Thursday, 18 January 2018

We need to talk about Momentum and anti-Semitism

Momentum is on a roll. It has just secured three places on Labour’s NEC. It is now on course to easily force deselections in seats where it does not like the sitting MP. It has also, as its first act in that newly-constituted NEC, just ousted the long-serving head of the Disputes Committee, Ann Black, on the left of the party – the Campaign Group, no less – but widely respected as fair and neutral.

“Fair” and “neutral” are words that we might struggle a little more to apply to her replacement, Christine Shawcroft. Shawcroft, you may remember, was one of the few party members who supported disgraced Tower Hamlets mayor, Lutfur Rahman, after he had been forced from office for electoral fraud and had not even been a party member for five years. A trick which got her suspended from the party (now reinstated). Amazingly, she was still defending him on Tuesday as the victim of “a terrible miscarriage of justice” (Rahman was also struck off as a solicitor a month ago).

Given Black’s long and distinguished tenure at the Disputes Committee, one wonders what motive there could possibly be for replacing her, other than to ensure that people on the far left that she might have found unpalatable will be allowed to join, re-join or have their suspensions lifted. You can almost picture Ken Livingstone and George Galloway rubbing their hands with delight as we speak. But more of Shawcroft later.

Momentum is clearly making moves towards its clear-but-as-yet-unstated objective of calling the shots within the Labour Party (if not necessarily of beating the Tories and securing a Corbyn government, a seemingly secondary priority).

Moderates everywhere should be concerned, not least because they are now at the start of a long process of being gradually squeezed out, constituency by constituency. This has been clear for some time and demonstrated by the examples we are about to give.

What is perhaps less obvious is that Momentum, unlike Labour, does not have such tight entry criteria or such an active Compliance Unit as Labour. This means that, although there is surely a majority of decent and well-meaning folk within Momentum’s 30,000 souls who essentially think that Corbyn is a good chap, there is a minority, for example from the old SWP, who have rather more disturbing methods of organising – a la Militant – and also more disturbing views.

And so we come on to anti-Semitism on the left. I first wrote about it here six years ago long before it penetrated deep into the party itself, when it was still a fringe phenomenon. It is no longer.

Exhibit A: Jackie Walker, twice suspended from Labour and stripped of her Vice-Chair at Momentum (although now back at the top table) for allegedly anti-Semitic comments. Who thinks Jews were “chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade”. Walker still maintains she is a victim of a “witch hunt” and indeed this summer she did a one-woman, Edinburgh show around this theme.

If you still wonder if she is disingenuous or for real, it is interesting to note – as the Jew Know blog points out – that even her claim to be Jewish is rather odd, given that she was baptised a Catholic, as was her mother (as is well known, your mother needs to be Jewish for you to be Jewish). Neither, it appears, were Jewish rituals observed at home or was it even mentioned in her autobiographical book. Could it possibly be, one wonders, that the Jewish claim might not be a rather useful shield, to be trotted out in convenient moments, such as being accused of anti-Semitism?

And finally just prior to Ann Black’s removal on Tuesday, we had a rare insight into how she and her friends on the hard left actually think, from the Independent’s Ben Kentish:

Walker, in the above screenshot, discusses Black’s suspension with prominent Momentum figure Tony Greenstein (also suspended from Labour, pending a disciplinary hearing next week) and another member. “It’s exactly the same with Iain McNicol [party General Secretary]. We have to disillusion people in her [Black]”, says Greenstein.

These groups are not having robust debates about politics here. They are actively trying to undermine both the party organisation and individuals within it, all the while attempting to maintain a façade of innocent idealism; of defiant victims of maltreatment. It is, frankly, sick.

Exhibit B: Haringey Labour Party. It is by now common knowledge the purge that has taken place among Haringey’s councillors, in favour of Momentum-backed candidates for the coming London borough elections.

A fine example is Momentum’s Charley Allan: selected in place of a long-time councillor; supporter of “liberation movement” Hamas (not terrorists, of course); columnist for the Morning Star; etc.

Unsurprisingly, Allan defends Ken Livingstone’s conspiracy theory that there was a Zionist-Nazi collaboration in the 1930s. And when confronted with the anti-Semitic Hamas Charter which openly calls for the murder of Jews, apologises for it as the result of “occupation and humiliation”.

Start to see the picture? Momentum, attempts to target individuals and the defence of anti-Semitic tropes.

Exhibit C: Hastings and Rye CLP. Toby Helm’s recent Observer piece interviews some fresh-faced Momentum members there, full of enthusiasm. But scratch the surface, and it seems that, there too, there are strong signs of hard-left interest. Council leader Peter Chowney and others accepted the pro-Corbyn “loyalty test” pledge that elected representatives are now being asked to sign. There are reports of numerous local councillors who have been deselected and others leaving in disgust. Corbyn has done a number of rallies there.

Interestingly Leah Levane, a local member, is prominent in Jewish Voice For Labour, an “anti-Zionist” group. The CLP proposed an alternative (lighter) change,later withdrawn, to the motion adopted at Conference supposedly cracking down on anti-Semitism.

One honestly wonders what the good burghers of Hastings, not unreasonably wanting their bins emptied, must make of a local party so seemingly fascinated by Israel and Jews.

And then there is the shortlisted candidate for the constituency, Michelle Harris. Who is, among other things, a member of David Icke’s Facebook fan group and happily sharing anti-Semitic tropes on the Rothschilds, Israel/Holocaust comparisons and so on.

Finally, news from late yesterday: Christine Shawcroft’s first action as Disputes Committee Chair was to have a meeting in which three anti-Semitism-related cases were considered. Only one of the three was referred for a full NCC hearing, the other two let off with warnings.

We can see that Labour’s major problem with anti-Semitism is clearly being treated to the velvet glove containing the, er, velvet fist.

And let’s be honest: Labour has hardly been taking anti-Semitism seriously since the Corbyn accession. You have only to look at the fiasco of the Chakrabarti reportto see this. But you can see from all the above that Momentum takes it even less seriously – for example, they never suspended Walker – in fact, there are numerous examples of individual members moving to defend those accused of it.

Yes, Jon Lansman – who is Jewish, for the record – has made a useful acknowledgement that anti-Semitism is a problem in Labour. But ironically, what he fails to acknowledge the role of his own organisation in the problem. Normal Labour members do not share these obsessions. More importantly, one honestly wonders if he can anyway control the monster he has created.

In short: the links are clear. It is obvious that not all members of Momentum are anti-Semitic; one suspects relatively few. However, what is clear is that Momentum, in the areas where it has established a strong presence (Brighton and Liverpool are two more), looks like it is nurturing a “safe space” where those few feel comfortable to make or post anti-Semitic comments. Given the successful takeover currently taking place in various constituencies, it is surely only a matter of time before this culture takes root in Labour as a whole.

In other words, with Tuesday’s coup on the Disputes panel, it is clear that that Momentum’s attitude to anti-Semitism is poised to become the Labour Party’s.

We can debate the politics of centre versus left within Labour, fine: we are all on the same team and let the best argument win. It’s called the battle of ideas. But let this pernicious culture loose, as seems to be currently happening, and not only Jews – it is mostly too late for that – but most decent people are likely to simply leave the party in disgust.

Ironically, such an exodus would actually be an accelerator of Momentum’s takeover of the party. But it would also truly be its kiss of death as an electoral force.

Even those genuine, idealistic supporters of Momentum who are not from the old, Trotskyite left must now realise there are cuckoos in their midst and they must be dealt with.

This post first published at Labour Uncut

UPDATE 19JAN 19:20

Just to note that, further to the above, we have today learned that the hearing of Marc Wadsworth (who reduced Jewish MP Ruth Smeeth to tears at Labour's anti-Semitism report launch) has been delayed until no-one knows when. We might also note that, after said incident, he was seen to have a jokey chat with Jeremy Corbyn, also present. They clearly know each other.

Clearly the Labour leadership is really serious about this subject, which even Momentum's founder accepts to be a major problem.


  1. The likes of Khan (who I like btw) who gave Corbyn the votes needed to be on the ballot for leadership need to stop defending their decision and acknowledge the catastrophe they have unleashed. My instinct as a Labour person would be to stay and fight but at some point paying membership dues to such an organisation puts a stain on you, we are in a real quandry, with idiots celebrating polls that show Labour neck and neck with the Tories when with the Brexit, reshuffle & NHS fiascos a Labour Party led by someone (preferably a woman) seen as a legitimate PM would be 15-20 points up in the polls at the moment (legitimate is not the word I'm looking for there, having a mental block on the word that means believable, so embarrassing)

  2. Agreed, the 35 should really (like Margaret Beckett, to her credit) fess up and admit they did something monumentally stupid. I am fed up with the post-hoc rationalisation of Corbyn as an adequate leader when no-one would remotely have considered him as such even three years ago.

    I am staying put for the time being. At some point there may be a red line (Galloway returning, for example), but not yet.

    1. Galloway returning would at least justify, in fact mandate a leadership challenge and so damage Corbyns image in the country that surely the polls would nosedive giving that leadership challenge a real chance, it may even open the eyes of the membership who are not from the Militant SWP entryist wing.

      Its not just the ideology with Corbyn either (though its mainly that) its the incompetence, I will never forget watching live has he did a scurrying 'no comment' speed walk away from the press minutes after Cameron resigned, a competent leader would have known that was potentially a signature moment with the nations eyes on him with many non-regular news watchers glued to Sky & BBC. A competent leader would have huddled for 5 minutes with key advisers, come out, faced the cameras and reintroduced himself to the country, with many ppl getting their first unfiltered look at him, if me I would have got a count of the obscene number of times Cameron used personal pronouns in his resignation speech and used the opportunity to point out how typical that was of Tory govt, at a time of national upheaval like the Brexit vote he dedicated X% of his speech to himself & driven home the point that I would always focus on the people, not myself or my party.

      Instead the lasting image ppl got, many seeing him unfiltered for the first time was a disheveled man scurrying away from questions looking flustered, totally out of his depth and the furthest thing u could imagine from a Prime Minister

  3. Indeed. My worry is though that the party is so far gone that even the readmission of Galloway would not faze the majority of activists but simply make all the decent ones who are left, leave.


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