Thirty-five years ago, Oxford University Press published my book The Jewish Community in British Politics.
Primarily an examination of the interaction between British Jews and the British political system, it was the first — and is to date — the only book ever devoted comprehensively to a history of how British Jews have voted in national and local elections.
It was the first — and is to date — the only book I’ve ever written that has been formally condemned by officers of the Board of Deputies of British Jews [namely Martin Savitt, second-in-command to Board president Greville Janner, and Savitt’s sidekick Jack Gewirtz, then head of the Board’s so-called Defence Department].
It was the first — and is to date — the only book that I’ve ever sent to a literary agent (he refused to promote it on the grounds that it was “dangerous”).
And it was the first — and is to date — the only book that I’ve ever written “on spec”.
I sent the typescript to OUP, who referred it to three anonymous reviewers, all of whom recommended its publication.
And so, 35 years ago, OUP published it. Most, though I suspect not all of you, will be pleased to know that the full story of how this volume came to be written is told in my forthcoming autobiography, an indiscreet tome entitled A Better Class of Enemy.
My purpose in drawing your attention to it now is to tease out some features of The Jewish Community in British Politics, and of its frenzied reception within British-Jewish circles, that have a very contemporary relevance.
At the time at which I was engaged in the research upon which the book is based (that would be in the 1970s), any talk of “the Jewish vote” was absolutely forbidden in polite Anglo-Jewish circles.
When I began carrying out polls of Jewish voters in Greater London, I was publicly taken to task by two successive presidents of the Deputies, namely the Lord Fisher of Camden (a diamond broker whose chief claim to fame seems to have been his role as the last chairman of the Metropolitan Water Board) and Greville Janner (a third-rate politician upon whose chief claim to fame I prefer to remain silent).
After I had, in a BBC radio broadcast based on my research, named Jewish members of the National Front (forerunner of the British National Party), Janner’s senior vice-president, Martin Savitt, invited me to partake of luncheon with him and Jack Gewirtz.
And there, as we munched on what I must say were delicious salt-beef sandwiches, I was told that academic research was all very well, but to suggest that British Jews might not vote as British non-Jews voted, and that (not to put too fine a point on it) there might have historically been — and might still be — a specific ethnic dimension to the way in which British Jews cast their votes, was to raise issues that were better left buried in the archives.
Jews, they told me, voted strictly in line with their socio-economic class, and would I please leave it at that?
I walked out of the luncheon (taking a half-eaten salt-beef sandwich with me). And I have never looked back!
I tell this story now because we could be on the verge of the biggest upheaval in the history of the British-Jewish vote since the advent of Thatcherism and the British-Jewish infatuation with it.
I do not propose to remind you of the diet of recent bad-news stories involving the Labour Party and its Jewish constituency.
Every day brings new revelations, all confirming what some of us have been saying for a long time — that the Labour Party has a problem not just with Zionism but with Jews.
Jeremy Corbyn is not at the root of this problem. But he has presided over its growth and has done too little to confront it and secure its eradication.
The result has been, predictably, a wholesale desertion of Jewish support for Labour where that support matters most — in the ballot box.
It’s just possible that in order to stem this haemorrhage, Corbyn will be removed as Labour leader. If that happens, it’s quite possible that the Jews will be blamed.
Some communal voices are already being raised — hysterically — warning against such an outcome.
Pay no attention to them. As I told Sammy Fisher, Greville Janner, Martin Savitt and Jack Gewirtz: British Jews have votes and they can cast them howsoever they wish.
That, after all, is what democracy is all about.