Jewish figures criticise ‘stigmatising’ Tory attack on Starmer family time

Keir Starmer has accused the Conservatives of desperate tactics amid claims that Tory criticism of his defence of family time was insensitive and had antisemitic undertones.

With Rishi Sunak embarking on a marathon day of campaigning, beginning with a pre-dawn visit to a distribution centre and closing with a late-night rally, Tory ministers and aides sought to contrast these efforts with what they termed Starmer’s “part-time” approach.

As an increasingly personal election campaign neared its end, the Conservatives pushed out “final warnings” about what they said a massive Labour majority would mean for taxes, migration and other policy areas.

Downing Street chiefs believe the criticism of Starmer for saying he would maintain his current habit of trying to spend time with his wife and children after 6pm on Fridays “pretty well come what may” has resonated with voters.

However, it has sparked an angry backlash, with senior Jewish figures saying the decision to target such a culturally significant time of the week – Starmer’s wife, Victoria, comes from a Jewish family – was ill-judged and deeply unfair.

“I would have thought to anybody it’s blindingly obvious that a Friday night is quite important in some religions and faiths,” Starmer told reporters during a campaign stopover in Derbyshire.

Calling the attacks “laughably pathetic”, the Labour leader said his comments in a radio interview the day before had simply been to set out how he tried to keep Friday evenings aside for his family and would if elected prime minister, adding: “But I know very well it’s going to be really difficult to do it.”

Starmer said the aim was to create “protected time” for his children, his wife and her father. “Obviously her dad’s side of the family is Jewish, as people will appreciate, and we use that for family prayers – not every Friday, but not infrequently.

“That doesn’t mean I’ve never had to work on a Friday, of course it doesn’t. Plenty of times I haven’t been able to do it, but I try to protect that time, I’d like to try and protect it in the future.”

After spotting a social media response to the comments, Conservative campaign organisers chose to pile in and inaccurately argue that Starmer had said he would not work on any evening.

“It’s after 6pm so of course Angela Rayner is back in charge,” said the party’s official account on X. Claire Coutinho, the energy secretary, said: “I do think that it’s pretty unrealistic for a prime minister not to work past 6pm.”

The comments prompted warnings from senior Jewish figures about the risks of singling out someone for trying to observe the tradition of spending time with family on Friday evenings.

Marie van der Zyl, who was president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews until earlier this year, called the attacks “horribly stigmatising”.

“For Jews of all denominations and their loves ones it’s really a sacred time and I think we should be recognising that here is someone who appreciates values and traditions,” said Van der Zyl, who has recently become a Labour party member.

“He’s setting a good example and for that to become something that is criticised I think is grossly unfair.”

John Mann, a former Labour MP and now peer, who is the government’s independent adviser on antisemitism, called the Conservative attacks “dangerous”, noting that parliament did not sit on Sundays due to Christian traditions.

He said: “It’s a very strange thing to attack over. I’m the independent adviser to the prime minister and my advice would be this is not an area to stray into.”

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Writing in the Jewish Chronicle, the paper’s former editor Stephen Pollard called the Conservative line of attack “puerile, pathetic and degrading for everyone involved”.

With Starmer and Sunak both set to embark on long final days of campaign trips, opinion polls have shown a slight narrowing of Labour’s lead, to 19 points, still enough most likely to deliver a significant majority for Starmer’s party.

A survey of more than 20,000 voters by Redfield and Wilton put Labour on 41%, its lowest total for the pollster since Boris Johnson was in No 10. The Conservatives were on 22%, six points above Reform UK.

With the Labour poll lead largely unmoved since the start of campaign and constituency-extrapolated polls predicting Labour majorities starting at about 150 seats, much of the final Tory message has implicitly accepted defeat and sought to limit the damage with warnings about a Labour “supermajority”.

A Tory campaign video posted on social media and emailed to supporters shows an imaginary voter in July 2025 struggling with power cuts, unpayable bills and closed schools, ending with the message: “48 hours to stop a Labour supermajority.”

Conservative campaign managers have dismissed the idea that this strategy was made up on the hoof, saying it had been prepared long in advance to be used if the polling did not tighten.

Sunak’s penultimate day of campaigning focused on seats that would ordinarily be safely Conservative, including an early morning visit to a supermarket in Witney, Oxfordshire, formerly David Cameron’s constituency.

Held by the Tories with a 15,000-plus majority in 2019, this is now under threat from the Liberal Democrats, who have stepped up campaigning in such seats in recent days.

Speaking to reporters, Sunak endorsed the attack about Starmer’s supposed work ethic, if without much apparent enthusiasm. “Everyone is going to approach this job in a different way, in my experience there is always work to do,” he said. “There’s always decisions that need to be made.”

Asked if it was right for Grant Shapps, the defence secretary, to claim that Starmer might clock off when pressing military decisions needed to taken, Sunak said: “I do worry about our country’s security, as there are deep concerns about it. This is the most dangerous time that our country has lived in it for decades.”


Updated: Juli 2, 2024 — 6:51 pm

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