By Saul Freeman
It’s May 2016 and Ken Livingstone has just been removed from the Corbynite slate for Labour’s upcoming NEC election, due to his long history of Jew baiting finally catching up with him. Ken of course puts his fall down to an alliance of Zionist conspirators and the right leaning bureaucrats of his own party. He’s being replaced on the candidate list by Rhea Wolfson, a young socialist who has stated that “winning 2020 should not be the priority of the Labour Party” and asserts that “to focus only on elections loses sight of other ways of making effective changes in society”.
If Ken & Rhea didn’t exist, some of us would be tempted to invent them as clumsily drawn characters to use in our blog posts where we write about the moral and political collapse of the Left. And then enraged Corbyn supporting folk would pursue us on Twitter, pointing out that our use of such crude stereotyped invented placeholders demonstrates how the Red Tory Blairites are running scared of the truth. They’d almost certainly chuck in a bit of blaming a “Zionist” witch-hunt and point out the injustices endured by the Palestinians.
Now, of course Ken and Rhea are real. This makes them just a little bit more interesting to hang an argument on, though I suspect the same objections will be applied.
The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Leader together with the empowerment of McDonnell, Abbott, Milne etc has led to the worst local election results since the 1980s for Labour (as a party of opposition), a scandal over institutionalised anti-Semitism in the party and the mobilisation at both local and national levels of an aggressive baying-mob of social justice warrior politics which has demanded the heads of the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Antisemitism and BBC political journalist Laura Kuenssberg amongst others. It’s seen a flood of entryism to the ranks of both party membership and £3 supporters from the fringes of the hard-Left and from mischievous Torys and UKIPers. It’s caused many moderate Labour members to tear up their party cards (not easy with the new plastic ones) and Jewish voters have abandoned the party almost completely (the first person to mention Michael Rosen or the 63 or whatever it is “asajew” letter writers wins a subscription to the Guardian). It’s caused ordinary, decent left-leaning folk to find themselves reading Guido’s blog for a sense check.
We’ve witnessed miserable performances at PMQs, political PR/spin own-goals that are crying out for well-informed footballing comparisons (no, I know nothing about football) and polling that suggests the Tories will be in power for the next 327 years. We see the Conservatives profoundly split over the upcoming referendum and getting away with it, along with getting away with pretty much everything else. We’ve also seen Sadiq Khan’s election as mayor of London for Labour after a campaign in which one of his key themes was to put clear (blue) water between himself and the current party leadership. We’ve gawped in disbelief (though we saw it coming) at the election by NUS of a President who flings anti-Semitic tropes around like confetti and announces that we should “await instructions” from the likes of Hamas et al and we’ve listened to generous applause for speakers opposing the marking of Holocaust Memorial Day on campuses.
Mostly, what we see is the entrenchment and growing self-confidence of a particular strand of Leftism and the cementing in place at the heart of the institutions of the Left of a world view that is probably shared as a coherent ideology by at most a few hundred thousand people across the UK electorate, though many others across key demographics may take on elements of this narrative.
This anti-imperialist, anti-West, anti-American, anti-“Zionist”, anti-capitalist set of core beliefs is most aggressively mobilised by those at the leadership of the Stop the War Coalition. Corbyn himself was of course a long-standing part of the STWC leadership until he was forced to reluctantly hand over the Chair on appointment as Labour leader and has spent a lifetime immersed in these particular radical Leftist holy waters, as has been widely documented at Harrys Place.
It’s the kind of political thinking that has in recent days led Shadow Cabinet member Diane Abbott to both dismiss claims of institutionalised anti-Semitism on the Left as a “conspiracy” and to also draw a financial, governance and moral equivalence between the governments of the UK, Nigeria and Afghanistan over the issue of political corruption.
It’s the kind of thinking that calls for the forced dismantling of the world’s only Jewish state, defends Putin’s gangster capitalist Russia, attacks Ukrainian European aspirations and makes allegiance with the forces of Islamist politics in the shape of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbollah and other proxies of Iran and Shia militancy.
Now, the fact that those views are expressed is all good and proper. I’m all for the existence of a dedicated – if morally and politically flawed/disgraced – hard Left. That’s what you get if you adhere to the concept of political pluralism – and I do. I welcome the fact that STWC are part of our political landscape.
But I can’t welcome the fact that Labour has not only tolerated those views but has in recent decades actively embraced them as part of its much celebrated “broad church”. Apart from anything, it demonstrates a staggering complacency and a short term memory problem that would have most of us nervously making an appointment with our GP. Were the Labour MPs who nominated Corbyn as part of an effort to “widen debate” unaware of the 1980s struggles against Militant and other entryists? Had they heard of Healey’s battles with the Bennite Left (including a young Jeremy Corbyn) for the soul and the viability of the Party?
Fundamentally, how irresponsible do you have to be to hand over the keys of a political organisation to those who make it their business to operate the rule book and process in order that a minority group exerts power beyond its base?
These are the people who will push through a BDS motion at the NEC – against all published party policy – when half the meeting has nipped out for a crafty vape or whatever it was they were doing that evening.
In recent days, decent Labour MPs and others in the party have called on Jews to remain in the party and to fight for it in order to vanquish the scourge of anti-Semitism from Labour. But I have to ask those well-meaning people: “come again? You want what? Seriously?”
Let’s be clear. The Labour party defends the principle of a broad church but it is that very broad church that inevitably means that some within its ranks will express views/concepts and narratives that are anti-Semitic. And anti-West and anti-American and anti-capitalist etc. You can’t have a broad church on the Left any more without this stuff – it’s coded into the DNA of the STWC Hard-Left and it’s going to be around in one form or another long after I’m alive to get cross about it on Twitter. Sure, you can suspend or expel those who are so obsessed or stupid that they can’t moderate their behaviour in public. But that’s not the point of a political party, is it?
A party is supposed to stand for something and to stand against other somethings. That’s why a party bothers to get up in the morning. Or at least it used to be.
A broad church party that welcomes those who hold the views of the STWC Left doesn’t deserve the vote of Jews. That doesn’t mean no Jews will vote for it – of course some will. Again, that’s pluralism. But it sure as hell doesn’t deserve those votes. And the inherent logic of that plea that “Jews must stay to root out their tormentors” with the unspoken addendum “if you Jews don’t then frankly, almost no one else will” speaks for itself.
And beyond the particularised voting intentions of that tiny ethnic minority, why should anyone who embraces and celebrates their highly fortunate status/identity as a citizen of a liberal, European parliamentary social democracy vote for a party that empowers political extremists who see those credentials as badges of shame?
A broad church party that includes those seeking election to its NEC who sneer at the dull incrementalism of parliamentary social democracy doesn’t get my vote. Call me old fashioned, but I prefer to empower those willing to graft away at the boring detail of politics and policy implementation and prepared to be held accountable for it at elections and by a free press. I don’t want my political structures to be replaced by the social justice warriors of social media seeking a narcissism-enhancing rush of excitement from the latest 38 Degrees petition. I can look to myself for that, thanks.
So I say to Labour as a voter: “you sort out your dysfunctional family/broad church and then maybe you get the votes”. Because we vote on what we see before us.
As an activist (though in truth I’m not really much of an activist and never have been) I could say: “I will stay and fight to dismantle the broad church that has brought shame on the party and which will keep it from office.” Only I don’t see any evidence that anyone in the Labour Party actually wants to do this. The broad church has become a shibboleth of the party, a reflexive instinct of denial about both the history and the future of the party. No one is talking about proscribing STWC and others on the mad/bad end of the Left are they? I don’t hear the voice of a Healey or a Kinnock bellowing out that a line in the sand must be drawn and that a battle for the very soul of the party is underway. If I did, I might have more to think about.
Now I appreciate that Rhea isn’t too concerned about this aspect, but how could I vote for Labour in 2020 anyway? It wouldn’t be the safe or responsible thing to do. I mean – and I know this is stretching the argument – what if Labour actually achieved power? Is anyone seriously suggesting that we vote to empower those that hold the STWC world view, in whole or in part? How might history judge us?
Yes, I know my position is hard on the many decent, honourable Labour folk both in Parliament and beyond who share almost none of the elements of the STWC world view. The party is full of those who are, like me, social democrats and not radical socialists, historical fact-mangling revolutionary polemicists or virtue-signalling social justice warriors.
But I say to them – tear down the broad church. It’s time – it’s the moment to cast aside that shibboleth of yours.