For the Jewish News September 3 2015 by Jenni Frazer
The rain was bucketing down in almost Biblical quantities but Dame Tessa Jowell was resolutely cheerful and upbeat.
The former MP for Dulwich and West Norwood stood down at the last general election in order to devote herself to running for Mayor of London.
If she wins the nomination as Labour’s candidate she is expected to face Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, and is believed by supporters to have the best chance of defeating the Tories’ nominee.
A one-time Minister for London – until the post was abolished under Prime Minister Gordon Brown – Dame Tessa served in a number of Labour Cabinet positions under both Brown and Tony Blair, and received her damehood largely in tribute to her work as minister for the Olympics before the 2012 sports festival was held in the capital.
She is all too aware, she told Jewish News, of the “terrible amount of hurt, distrust and confusion” in the Jewish community towards the Labour Party. Contributing factors had been the mayoralty of Ken Livingstone, the Labour Party’s vote on recognition of a Palestinian state, “and the sense that Ed Miliband was not on the community’s side – in fact there was a general feeling that Labour on the whole is not on the community’s side.”
Dame Tessa, if she becomes mayor, is, without qualification, “on the side of the Jewish community. I will work with Jewish organisations, and represent the entitlement of the community to the respect of other communities in London”.
She was aware, she said, “that this is a very difficult time for the community because of the rise of anti-Semitic attacks and the sense of being under threat. This is completely unacceptable in our city.”
Though she wants “to transcend party lines”, Dame Tessa acknowledged that no Labour leader could function effectively “if they are viewed with distrust by the Jewish community.”
The one-time social worker is no stranger to the Jewish community; her first husband, Roger Jowell, who died in 2011, was a South African Jew and Dame Tessa has nothing but praise for her former mother-in-law for her “willingness to include a shiksa in the family – it meant more than words can say.”
And on the Israel front, too, Dame Tessa’s links go back a long way – she joined the Labour Friends of Israel in 1978 and in December 2014 she led a delegation of Labour candidates to Israel under the auspices of LFI. During that visit she met the mayor of Tel Aviv and was won over by the development of digital entrepreneurship in the city – “we could learn from that”.
Nevertheless those close to Labour politics are sceptical about the depth of her involvement in the last 15 years, claiming that Israel was “strictly on the back burner until she decided to run for mayor”
Only recently Dame Tessa attended a Friday night service at Alyth Gardens in Golders Green and found it “truly shocking that Jews can’t worship without a security cordon” in the UK capital.
London faced “huge challenges”, she said, not the least of which was to “express outrage – this is not how things should be.
• Other Labour candidates for London mayor: Diane Abbott, Gareth Thomas, Christian Wolmar.