Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Anti-Semitism Row Overshadows Labour's Battle for Key Target; Jeremy Corbyn's Party Has Been Targeting Barnet, the 'Safe' Tory Borough, since Last Year's Election. but Could His Hopes Be Dashed by Allegations of Anti-Jewish Bias in the Party? Ross Lydall Reports; Battleground Focus; Barnet

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Anti-Semitism Row Overshadows Labour's Battle for Key Target; Jeremy Corbyn's Party Has Been Targeting Barnet, the 'Safe' Tory Borough, since Last Year's Election. but Could His Hopes Be Dashed by Allegations of Anti-Jewish Bias in the Party? Ross Lydall Reports; Battleground Focus; Barnet

Article excerpt

Byline: RossLydall

RABBI Danny Rich is philosophical. "Anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is not new for Jews," he said.

"The reality is that the Jews in the borough of Barnet have known about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party and our attempts to deal with it for some length of time, particularly since the Ken Livingstone affair [the former mayor's 2016 claim that Hitler supported Zionism]."

A cool head is perhaps essential for a Jewish campaigner standing for Labour in the key battleground of Barnet, where a bitter row over anti-Semitism on the Left might be the only thing standing in the way of a Labour victory on May 3. Barnet, part of the Finchley constituency where the late Margaret Thatcher was MP when she was prime minister, is a former Tory stronghold where the majority has been whittled down to just a single council seat.

Mayor Sadiq Khan named it as Labour's top target in London, alongside Wandsworth. On paper it should be the easiest: at the turn of the year, of 63 councillors, 32 were Conservatives and 30 Labour, with one Liberal Democrat. So Labour needs to capture just two seats to take power for the first time in two decades.

If they fail, however, it will be seen as an open goal squandered -- with blame falling on party leader Jeremy Corbyn's perceived failure to confront extremists in his ranks.

Rabbi Danny, the chief executive of Liberal Judaism, pointed out that although the Jewish population is significant, most members live in just three (Tory-held) wards.

But he admitted: "I think the swing to Labour will be marginally less than in other boroughs." On the doorsteps of Barnet, however, the issues being raised by voters are varied.

Resident Clare Russell said: "I think the anti-Semitic situation was quite harmful to the Labour Party.

"However, my main interest is the fact I have two children in infant school and one in pre-school, and it's their future I'm most aware of. I still don't know how I will vote, but I will vote."

Neighbour Joanne Topping said she had divided her three postal votes between Labour, Lib Dems and Greens. Despite her ancestors being Russian Jews, she was unaware of the dispute within Labour.

"I didn't vote for the Conservatives," she said. "I'm not sure what is going to happen when we do go into Brexit. It's going to change a lot of things. I would rather stay with the British pound than the euro but I think we have to be in Europe."

Voices were raised when a refuse worker collecting bins asked a Labour candidate about last weekend's US-led military action in Syria. "I asked the lady and she said she agreed with the bombing of Syria," he complained angrily. "I'm going to vote Green."

The Conservatives have troubles of their own, notably over Brexit. …

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