Saturday, 12 May 2018

The shame of Barnet - losing a council because the voters think you're racist

Image result for welcome to barnet imagesThe general consensus of the UK media is that Labour did not achieve the result it needed to in the local elections last Thursday. As largely expected, it had lukewarm results in London overall and disappointing results outside.

But the most significant result of the night was surely that in Barnet, where the Tories in midterm, in London, actually regained a council that they recently lost to No Overall Control.

The reason? Unsurprisingly, the Jewish voters of Barnet, surely the council with the highest Jewish contingent in Britain, turned away from Labour in droves. Because they were fed up with Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to tackle anti-Semitism, two years after the Chakrabarti report. And, as the Jewish Chronicle’s Stephen Pollard pointed out:

Crucial point about Barnet is its not just Jewish Labour voters who have been disgusted by the party's handling of its antisemites - it's non Jews too.

Quite. While there was enough evidence from polling returns by ward, the anecdotal evidence was strong, too. Journalists deployed to the borough noted the extraordinary strength of feeling they found on the doorstep. As John Mann, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Semitism, put it:
Those who called anti Semitism a smear cost Labour badly last night. A Jewish member for more than 60 years told me on the doorstep he couldn’t vote Labour in Barnet yesterday

Adam Langleben, Barnet councillor and member of the Jewish Labour Movement’s (JLM’s) NEC, was ousted from his seat by the anti-Labour tidal wave in Jewish areas. When he called this out, he was then trolled by far-left blogsite Skwawkbox. When he called that out, Skwawkbox threatened to sue. John McDonnell agreed to meet with Langleben and another councillor, seemingly with positive results. At least someone seemed to be listening to the attacks on Jewish figures.

But then, on Tuesday morning, Langleben was notified that JLM had been uninvited to Labour’s NEC Working Group on anti-Semitism, taking place that evening. A “misunderstanding”, apparently. Undeterred, Langleben and his JLM colleagues decided to attend anyway. They were kept waiting in Reception, without being allowed in. If Labour had genuinely wanted to rebuild bridges to the Jewish community in the wake of the Barnet result, they really couldn’t have done it worse.

Finally, to add insult to injury, we had the frankly witless Dawn Butler telling the BBC that the Corbyn had wanted to act on the Chakrabarti report these last two years but – wait for it – former General Secretary Iain McNicol had blocked it!

Yes, that’ll be the same McNicol who tripled the size of the Compliance Unit and worked tirelessly in the face of resistance from the NEC and Leader’s Office to bring to book the worst offenders in the deluge of anti-Semitism cases hitting the party. We shall see if his successor, already with previous on downplaying the issue, works anywhere near as hard. But it may be advisable not to hold one’s breath.

Langleben’s tweet sums it all up perfectly:

Labour have lost elections for many reasons. But Barnet was the first time in our history we have been rejected for being perceived to be racist. And we have to get a grip. That is all I wanted to tell the Working Group today.

In short: for probably the first time in its century-long history, Labour has been punished at the ballot box for perceived racism. An ugly line has been crossed. You cannot just say “the voters are being over-sensitive”. Like it or not, they are the final judges of everything (not to mention the racism implicit in the stereotype of the “over-sensitive Jew”).

Forget electoral calculation, and whether this is a big deal in numbers of votes. It’s not.

Forget policy. No-one cares about the Israel-Palestine debate in the country (if it were even relevant here, which it’s not) at election time. They care about the economy, jobs and services.

Forget whether or not the Tories are racist in some parts of their party (probably, but what is this, the whataboutery Olympics?)

No. This is a matter of a basic level of human decency, and a small but important numbers of voters have just told Labour it has been found wanting, for the first time in its history.

As a party, we should be completely ashamed.

Imagine if Labour had, say, lost Haringey, due to the voters in Afro-Caribbean-dominated wards in Tottenham deserting Labour for perceived racism. If you had said that to anyone even three years ago, you would be met with stunned silence, despite early signs that the party’s attitude to anti-Semitism, a special kind of racism, was far too tolerant.

But in fact, that is precisely what happened this week to an Asian Muslim politician, when Sajid David was branded a “coconut” and an “Uncle Tom” by Corbyn supporters over his appointment at the Home Office.

In short, when you start to tolerate one kind of racism, it is a short step to tolerating others. This kind of behaviour was really only a matter of time.

To conclude: we can act in two ways on anti-Semitism.

We can continue to pretend that we are taking action. Or we can actually take action. The second is the only way to save the party. But it is difficult to see how it can happen with Jeremy Corbyn still leader and Jennie Formby as General Secretary.

To be fair, the party had at least kicked out Marc Wadsworth the week before – the man who barracked a Jewish MP at the Chakrabarti Report launch and then joked about it with Jeremy Corbyn – but when the election came around, Corbyn did not even meet candidates or the public in Barnet.

No, he met with a small group of activists – we can probably conclude they were hard-core Corbynites, because anyone else in Barnet not closely vetted might well have heckled him under the circumstances – and went home. Somewhat inconveniently, one of that crowd was then expelled from the party only hours later. Oops.

It was not the only unfortunate event for Corbyn around anti-Semitism. The day before the election, a leading light in Jewish Voice for Labour – if you remember, a hard-left grouping recently instigated by Corbyn to provide a counterbalance to the Jewish Labour Movement and the Board of Deputies, neither great fans of the Dear Leader – went on a mad rampage, alleging “Zionists” to blame for Holocaust deaths and that Israel was trying to tweet anti-Semitism under “false flag” accounts.

These things make very little noise up and down the country. But they make a lot of noise in Golders Green and Edgware.

These things do not exactly point to taking the situation seriously. They smack of lip-service. Of warm words.

And these things will one day do for Corbyn, if they do not do for the party itself.

When they come to write the history of this time, the fate of the Labour Party will not, like the Battle of Waterloo or quite possibly the fate of the Tories, have been decided on the playing fields of Eton.

But, if we do not act swiftly and decisively, it might yet be recorded that it was decided on the leafy streets of Barnet.

This post first published at Labour Uncut

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