Victory in Barnet shows Labour has shaken off taint of antisemitism, says Starmer

Voters in Jewish community trust Labour again, says jubilant leader

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Friday 06 May 2022 10:55
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Keir Starmer hails 'turning point' for Labour

Keir Starmer today hailed Labour’s victory in the north London borough of Barnet as a sign that the party has shaken off the taint of antisemitism which undermined its support in the Jewish community under Jeremy Corbyn.

Barnet is believed to have the largest Jewish electorate in the UK, with 15 per cent of residents identifying themselves as Jewish in recent censuses and concentrations of households in areas like Golders Green and Finchley.

The last set of council elections in the borough, in 2018, were seen as emblematic of the distrust for Mr Corbyn among the Jewish community, as Labour fell back sharply in Barnet while making gains elsewhere in the country.

Starmer made dealing with antisemitism within the party his top priority after becoming leader in 2019, and has engaged in high-profile clashes with the left of the party – not least in suspending Corbyn for his refusal to accept in full a report on the issue by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Today, he explicitly namechecked the issue as a factor in Labour seizing control of Barnet for the first time since the borough’s creation in the 1960s, winning 16 council seats from Tories to establish firm overall control.

Addressing jubilant activists in the borough early on Friday, the Labour leader said: “My first words as leader of our party, when I took over in April 2020, was that we were going to root out antisemitism from our party, not tolerate it any more in our party, change our party.

“I said the test of that will be whether voters trust us again in places like Barnet, and they’ve done it.

“That is your hard work, that is the change we’ve collectively brought about in our Labour Party, the trust that we’re building, putting us on the road to No 10 the road to that general election.

“That change these last two years has been really hard for us as a party, but we’ve done it, we’ve built those solid foundations, we’ve won here in Barnet, we’ve won across London, we’re winning from coast to coast.”

England local elections after 73 of 146 results declared on Friday morning

Elections expert Robert Hayward said it was clear that concern about Labour’s handling of antisemitism had played a role in its poor performance in Barnet in 2018, when it lost five seats in an area where it had hoped to make gains.

“On the whole question of antisemitism, Barnet astonished everybody in 2018 by actually moving away from the Labour party,” said Lord Hayward.

“It was [seen as] a nailed-on cert Labour gain in 2018, but the Conservatives increased their majority.”

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