Friday, 20 April 2018

Labour’s current situation with anti-Semitism is unsustainable

Let’s try an experiment. Since anti-Semitism is a form of racism, let’s simply use the word “racism” as we outline the following facts.

In the last four weeks, a British mainstream political party has:
  • Received a letter, addressed to its leader by two well-respected national community groups, protesting perceived institutional racism within it;
  • Been demonstrated against, twice, by anti-racism campaigners, the first of which demos was attended a number of its own MPs;
  • Had various members threatening those same MPs with deselection and abusing them online over their attendance of said anti-racism demo, including a celebrity member demanding their expulsion;
  • Had hundreds of members attending a counter-demo, against the anti-racism demo, which included a banner from the country’s biggest trade union;
  • Had its leader attend a controversial event with a radical left-wing group who also criticised the first anti-racism demo;
  • Had its leader found to be a member of a number of Facebook groups infested with racists, ultimately forcing him to close his Facebook account;
  • Had its leader support in an online Facebook comment the painter of a racist mural;
  • Had its Head of Compliance resign, after his department had already been significantly beefed up to deal with a flood of disciplinary issues connected with racism;
  • Appointed a leader to the party machine – ultimately in charge of dealing with first-level disciplinary issues – who had previously been in controversy over remarks that many perceived as downplaying racism;
  • Had to remove the chair of its Disputes Panel for championing an activist suspended for posting about the “Holocaust Hoax”, and only after public outcry was said chair actually removed from its National Executive Committee;
  • Replaced said chair with NEC member who worked for, and has in the past defended, former London mayor Ken Livingstone, also currently suspended for alleged racism;
  • Had another NEC member write a piece in the Guardian criticising MPs who attended the anti-racism demos;
  • Had a cross-party group of peers ask the Met to investigate various Facebook posts by its members for inciting racial hatred;
  • Had a sister party in another country suspend relations with it over perceived tolerance to racism.
It’s not pretty, is it?

Now imagine if the Conservative party had been found guilty of such a list of actions with regard to, say, the Afro-Caribbean community. There would have been cries of “Enoch Powell” and national disgust that, in 2018, the Tories had regressed back half a century in their thinking about race.

The Labour Party is merely ‘lucky’ that, sadly, people in general do not generally treat anti-Semitism as they do other forms of racism. The lines are blurrier and, besides, current populist rhetoric about “elites” on both left and right plays nicely into the stereotype of the all-controlling, rich Jew.

But it is no less important and no less pernicious. And it will ultimately filter through.

It remains to be seen whether the current “death by a thousand cuts” of near-daily press stories on anti-Semitism will kill off the party itself – we have already arrived at the point where that is at least a possibility – but what’s clear is that the current situation is not sustainable. We can see that the Leader’s Office still does not take this seriously and sees it as a plot to undermine Corbyn. We can also see that the party’s disciplinary mechanisms are now hopelessly hobbled, both on the side of the party machine and that of the NEC.

That is: a General Secretary already known to have spent years fraternising with the anti-Israel left, which clearly contains most of these anti-Semites, is unlikely to move quickly and decisively to fix the problem. It is quite possible, if not likely, that the new Head of Compliance will be a Corbyn place-person. The Disputes Panel will continue as ineffectively as it did, briefly, under Christine Shawcroft. The wider NEC will continue to dither over the key cases, such as Ken Livingstone.

Here’s a distinct possibility. The result of all this is that the media noise generated by all this ultimately grows to a deafening level and starts to affect Labour electorally. This may well not be as early as the local elections in a few weeks’ time. But it will come, sooner or later.

At this point there will be senior politicians who realise that things will never change under current leadership; that is, who will realise that it’s ultimately Corbyn or the party, and move to challenge him, long before the 2022 elections, by which point he will anyway be 72. Succession will obviously happen before long, and in such cases ambitious politicians generally need only the flimsiest of excuses to bring it forward.

While this would by no means signify a return to normality and a new leader would likely come from the same Corbynite milieu, at the very least the cancer of anti-Semitism might be exorcised and the party saved. We should always remember that, as Liz Kendall put it in the first leadership campaign, the Labour Party has “no God-given right to exist”. As any Liberal Democrat will ruefully tell you about their now-defunct parent party, the Liberals.

We shall see. But the party is in terrible trouble right now.

This post first published at Labour Uncut

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