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Anti-Semitism has made it impossible to support Corbyn’s Labour party

24/02/2019

The post’s title, that is the title of Prof. Vernon Bogdanor’s article in The Telegraph.

Prof. Bogdanor is an eminent historian who has lectured and written on British political history for many years.

Vernon Bogdanor CBE is Emeritus Gresham Professor of Law, current Visiting Gresham Professor of Political History, Research Professor at King’s College London, a Fellow of the British Academy and an Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. Prior to 2010, Professor Bogdanor was a Fellow of Brasenose College and Professor of Government at Oxford University.

He has been an adviser to a number of governments, including those of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Kosovo, Israel and Slovakia. His books include The People and the Party System, Multi-Party Politics and the Constitution, Power and the People, and Devolution in the United Kingdom. He is a frequent contributor to TV, radio and the press and is a sometimes special advisor to the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Communities (1982-83), and the House of Commons Public Service Committee. Most recently he was awarded the Sir Isaiah Berlin Prize for Lifetime Contribution to Political Studies by the Political Studies Association.

In January 2018 he delivered this lecture on the UK Labour Party as part of his series on British Political Parties

The Labour Party was formed in 1900 as a coalition between trade unions and socialist intellectuals with the aim of securing representation for the working class in parliament. During the First World War, Labour was transformed from a pressure group to a party of government, and in 1945 it formed its first majority government, which carried out an extensive programme of social reform.

The above provides context for why this makes Prof. Bogdanor well qualified to comment on the problems endemic in the UK Labour Party at this time.

Consequently when Adam saw that Prof. Bogdanor had written this article he paid attention.

The Professor began

Today, however, like other social democratic parties in Western Europe, the party finds itself in retreat. What is the explanation for the rise and decline of social democracy?

There are probably a number of reasons, but to many they seem elitist and remote leading to the rise of populists such as Trump, le Pen and indeed Corbyn.

The Labour Party has long been an uneasy coalition between socialists and social democrats. But, under the Corbyn leadership, this conflict has taken on a new and menacing form. The Labour Left which, under Nye Bevan and Michael Foot, was always strongly parliamentary in character, has come, under Corbyn, to be buttressed by extra-parliamentary activists whose commitment to parliamentary methods is by no means wholehearted.

For example the unholy influence of Momentum – documented extensively, but Bogdanor makes reference when he writes:

By contrast with the SDP in the early 1980s, the new breakaway of seven former Labour MPs disagree with Corbyn not only on issues, such as Brexit, but also on the methods used by the extra-parliamentary Left which sustains the Corbyn leadership and which that leadership, far from repudiating, has legitimised.

These methods include bullying and intimidation, and much of the bullying and intimidation has an anti-Semitic element.

The Chakrabrati report commissioned by the Labour Party was a whitewash and a figleaf, as the antisemitism has continued .

Luciana Berger, the only Jewish MP of the seven who have left the party, has suffered so badly that she required police protection at the last Labour Party conference.

A BBC Profile of Ms Berger is here.

A number of her former colleagues who opted – for now – to stay on the Labour benches have received similar abuse.

Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, has been sent, in her own words, “hundreds and hundreds of pages of abuse” with an anti-Semitic undercurrent. She has, she says, been accused of being a “Zionist traitor, they say I’m taking shekels, that I’m Mossad – and I’m not even Jewish”. She has had to put nine locks on her door to stave off physical attack.

Margaret Hodge, who fought off the BNP in her Barking constituency, says that she finds more anti-Semitism in the Labour Party than she ever received from the far-Right.

Ruth Smeeth, the Jewish Labour MP for Stoke on Trent North, has received over 25,000 incidents of racial abuse. She has never spoken on Middle Eastern matters, and so nobody can claim that she is being targeted over “Zionism”. Her crime is being Jewish. She has “on numerous occasions” raised the issue of racism “privately” with Corbyn with no result. “My biggest issue,” she says, “is that he knows it’s happening and that it’s still happening.”  Labour, she concludes, “is no longer a safe space for British Jews”.

So despite the Chakrabarti report, the hatred continues. Corbyn is again exposed as the totally unfit leader of the Labour Party. His failure to stop this is a confirmation that at heart he is not a suitable leader of his party.

This seems to be a problem at all levels of the party. Claire Kober, former Labour leader of Haringey council, has declared that: “The levels of anti-Semitism I’ve seen in the Labour Party are just astonishing.” In 2016, Alex Chalmers, the non-Jewish chair of Oxford University’s Labour Club, resigned because, “A large proportion of both OULC and the student Left in Oxford more generally have some kind of problem with Jews.” Note he said “Jews” and not “Zionists”.

This is appalling.

Britain has always been the least anti-Semitic of countries. The vast majority of voters neither knew nor cared that Michael Howard, Conservative leader from 2003 to 2005, or Ed Miliband, Labour leader from 2010 to 2015, were Jewish. I doubt if their ethnic origin swung a single vote one way or another. In the past, politicians who have espoused anti-Semitism, such as Oswald Mosley in his British Union of Fascists in the 1930s, became political pariahs.

Corbyn, however, is not a pariah but Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition.

The seven MPs are right to highlight the overriding importance of anti-Semitism, by no means an issue solely for Jews. Its prevalence undermines the wider values for which not only the Labour Party but Britain as a whole has always stood. The former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, captured it perfectly when he declared that anti-Semites are never just anti-Semites. Hitler and Stalin did not confine their hatred to Jews. Anti-Semitism, he explained, “is the world’s most reliable early warning sign of a major threat to freedom, humanity and the dignity of difference”.

But far too many gloss over this, they excuse it by saying Jeremy is a nice person and he makes jam. Piffle.

In the early 20th century, the German social democrat, August Bebel, called anti-Semitism “the socialism of fools”. But the progressive intelligentsia who continue to support Labour – the Keir Starmers and the Shami Chakrabartis – are far from being fools. Loud in their protests against racism elsewhere, they are afflicted with laryngitis when it comes to combatting anti-Semitism in their own party. Indeed, the eerie silence of so many Labour MPs, including members of the Shadow Cabinet, is almost as sinister as the more vocal tolerance of anti-Semitism by the Corbynites.

That is the greater sin, the behaviour of Corbyn’s enablers such as Starmer and Chakrabarti in the UK, in the USA the enablers of Trump with his love of tyrants and disregard for law and in NZ for example where the media have enabled Ardern and gloss over the xenophobia exhibited by many in the coalition.

That is because as Bogdanor notes with the quote from Lord Sacks above

anti-Semites are never just anti-Semites. Hitler and Stalin did not confine their hatred to Jews. Anti-Semitism, he explained, “is the world’s most reliable early warning sign of a major threat to freedom, humanity and the dignity of difference”.

Confronting the poison of anti-Semitism almost certainly involves a repudiation of the Corbyn leadership. Until the Labour Party takes that step, no anti-racist – indeed, no one who holds fast to liberal principles – can, with good conscience, support it.

Prof. Bogdanor’s closing paragraph resonates with Adam. For it conjures up this famous quote by Pastor Martin Niemoller:-

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

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