Themes from the Jewish Labour Movement conference

Themes from the Jewish Labour Movement conference

Sunday’s Jewish Labour Movement conference, held at the JW3 Jewish Community Centre on Finchley Road, was the first gathering of its kind for nearly four-and-a-half years and reflected the organisation’s relief and satisfaction that Jeremy Corbyn and elements of Corbynism it was profoundly unhappy with are in retreat. The event’s introductory message put it like this: “The political change we have seen since we last met for this event in person in September 2018 has been huge. We now feel safe, secure and confident about our place as progressive Jews within the Labour Party.”

There was a packed programme and some big name speakers, notably shadow health minister Wes Streeting, shadow justice secretary Steve Reed and former Labour minister David Miliband. I went to four sessions from the first half of the day and briefly summarise below some of the main themes that emerged from them, in some cases from more session than one. All of them provided food for thought and ideas for future coverage by On London.

Crime and Community Safety

Security checks on the way in – a routine feature outside buildings where Jews gather – were a reminder of the continuing threats faced by Jewish communities in London and elsewhere. Antisemitic attitudes and actions were a sadly inevitable feature of the session about crime and the criminal justice system (pictured), which was chaired by Barnet councillor Sara Conway. London Assembly member Unmesh Desai, who is deputy chair of the Assembly’s police and crime committee, repeated concerns about a review of the government’s Prevent strategy and bemoaned the loss of local police scrutiny bodies.

Rabbi and community activist Shmuel Yosef Davidson retold the extraordinary story of a man who travelled from Dewsbury to Stamford Hill where he attacked three very recognisably ultra orthodox Jews but was at one stage set to face charges that had no racially aggravated element. Davidson, who was closely involved in the successful attempt to have an antisemitic motive for the crime recognised, said he thought a previous decision to drop it demonstrated a lack of awareness and understanding of what antisemitism is on the part of officers involved

Learning from Covid

This was addressed both at a dedicated session about health and one called Political Life on the Hill, meaning the Stamford Hill area of north London which is famous for its large Hasidic community.

The latter featured the Mayor of Hackney, Philip Glanville, in conversation with community organiser Mark Grosskopf from the other side of the boundary with Haringey. The two agreed that the pandemic had led to closer and more productive ties between Hackney Council and the community, which straddles the line between the neighbouring boroughs.

Glanville emphasised the “deep, hidden entrenched poverty in the Orthodox Jewish community in Stamford Hill” and said the council had learned a lot from working in concert with small Jewish organisations to ensure that children in particular received adequate food during the harshest lockdown periods. He said the pandemic “revealed that we are all in it together whatever community you come from and that you can’t have a one size fits all approach to deep health inequalities”.

From another part of town Hammersmith & Fulham councillor and Deputy Leader Ben Coleman, who also chairs the H&F Health & Wellbeing Board, was a member of the health inequalities panel. Among a number of trenchant points he made was a candid admission that his eyes were opened about how much more inequality exists in the provision of health care than he had realised, and how much mistrust of it there is.

Focussing on the low take-up of Covid vaccinations among black Londoners, he told extraordinary stories of black work associates openly doubting they would be treated fairly by health services and opting not to get jabbed. He derided a mentality he characterised as “we just need to put people in front of their priests or their pastors in churches and that will sort the whole thing out”. His conclusion was that “there are years of lived experience we have to address”.

London’s Conservatives

A group of Labour members of the London Assembly shared interesting views about Conservative opponents on the Assembly and elsewhere in the capital.

Anne Clarke, who is also a Barnet councillor, said she thought Tories nationally have taken up the idea that “you can talk down the capital, you can talk down progressive cities” and characterised this as “short term populism” with worrying long-term impacts. She also described it as “pathetic”. The government’s treatment of Transport for London over its Covid-induced financial troubles was held up as an example of what Clarke called a Tory wish to “make political points because we have a Labour Mayor”.

Sem Moema said the Conservative Assembly group harbours “a visceral hatred” of Mayor Khan and that its only objective is to unseat him, pumping out endless headline attack messages which sometimes seem to have been passed down from Tory national headquarters.

However, Joanne McCartney felt this Conservative approach has not been very effective in gaining new voters. “I think they’re just appealing to a rump of people who will support them”. She also condemned the Tory group’s claims about the amount of opposition there is to Khan’s plan to enlarge the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to cover all of Greater London, pointing out that an opinion poll they commissioned characterised the ULEZ as a revenue-raising device when its principle aim is improving air quality.

Low Traffic Neighbourhoods

This one could run and run (and will). In brief, opinion about these schemes, whose advocates say reduce car use, improve air quality and encourage “active travel”, seemed as sharply divided among JLM members and allies as among the London public as a whole. Hackney has gone big on LTNs and Philip Glanville, under challenge from an Orthodox Jewish attendee, was politely adamant that the schemes, along with forthcoming parking control measures and other policies, will contribute to a much-needed major reduction in car use in his borough. But he stressed, with reference to conversations Hackney has had with Stamford Hill residents, that he is in favour of “permits for the community that are flexible and that allow community organisations of whatever creed and purpose in the borough to get access to parking permits that are more flexible and cheaper”.

The Labour Assembly members too had to deal with criticism over LTNs, with an audience questioner describing the effect of one in his neighbourhood as creating “gridlock” in surrounding streets. The AMs broadly stuck to the line that LTNs are a good thing and will have the desired affect, though it was conceded that some unintended consequences will need to be addressed, including in Hackney. That session also heard support for them and for special road space for cyclists. A broad range of often illuminating views, then, at a conference which, despite differences of opinion about the management of roads and streets, felt decidedly harmonious and upbeat about Labour and its chances at the next general election.

Photograph from Unmesh Desai’s Twitter feed.

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