Gerasites: So, a bit of an eventful evening in some parts of Twitter, what happened?
Matilda: Well, the interesting thing is not that the original activity was particularly unusual, at least in the context of recent months, but that tonight people decided that they weren’t going to be silent about it, and therefore action was taken.
In essence, a Labour member and PCS union representative (and, according to this Vice write up, but as yet unconfirmed, a civil servant), was tweeted regarding some comments he had tweeted back in 2014 about M&S and Tesco having “Jewish blood”, the context being their poor employment practices. This then led into a ‘debate’ of sorts, that has been the focus of this little melodrama.
As far as I can see, the tweet he was originally replying to has since been deleted, so we are relying on his later explanations for the context.
G: Given the kind of comments we’ve seen in recent months, this doesn’t seem particularly unusual, why is this making so much noise?
M: A few reasons. Firstly, this tweeter has 21,000 followers, so he’s relatively influential. Secondly, I think that for many he’s an archetype of the new Labour membership: he only joined in 2014, appears dedicated to “Corbynism”, is on the far-left of the party, and he is very vocal.
One of the much debated aspects of the new Labour incarnation, on both Twitter and in the mainstream media, has been whether or not there is an anti-semitic edge to it (examples: here, here, here and here). That’s not a debate I want to get into right now, and I’m also not going to comment on whether his tweets are or not, but that debate is certainly the backdrop to this evening. Many in the centre and on the right in the party believe this is a battle for the Labour Party’s soul, as well as their ability to be elected.
As it happens, this evening the Labour Party has apparently taken action, having announcing through their @LabourPress twitter account that they have removed him from the party. This will be a very positive sign for many who were offended by his tweets and who have either left, or have been considered leaving, the party in recent months – a sign there is still hope.
G: So, what do you think of the tweets, why were they so offensive?
M: To me, the tweets were at the very least poorly thought through. I am not going to comment on whether they are antisemitic or not, people can judge for themselves. I should probably mention that although I haven’t said whether I believe they are or not, I have nevertheless have already been threatened with a libel suit.
Here’s what I will say, I simply don’t see that the religion and ethnicity of Michael Marks in 1884 is relevant to the running of the company now and, even if it were, cannot see why it would be more relevant than the religion and ethnicity of Thomas Spencer – who was a Christian Yorkshireman, in case you were wondering. I also find the immediate conflation between this, and his perception of the actions of the Israeli state pretty… well, I think it’s utter b*****ks, to be honest.
Because of this I created a Storify including his tweets about M&S and Tesco, a number of tweets he had posted of an Israeli flag being ripped to show the Nazi flag underneath, and other tweets conflating the atrocities committed by the Nazi Government with the actions of Israel’s army during the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. You can see the full Storify here.
G: OK, I see. Well, if it helps, I think the defamation suit seems pretty unlikely but, yes, people can definitely decide for themselves.
M: Yes, me too, on both counts! *laughs*
G: So what happens now?
M: Now? It’s difficult to say. It looks like Mr Nelson will be challenging the lack of ‘due process’ in his expulsion of the Labour Party. Momentum Thurrock, his local branch of Labour’s Momentum movement, have announced they will be disbanding with immediate effect.
“As civil servants we are (of course) free to use social and other digital media in our own time. But we always need to be mindful of our duties not to disclose official information without authority, and not to take part in any political or other public activity which compromises, or might be seen to compromise, our impartial service to the government of the day or any future government.”
Given his twitter banner was, until moments ago, a “Vote Labour” banner (now replaced with a hammer and sickle) and he is such a vocal supporter of Corbyn, it’s difficult to imagine he hasn’t breached these rules. I presume someone will make a complaint, it’s the sort of thing people do.
G: But, do you think this means anything for Labour, is this a sea change?
M: Almost certainly not. However, it gives us some hope that maybe, just maybe, things can be turned around, don’t you think?
Edit: Tilly would like it noted that she didn’t contact the Labour Party, which resulted in the expulsion of Scott Nelson. That honour goes to, we believe, Jimmy Rushmore, Rob Ford, Nick Cohen, Danny Finkelstein, Twll Dun and other assorted villains. Good work, chaps..