The frenetic state of the Labour Party and the continuing struggle for leadership has distressed many Labour Party members but also a growing number in the country. As a former Labour MP, I am increasingly asked: “When will it all end… what can we do?”
When I last wrote in these columns in December I speculated that the election of Jeremy Corbyn would create uncertainty and conflict if he tried to hang on until 2020. However, I underestimated the sheer pace of change and the mood in the parliamentary party. Working ever closely with James McDonnell, his producer and script writer, Corbyn has presided over a campaign of intimidation of individual MPs in their constituencies, if they fail to accept his left-wing agenda. These two men are backed by the Momentum group which has recruited thousands of adherents. I have heard, first hand, of the frightening nature of their challenge at meetings to those who disagree. The mood now more closely resembles fascism than socialism.
The uneasy mood in Labour is not confined to the party’s poor showing during the referendum campaign but merely confirms the inability of the Corbyn/McDonnell axis to provide the necessary planning and organisation and energy for Labour votes to make a difference for Remain cause. At the last General Election, Labour lost support to UKIP in many staunch constituencies, but it got away with it because these seats had significant majorities. In a referendum, where every vote counts equally, the failure of its leadership was harshly revealed.
On issues of particular interest to the Jewish community, Corbyn and McDonnell have made no effort to go beyond cursory recognition of our existence. Yes, they have met a few community leaders, but little was achieved in establishing a possible framework in building on the needs of minorities. The questions of Israel is a the subject Corbyn and McDonnell clearly cannot stomach, as they have utterly failed to explain how Israel differs from undesirable regimes in the region. They see Israel not as an established democracy in the Middle East. Hence an invitation from the Israel Labour Party to visit the country was declined.
At the Home Affairs Select Committee on Anti-Semitism, Corbyn’s responses were evasive and revealed, if anything, a considerable ignorance of the scale of our Jewish community and of the issues which cause anxiety amongst this generation whether at home, in business or in the universities.
A possible clue to Corbyn and McDonnell’s attitude is revealed by a series of letters written in 2010-2013, only just released by a freedom of information request to the Foreign Office. In them, Corbyn described some of the Jewish state’s politicians as “criminals” who should be banned from Britain. He also claimed that Israel treats Palestinians “with disdain” and that its “victimisation of the people of east Jerusalem is an abomination”.
In recent conversation with a number of Christian leaders, they expressed surprise that Labour had made little effort to interest the wider community here on the issues of anti-Semitism. They also spoke strongly of the party’s minimum support for the Christian minorities who are actively persecuted in some 50 countries, including Syria, Somalia and Sudan. In 2003 there were 1.5 million Christians in Iraq, today a few thousands in Mosul, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world.
Away from Corbyn and McDonnell there are a number of supportive Labour members in key positions. I refer not only to MPs who will challenge the duo but also, significantly, Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London. In so many way he has provided a consistent message confronting racism with an unambiguous message to Jews: “Any attack on Jewish people or the Jewish community should be considered an attack on all of London’s communities and everything we stand for.” A visit by the mayor to Israel is now on the agenda.
The author Will Self wrote: “The astonishing thing about Corbyn is he’s managing to cock things up in his own terms.” Ultimately, Corbyn will be dealt with at the ballot box. But vitally all who care for our democratic process would do well to monitor Labour’s emerging policies. Critically in the case of McDonnell an even sharper scrutiny on his words and actions is advised.