Is Labour winning back Jewish voters now Jeremy Corbyn is gone?

The party made some gains in areas with high numbers of Jewish voters, but the shift was not universal.

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Is Labour under Keir Starmer winning back Jewish voters? With the local election results in, we have the data to make a somewhat confident level of judgement of Labour after Jeremy Corbyn, but first we need some context.

In 2018, Labour had a pretty good run of local election results. In London, it achieved an impressive narrowing of the margin in Wandsworth; and in Trafford in Greater Manchester it gained the council outright – indicative of a party with an expanded appeal among those in professional and affluent occupations. These gains, though not enough to signal the party could win a general election, were a step in the right direction nonetheless.

However, these advances were not uniform, and in certain places Labour actually lost support.

In Kersal, Salford, Britain’s most Jewish ward, Labour suffered a fall in its vote in 2018 to the point where the Conservatives took the council for the first time in decades. This loss was all the more stark when elsewhere in the Salford borough – in wards with very few numbers of Jewish people (at least, according to the 2011 census), Labour’s vote was advancing.

This discrepancy was not confined to Salford or inner Greater Manchester. Golders Green, a Conservative-voting ward in the London borough of Barnet, has been identified by the census as the second most Jewish ward in the country (with 36 per cent of those living there identifying as Jewish). While across the borough Labour’s vote went up in 2018, in the ward itself Labour’s vote dropped and the Tory vote grew.

How much of this can be pinned on Corbyn’s perceived attitude to tackling anti-Semitism? We can’t know for certain, but we know surveys at the time recorded overwhelming feelings of distrust among Jewish voters towards both Labour and its then leader.

Now, Labour has a new leader who has just undergone his first electoral test with the British public. So has Labour recovered among Jewish voters? 

Let’s start by returning to Kersal. There, Labour’s vote did not recover. Instead, it continued to decline and has now reached its lowest level since the electoral ward’s inception in 2004.

Despite recoveries elsewhere, Labour is still in freefall in Kersal, Salford
Local election results for the Kersal electoral ward, Salford, 2004-21

But in Sedgley, Bury, where over one in three residents are Jewish, Labour had the inverse result, jumping 13 percentage points on its 2016 performance and taking the seat off the Tories. This is all the more notable when across Bury as a whole, Labour’s vote fell by more than 2 percentage points on 2016.

It was a similar picture down south in the two Hertfordshire divisions of Borehamwood North and South, whose populations include sizeable numbers of Jewish residents. Here, Labour’s vote climbed from a record low in 2017 to the highest it’s been in the area since 2001, up by 14 points and 9 points in the North and South divisions respectively. These upswings in support contributed to both seats falling out of Conservative hands, and ran – as in Bury – against the local trend, where support for the Conservatives was up.

In the neighbouring division of Watling, where more than one in five residents are Jewish, Labour’s small but notable uptick in support again went over and above the local swing.

However, Saltwell, Gateshead, in the north-east of England, saw a shift away from Labour. The party's support collapsed by 13 points, with a 20-point increase in votes for the Liberal Democrats. This drop for Labour exceeded what the party suffered in the locale as a whole: a fall of just 6 points. 

Is Labour recovering in England's Jewish wards?
Percentage point change in support for Labour for both the ward and local authority as a whole when compared to 2016/17.

It’s hard to say with certainty whether Labour is recovering support among Jewish people. It may be that the level of local affluence is partly behind these shifts, or differences in turnout. The national picture, too, has coloured things too much to get a clear vision of what’s happened. The Gateshead collapse, for instance, does bear a degree of similarity to that experienced by Labour in the north-east as a whole. 

Still, in the wards and divisions tabulated, Labour did – marginally, if not universally – better in wards with sizeable Jewish populations than across their respective local authorities as a whole. Might that have something to do with what people living there feel about Labour's new leader? Maybe. Just maybe.

 Ben Walker is a data journalist at the New Statesman

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