Friday, 29 January 2010

Democracy problem in Stamford Hill?

Is there a pact between Jewish politicians in Stamford Hill not to stand against each other in elections?

Some Hackney politicians have commented on this - unfortunately most of it was off the record. One suggested that there may be a pact between the Lib Dems and the Conservative Jewish candidates not to stand against each other.

But this week Cllr Matthew Coggins, leader of the Hackney Conservative group denied this.

The evidence suggests that Orthodox Jewish candidates don't oppose each other, whichever political party they represent. If this due to a comfortable arrangement between politicians in opposing parties, it would be antidemocratic.

But the conspiracy theory - and its implications for democracy - is not the only explanation.

1. A religious principle?

One non-Jewish councillor said: "The main reason they won’t stand against each other is a reluctance to promote division within the community. They don’t want to encourage that.
At the same time they are not terribly interested in it. There are religious principles about not having these arguments publicly."

The same councillor claimed that there may be a scriptural justification for this avoidance of conflict. Asked if there was some specific text that dealt with this he said: "There is, yes, but I’m not entirely clear about what it is. But it is not a rule."

Ian Sharer, leader of the Lib Dems said there was no religious reason why candidates from the Jewish community couldn't stand against each other: "It is not a scriptural thing. The basic thing is that the Jewish community votes for Jewish councillors. They don't care which party you're in. They support you if you're Jewish."

2 Not enough candidates:

One councillor said: "Another reason why they aren’t standing against each other is that there aren’t people there who want the job."

He said that parties didn't have Jewish candidates queuing up and said that Labour had been looking for an OJ councillor for years before Joseph Stauber defected from the Lib Dems.

But Ian Sharer said that having more than one Jewish candidate in an election made it "confusing" and that these conflicts could get "nasty and a bit silly". But he didn't say there was a formal agreement not to stand against each other, adding that it had happened in the past.

3. Conspiracy:

That Jewish candidates agree not to split the Jewish vote and so do not stand against each other.

The evidence is simply that Jewish candidates very rarely stand against each other. I've been told - but haven't checked - that the last time Jewish candidates stood against each other was in the New River by election in 2005 when Harvey Odze (Conservative) and Mani Silver (Lib Dem) stood against each other.

But prior to that there is a long gap going back to Abraham Pinter - who became a Labour Councillor in the 80s/90s.

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