Writing this in August 2018, I’m still coming to terms with how the party I’ve supported my entire political life has been infected with racism. Let’s be clear: that’s what antisemitism is.
Speaking as a mixed-race male, born in South London in the 1990s to a mother of Jamaican heritage, my perceptions of what racism looked like, (and the type of people it came from), were quite entrenched. I pictured racism as verbal, even physical abuse directed towards people with my skin colour. It’s what in part motivated me to join the Labour party. Labour’s three successive full terms in office made the UK a more civilised society, tolerant of different races, faiths and sexualities.
As I’ve become more politically engaged however, I’ve discovered that the barrel of the gun of abuse has been pointed and fired at communities of particular faiths, and of particular geo-political origins. It’s also increasingly seen on social media, perpetuated by people bold enough to forego their anonymity. Racism is no longer restricted to the far right, and the Labour party, by its own actions in the last 4 months, has proved that definitively.
There are Jewish members who I’ve known almost as long as I’ve been in the party. I’ve befriended them on the campaign trail, in the party meetings and during those telephone campaign evenings. Those same people smiling in 2015 are despairing today. People who I’ve seen as Labour stalwarts are now seriously questioning if they can stay another day.
Who can blame them? Labour’s NEC refuses to allow the overwhelming majority of the Jewish community to define the abuse that’s levied at them day after day. Labour’s leader has consistently shown to be unable to draw the line between supporting the existence of Palestine, and opposing the existence of Israel. Above all, Labour’s structures are so deficient they can be manipulated by whichever faction holds internal control of them.
It’s what has led to the sorry state of affairs where Peter Willsman gets off lightly with equalities training, Ken Livingstone resigns by himself instead of being expelled, and Chris Williamson openly supports suspended members like Jackie Walker with impunity. Yet two diligent, well-respected MPs are swiftly investigated for daring to mention any of this to the man in charge of sorting it out.
That said, leaving is not the solution to solving antisemitism. Labour’s 2001 election posted of William Hague with Margaret Thatcher’s hair was accompanied by the slogan “get out and vote or they get in”. The same applies here. Recently resigned Labour party members may or may not know that they have potentially disarmed themselves of the most important agent for change in this crisis – their NEC vote.
It’s been said time and time again, but each decent, centre-left member who resigns from the Labour party gives the other side a heightened advantage by default. A large majority for anti-IHRA NEC candidates as a result of these resignations will provided an enhanced sense of vindication of the NEC’s recent decisions.
If a wave of mass resignations take place, Labour’s centre-left might just well guarantee the re-election of the crumbling, discredited establishment which have brought the party to its knees in this way. Leaving the field of play is a futile protest. And I know it’s not part of the centre-left psyche to do that.
To all those who say that a full left slate victory is going to happen anyway, I point out the moderate victory in the one-member-one-vote election of Young Labour’s National Chair in March this year – proof that Labour’s centre-left can win internal elections when not on home turf. Peter Willsman has lost the support of Momentum, causing some dyed-in-the-wool Corbyn supporters to revolt by diverting their votes elsewhere. Other candidates on the Momentum-backed slate are starting to feel the heat because of their association with Willsman. There are many party activists who would never describe themselves as “centrist” or even “centre-left”, who are likely to vote for candidates in favour of the IHRA definition.
It is possible to change the NEC’s makeup, and thus its moral integrity. But it requires Labour’s centre-left to not allow its values or its character to be defined by other people. As a centre-left social democrat, I belong in Labour, and I simply won’t let any antisemite tell me otherwise.
The orchestrated, divide-and-rule #WeAreCorbyn tweets painting the leader as the victim of all this, doesn’t just disgust me. It also confirms in my mind how increasingly rotten to the core Labour’s new establishment is, and strengthens my resolve to see the day when their iron fists lose their grip on the party machine.
You may think all this fighting talk is easy for me to make, because I’m not Jewish. Whilst that is true, the principle of solidarity dictates that an assault on others is an assault on myself also. When a Jewish person is on the receiving end of antisemitism, it offends me too.
I was brought up to be respectful to other people, but to stand up to bullies when they come for your friends. Labour’s centre-left needs to learn this lesson and tough this out, and not let the bonds of our solidarity fray – because believe me, there will be a better day.