Ed Miliband says he wants to be Britain’s “first Jewish PM”. He apparently has no ambitions to be its most historically informed. As any fule kno, Benjamin Disraeli – one of the greatest PMs there ever was – was Jewish.
Yes, he converted to Christianity. But Ed Miliband doesn’t even believe in God and describes himself as a “Jewish atheist” – so we’re talking about ethnic identity here, not religion. And Disraeli was keenly aware of his ethnicity, calling himself “the blank page between the Old Testament and the New”. He said that he regarded the Christian church as “the only Jewish institution that remains, and, irrespective of its being the depository of divine truth, [I] must ever cling to it as the visible means which embalms the memory of my race.”
Some observations about Ed’s fluff:
1. Miliband either got this wrong because he’s not nearly as clever as he thinks he is or because he takes a view on the precise nature of Jewish identity that others may find rather controversial. Whatever the cause of the gaffe, it’s a gaffe.
2. Labour does like to presume that only the Left promotes non-WASP politicians. Yet Michael Howard would have liked to become the first ethnically Jewish PM, too – and he was very, very Right-wing. Plus the Left has never gotten over the fact that it was the Tories who gave us the first woman in Number 10.
3. Why are the party leaders talking about religion so much at the moment? David Cameron came out as a Christian this week; Ed now says “faith” has a nourishing role in society. Could it be that, in this post-ideological age, they are trying to use religious language as a way of communicating vague “values” to the voters? It’s an interesting move because it comes at a time when the mainstream churches are in sharp decline, and their dogmas on sex and morality couldn’t be less popular.
Of course the grand irony in all of this is that Ed Miliband has tried to rebrand Labour as a “One Nation” party, yet has just written the author of that phrase out of history. Ah well, I’m sure Ed M will be forgotten in 150 years’ time, too…