The contribution of Jewish MPs of the past is often overlooked. Jewish News’ historian Derek Taylor tables a motion to amend.
Agreed, it’s a difficult time, but within about a year there will be 600 jobs on offer with a minimum salary of over £80,000. You can add to that the cost of running an office and the canteen is very reasonable. There are really no qualifications required and if the pension arrangements are a bit dicey, you’d still have a high status from having held down one of the jobs.
Naturally, there is a lot of competition, but you don’t need to be a member of the Law Society, a chartered accountant or called to the Bar. In fact you don’t need any specific background.
For some reason the community has shown far less interest in these positions over the last 50 years. There are only about half the Jewish MPs there were in the 1970s.
Mind you, if you have Yahrzeit, you can still rustle up a minyan; you’d need Jonathan Djanogly, Michael Ellis, Robert Halfon, Ian Levy, Ed Miliband, Alex Nobel, Andrew Percy, Dominic Raab, James Schneider and Grant Shapps. I can’t guarantee that any of them can daven Mincha and Maariv but you could call on Lord Michael Howard, the former leader of the Conservative Party, who davens beautifully at a London synagogue when his time comes round.
We had a certain amount of help from above in getting into parliament in the first place. Any number of bills to allow us not to have to take the oath of allegiance on the word of a Christian, were defeated before 1858. Until that summer 165 years ago, when the stench from the Thames, from effluence coming from new WCs, almost persuaded parliament to remove to Oxford. As a consequence when the Oath Act came up again, it was finally passed by 129 votes to 55; about 30% of the MPs bothering to stay for the vote which was in the small hours of the morning.
Between 1945 and 1970 there were only two Jewish Conservative MPs, but there were more than 40 Jewish Labour MPs in the 1970s and Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet had so many Jews that Willy Whitelaw, the Deputy prime minister, said that they had more Old Estonians than Old Etonians. Leon Britton, Keith Joseph, Nigel Lawson, Malcolm Rifkind and David Young did sterling work in the 1980s.
The contribution of Jewish MPs in the past is usually long forgotten. The provision of wheelchairs and other means of locomotion for the disabled, is down to Lord Arnold Goodman, while the compensation miners get from contracting pneumoconiosis in that dangerous occupation is the result of the hard work of Sydney Silverman. Phil Piratin got the underground available during the Blitz for people to shelter from the bombs and Denis Healey relied a lot for advice on financial matters from Harold Lever.
Leo Abse got capital punishment abolished and Viscount Herbert Samuel .was the leader of the Liberal party and Home Secretary in Ramsay Macdonald’s government in the 1930. Even in small matters, Jews have pressed for improvements. It was Samuel Montagu, MP, the first Lord Swaythling, who got the government to adopt metric weights, and the third Lord Swaythling who managed to make it mandatory for bicycles to have illuminated rear lights.
We’re even shorter when it comes to women MPs. Margaret Hodge, Charlotte Nichols and Lucy Frazer are still there but we’ve lost Gillian Merron.
It’s perfectly true that we have a great deal of support from non-Jewish parliamentarians and, as Jeremy Corbyn discovered, being associated with anti-semitism is a very good way to lose an election. Perhaps we shouldn’t be too greedy; we are 0.3% of the population but have 3% of the MPs. We are also very well represented in the House of Lords, but they aren’t the government. So when the next General Election is called, let’s hope that more Jews stand and get elected.
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