybody laughed at him. Well, as they say, the rest is history. “

Odze insists that Ukip is the only party that can challenge Labour. "We’re attracting Labour voters. The question is how many more and to what extent," he says. “All Andy Burnham’s been going on and on about for months and months is migration and Brexit, because he knows we’re the only people who can beat him."

“Of course Andy’s the favourite. But look at Donald Trump. Look at Brexit.”

Wikipedia.
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Daniel Hannan harks back to the days of empire - the Angevin Empire

Did the benign rule of some 12th century English kings make western France vote Macron over Le Pen?

I know a fair amount about British politics; I know a passable amount about American politics, too. But, as with so many of my fellow Britons, in the world beyond that, I’m lost.

So how are we, the monolingual Anglophone opinionators of the world, meant to interpret a presidential election in a country where everyone is rude enough to conduct all their politics in French?

Luckily, here’s Daniel Hannan to help us:

I suppose we always knew Dan still got a bit misty eyed at the notion of the empire. I just always thought it was the British Empire, not the Angevin one, that tugged his heartstrings so.

So what exactly are we to make of this po-faced, historically illiterate, geographically illiterate, quite fantastically stupid, most Hannan-y Hannan tweet of all time?

One possibility is that this was meant as a serious observation. Dan is genuinely saying that the parts of western France ruled by Henry II and sons in the 12th century – Brittany, Normandy, Anjou, Poitou, Aquitaine – remain more moderate than those to the east, which were never graced with the touch of English greatness. This, he is suggesting, is why they generally voted for Emmanuel Macron over Marine Le Pen.

There are a number of problems with this theory. The first is that it’s bollocks. Western France was never part of England – it remained, indeed, a part of a weakened kingdom of France. In some ways it would be more accurate to say that what really happened in 1154 was that some mid-ranking French nobles happened to inherit the English Crown.

Even if you buy the idea that England is the source of all ancient liberties (no), western France is unlikely to share its political culture, because it was never a part of the same polity: the two lands just happened to share a landlord for a while.

As it happens, they didn’t even share it for very long. By 1215, Henry’s youngest son John had done a pretty good job of losing all his territories in France, so that was the end of the Angevins. The English crown reconquered  various bits of France over the next couple of centuries, but, as you may have noticed, it hasn’t been much of a force there for some time now.

At any rate: while I know very little of French politics, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess the similarities between yesterday's electoral map and the Angevin Empire were a coincidence. I'm fairly confident that there have been other factors which have probably done more to shape the French political map than a personal empire that survived for the length of one not particularly long human life time 800 years ago. Some wars. Industrialisation. The odd revolution. You know the sort of thing.

If Daniel Hannan sucks at history, though, he also sucks at geography, since chunks of territory which owed fealty to the English crown actually voted Le Pen. These include western Normandy; they also include Calais, which remained English territory for much longer than any other part of France. This seems rather to knacker Hannan’s thesis.

So: that’s one possibility, that all this was an attempt to make serious point; but, Hannan being Hannan, it just happened to be a quite fantastically stupid one.

The other possibility is that he’s taking the piss. It’s genuinely difficult to know.

Either way, he instantly deleted the tweet. Because he realised we didn’t get the joke? Because he got two words the wrong way round? Because he realised he didn’t know where Calais was?

We’ll never know for sure. I’d ask him but, y’know, blocked.

UPDATE: Breaking news from the frontline of the internet: 

It. Was. A. Joke.

My god. He jokes. He makes light. He has a sense of fun.

This changes everything. I need to rethink my entire world view. What if... what if I've been wrong, all this time? What if Daniel Hannan is in fact one of the great, unappreciated comic voices of our time? What if I'm simply not in on the joke?

What if... what if Brexit is actually... good?

Daniel, if you're reading this – and let's be honest, you are definitely reading this – I am so sorry. I've been misunderstanding you all this time.

I owe you a pint (568.26 millilitres).

Serious offer, by the way.

 

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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