England Goes To the Polls

England Goes To the Polls

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Most British pollsters expect the British election this Thursday to be the closest contest in recent memory. It appears that neither the Conservative nor the Labor Party are likely   to obtain a majority of seats in the new Parliament. They are expected to be unable to govern without the support of one or more of the minor parties as had been the case in the current Parliament; only moreso.

This election actually has been looming for some time with the heads of the various parties —and thus the potential prime ministers–well known. The local MP’s and their challengers also have been largely identified as well for quite a while. As the voters only select their MP’s and the party which wins the most individual seats generally forms the new Government, British voters are in essence endorsing the leader and the positions of the party for whom they voted.  They may well be voting for Parliament Members but the MP’s actual independence from their leadership in the modern period is extremely limited.

The good thing about this election campaign, unlike what has begun already in the U.S. almost 18 months before the election, is that the campaign season is blessedly shorter, dramatically cheaper, and significantly less painful on the television noise; not that it is any less compelling or challenging on the substance. The economy, immigration, the EU membership, Islamophobia, and the growing underclass are all serious issues. Pollsters suggest there is a genuine ambivalence among voters as to how to vote.

For Jewish voters on May 7 there are a series of additional issues which both parties have sought to address or to avoid. These include: anti-Semitism, anti-Israel sentiment, discrimination, Palestinian statehood, the two-state solution, and the active BDS (boycott, discrimination, and sanction) movement. On most of these issues the Jewish communities has been polling decisively in favor of the positions espoused by David Cameron and the Tory Party despite the fact that the leader of the Labor Party is Jewish. This emanates from a sense that there have been too many negative signals raised of late towards Jewish interests and Israel from the Labor Party and its members than from the Conservative.

Jews represent less than .5% of the population of Great Britain. Given the fact that they live primarily in London and Manchester, plus given the nature of the single member district voting system, Jewish voting is clustered and not very significant as a voting bloc. British Governments certainly have shown sensitivity to —although not necessarily always agreement with—the Jewish community’s concerns.

There is one final aspect to this election which could well influence the final outcome and might also influence Jewish voter preference; the growth of the anti-Europe, right-wing party, UK Independent Party (UKIP).  This party gained the largest number of votes of any British party in the 2014 elections to the European Parliament. UKIP has favored a strongly anti-immigrant policy especially anti-Muslim and general racist direction. UKIP, which already had two seats in the current Parliament, will undoubtedly be a serious factor in this election and may even attract support from right-wing Jews.


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