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Michael Howard: Britain's New Tory Leader
Last uploaded : Thursday 13th Nov 2003 at 01:12
Contributed by : The Editor



Much has been written this week in the British newspapers about the ascension of Michael Howard MP as the new head of the British Conservative Party. Howard is a Liberal Jew and the son of an immigrant. He is now in a position to ascend further if Tony Blair?s manifesto is rejected in the next year: Howard could rise to the Prime Ministership itself.

?The Daily Telegraph? ran a piece in the lead-up to Bonfire Night (November 5th - the anniversary of the plotted assault on Parliament by Guy Fawkes four centuries ago) in which residents of Lewes, Sussex said they were preparing effigies to burn on their holiday pyres. The top burning favourites amongst the ordinarily Conservative folk were President Bush; Donald Rumsfeld and Michael Howard. Then came Diane Abbott, a black Labour MP who has decided to send her children to expensive private schools.

All of this is rather confusing: one would have thought conservative voters would support an MP who sends her progeny to private schools, and that they would be thrilled to have a new leader as attractive, witty and articulate as Howard. But no, they had quickly decided that he was fit for the bonfire along with the woman of colour. At the risk of seeming paranoid I am troubled by this: imagine the outrage if a town in the USA decided to burn effigies of Jewish and Afro-Caribbean lawmakers. Having mentioned to the readers of the JewishComment e-mail list that I was unhappy about the effigies, I had one letter of complaint saying the Abbott and Howard burnings are not indicative of racism. I disagree. Full stop.

For the most part, however, the British media have been supportive of the Howard appointment. One editorial gave me pause. In ?The Jewish Chronicle,? Geoffrey Alderman makes a remarkable observation: he reminds readers of the chasms that have developed over the years within Anglo-Jewry and the rejection of Liberal practices by the establishment. Now, he says, we are on the threshold of having a Jewish Prime Minister who is a Liberal, and the Jewish establishment should therefore elevate the movement to acceptance, not scorn and rejection. (When Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Synagogue, did not attend the funeral of Auschwitz survivor Rabbi Hugo Gryn in 1996, unprecedented outrage was felt by non-Orthodox and secular Jews and ?The Times? newspaper took the unprecedented step of publishing its own leader editorial expressing its anguish at this self-inflicted wound in the flesh of Anglo-Jewry.)

Yesterday Michael Howard embarked on his first outing in Parliamentary Prime Minister?s Question Time. He acquitted himself with honour and panache, at times leaving Tony Blair pale and nonplussed. Notwithstanding his views, which some perceive as unacceptably reactionary (he enraged Jewish human rights advocates and received a delegation that included Rabbi David J Goldberg when he took a hard line on asylum seekers whilst in the John Major Cabinet), Howard?s sparkling intellect and razor-sharp mind were in full flood and were a harbinger of Parliamentary dynamism to come.

Great Britain is in the grips of an ugly debate about the banning of shechita, or ritual slaughter. The issue has brought Muslim and Jewish groups together in a united effort to preserve this practice, essential to Halal and Kashrut. What would Michael Howard do if the issue reached his desk as Prime Minister? My friends tell me not to waste lost sleep on this subject, but it is the sort of issue that worries me. Destiny has landed the son of a Jewish immigrant in the coveted post held by Winston Churchill. His journey will not be an easy one.

To accompany this article readers might enjoy this Letter to the Editor in 'The Daily Telegraph:'


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