Friday, June 09, 2017

Jewish Thoughts on the UK Election

If ever I had sympathy for the plight of "Never Trump" Republicans, it was watching the UK election returns.

Being a progressive, my politics generally align far more with Labour than they would with the Tories. And that would be even without the Conservatives' disastrous embrace of Brexit. Yet like most Jews, I deeply, deeply mistrust Jeremy Corbyn. The last polls of the Jewish vote suggest that only thirteen percent were planning to vote Labour this cycle -- the same proportion, incidentally, as that of Muslims voting for Trump. And even if one thinks that stopping a hard Brexit is the single most important item on the UK agenda -- and I think that's plausible -- the fact that Corbyn himself is at best soft on the issue means that I couldn't even get enthusiastic on that issue.

That said. UK voters don't vote directly for their Prime Minister -- just their local MP. And my sense is that Jewish voters tend to like their MPs (Labour or Conservative) just fine. While several articles in the Jewish press are noting how Labour underperformed in several "bagel belt" districts where anti-Corbyn antipathy might have have saved a few marginal Tory seats, I think it's easy to overstate that story. For starters, for every seat where Corbyn was hurt by the perception that he was tolerant of antisemitism, there may have been another where he was bolstered by the perception that he was standing up to the overbearing Zionists.

But more broadly, I think it's almost certainly true that most people just didn't care about the antisemitism issue. And while that's sobering, it also means that Jewish MPs and their allies actually tended to do fine. Labour critics of Corbynista antisemitism -- like Luciana Berger, Louise Ellman, and Ruth Smeeth -- rode the Labour wave as much as anyone else did. Non-Jewish MPs known for their good relations with the Jewish community likewise saw their margins shoot up as well -- these include Tulip Siddiq, Wes Streeting, and Naz Shah.

Nonetheless, we shouldn't deflect. One of the critical lessons of Donald Trump's success is that all of his supposedly "beyond the pale" characteristics -- the racism, the authoritarianism, the anti-intellectualism -- none of that actually matters. Those of us who had hoped that Election 2016 would be a slap in the face to an increasingly radicalized Republican Party instead watched them learn that they could do all of these things and it was fine. And so, likewise, one of the lessons the left will learn from Corbyn's relative success is that one in fact can completely dismiss and ignore the concerns of terrorized Jews and nobody will care. That's not good. And that's going to have consequences down the line.

It really was an impossible dilemma. Punishing Labour for normalizing antisemitism on the left would mean emboldening isolationist and xenophobic currents rapidly occupying the right -- currents which themselves will invariably lead to antisemitism. Anshel Pfeffer was not wrong in observing that the choice for UK Jews is "Anti-Semitism Today, or Tomorrow?"

All in all, a hung parliament is about the best result I could hope for. While this was certainly an exceeds-expectations performance for Jeremy Corbyn, I admit to being a bit confused at how "getting 55 fewer seats and 800,000 fewer votes than the Tories" counts as "winning". As Matt Yglesias observed, "the left thesis in the US is 'Bernie would've won' not 'Bernie would have lost narrowly to Trump.' That's what Hillary did!" Kept in perspective, I can keep a relatively optimistic view of what happened last night. The main thing Labour successfully accomplished was throwing a serious wrench in Theresa May's efforts to negotiate a hard Brexit. And that is an unambiguously good thing.


Andy DM said...

" I admit to being a bit confused at how "getting 55 fewer seats and 800,000 fewer votes than the Tories" counts as "winning""

It's because, when the election was called Labour were a lot further back and with the disadvantage of not knowing in advance the election was coming (though it became clear later on that the Tories were caught almost as much by surprise by Theresa May's decision.

The polls immediately following the election announcement all showed a big Tory lead, 48-25, 48-24, 45-26, 50-25, 44-29, 48-26 and 48-25. The result ended up 43-41 and we're within striking distance of more than enough seats to win next time. That's why I'm happy.

David Schraub said...

Sure, but that's "losing by (a lot) less than expected", not "winning". Still good, but quite different.

liza said...

nice post