Over the last couple of years, after intense provocation, I have taken to these pages a couple of times to express my disgust at the standard of behaviour in the Hampstead and Kilburn Constituency Labour Party.
Almost two years ago to the day, I could not believe that my local party had blocked Jews even debating a motion about anti-Semitism. As we were not allowed to discuss it there, I was glad that the Jewish News allowed me to discuss it here.
Three months ago, I wrote that I had finally had enough. I had stayed silent not once, not twice, but six times. When Hampstead and Kilburn Constituency Labour Party was faced with an anti-Jewish motion for the seventh time in nine meetings, and passed it, I could stay silent no longer.
Some despairing Jewish members are even suggesting that ‘we should wear yellow stars to meetings because it would make things simpler’ – and they are by no means alone in their horror. I vowed that I would not return to these local meetings until the Party could guarantee me and other Jews a ‘safe space’.
My last article got a fair amount of pick up, particularly on social media. I was invited in by Labour Party Headquarters, and then by Jeremy Corbyn’s office. I got a lot of sympathy. But when I asked for anything approaching concrete action, none came.
Now, it seems that a lack of discernible action from the Labour Party is allowing a group of seriously nasty people to plumb new depths.
Reports from the last meeting, included a minute’s silence for the recently deceased Labour stalwart Tessa Jowell, being heckled by a number of members.
After a vote on Gaza was proposed, and passed, there was an attempt to force those who would not support the motion to identify themselves – expressed in menacing terms. And we know who that was aimed at, don’t we?
Meanwhile, Brent council Leader Muhammed Butt was also heckled and called a ‘racist’ without any substantiation. This is apparently what now passes for ‘civil discourse’.
It is frequently said – and particularly eloquently by Rabbi Lord Sacks – that while ‘anti-Semitism may start with the Jews, it never ends with the Jews’. How right this has proven in Hampstead and Kilburn. With anti-Jewish actions unchecked, we now see this poison spreading to other spheres.
Robust disagreements, including factional ones, are an important part of our politics, but there can be no excuse for heckling a minute’s silence for Tessa Jowell, obsessive targeting of Jews, or motions of censure against our MP Tulip Siddiq for speaking out against anti-Semitism, as we have seen in recent months. This is not just ‘left-wing’ or ‘socialist’ behaviour. It is anti-social behaviour and it is simply unacceptable.
Corbynite and moderate members alike tell me how dismayed they feel that a small clique continues to hijack meetings. These discussions should be devoted to supporting our MP and councillors in their work to improve the lives of local people, but they are too often a bear pit of needless and egregious incivility, which frequently bring the Party we love in to disrepute.
And yet, the response to people who raise the alarm, is that somehow we are in the wrong for speaking out on racism. Imagine seeking to silence the victims of any other form of abuse in favour of the perpetrators. It is unconscionable.
Ultimately, silence and inaction are complicity. The Labour Party must step in and take action before things spiral further out of control.
- Phil Rosenberg is Director of Public Affairs at the Board of Deputies of British Jews and is a former local councillor for West Hampstead ward in the London Borough of Camden and the Hampstead and Kilburn constituency. He writes here in a personal capacity.