Michael Desmond

A glimmer of hope in dark times

(left to right) Rebecca Long-Bailey, Jess Phillips, Emily Thornberry, Lisa Nandy and Keir Starmer during the Labour leadership husting in January (Photo credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire via Jewish News)
(left to right) Rebecca Long-Bailey, Jess Phillips, Emily Thornberry, Lisa Nandy and Keir Starmer during the Labour leadership husting in January (Photo credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire via Jewish News)

These are dark days, the horrendous coronavirus pandemic has changed the world, made many of us reflect on what is important in life and, of course, sadly led to many deaths and families in mourning. There are few consolations in what is a dire and unprecedented situation, but we can take comfort from the selfless determination of NHS workers at our moment of greatest need and perhaps, in day to day non-life threatening life situations, show a little of the tenacity, determination and compassion they have shown supporting patients at their most vulnerable – often with inadequate protective equipment.

It seems almost prosaic to reflect on the Labour leadership contest at this time – despite the fact, we have been fighting for the very soul of the Labour Party. Current signs are hopeful; a number of excellent progressive candidates including my friend, Sem Moema and a distinguished Barnet councillor, Anne Clarke, have been selected as candidates in the GLA elections, which have, of course, been deferred until 2021 and highly respected, Sir Keir Starmer, is frontrunner in the Leadership contest.

The only thing certain in these unpredictable times, though, is uncertainty. The new Labour leader will be announced on Saturday, it’s been more of a marathon than a sprint, but will hopefully seal the future of Her Majesty’s Opposition as a future Government and help restore the reputation of the Party.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report on antisemitism in the Party is due to be published soon, Sir Keir has committed to implementing all of its’ recommendations, but as he rightly asks, why wait until then?

Labour’s reputation for decency, anti-racism and fairness has been tarnished in recent years – not just here, but abroad. Commentators in New York, fellow members of the Socialist International and foreign academics have been appalled by the serious incursion of antisemitism into elements of the Party. Of course some tropes, innuendoes and tweets have merely been insensitive; but others have been racist, stereotyping Jews as rich bankers and Israel – a liberal, pluralistic democracy – as an apartheid state.

All leadership candidates who spoke at the packed leadership hustings at The Liberal Synagogue, St Johns Wood, condemned antisemitism in all its’ forms, Starmer rightly said if he became Leader, he would take personal responsibility for dealing with it and restoring the Party’s previously good reputation. Left wing pioneers who helped establish kibbutzim and moshavs in Israel must be turning in their graves at the traducing of so much they fought for: equality, decency and, of course, Socialism.

We need an effective Opposition to counter the current Government, which – until the pandemic – were pushing ahead with the hardest of Brexits. But at this time of national crisis, we need unity, joint commitment and a selfless determination to beat a common foe.

When I’ve presided at citizenship ceremonies, I have taken pride in this country’s reputation for ‘live and let live’ and respect for diversity; rightly, we only show intolerance to the intolerant.

Labour needs to show it will fully uphold these core values in order to achieve its’ goals and return to Government.

About the Author
Michael went to school in Colindale and Edgware, before moving to Clapton, Hackney, he is the second longest serving councillor on Hackney Council, was civic Mayor in 2013/14 and stood in the 2015 and 2017 General Elections for Labour in Faversham and Mid Kent.
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