After Corbyn we face a fight for our very soul

Labour leadership hopefuls at a hustings in January - left to right: Rebecca Long-Bailey, Jess Phillips, (who has since pulled out of the contest), Emily Thornberry, Lisa Nandy and Keir Starmer.. Photo credit : Danny Lawson/PA Wire via Jewish News
Labour leadership hopefuls at a hustings in January - left to right: Rebecca Long-Bailey, Jess Phillips, (who has since pulled out of the contest), Emily Thornberry, Lisa Nandy and Keir Starmer.. Photo credit : Danny Lawson/PA Wire via Jewish News

In 2016, I was getting ready to appear on the BBC’s Daily Politics. As a member of the shadow cabinet I was bound by collective responsibility to promote and defend the party line.

My problem was I didn’t know the party line on the growing media storm about Labour MP Naz Shah who had liked and shared antisemitic social media posts. Privately, I had spent 24 hours insisting that Naz should be suspended but got no response. No answers were forthcoming about what action would be taken, so I went on the BBC and broke collective responsibility to demand Naz be suspended.

Four years on and I’m still angry about that day. The hostility and abuse Jewish members of the Labour Party have been subjected to has been inexcusable, but just as bad has been the inaction and failures of leadership in the party’s response.

The crisis of antisemitism in Labour is a fight for the soul of our party. The existence of any form of racism, institutional or otherwise, is an attack on and a betrayal of our values of tolerance, respect, equality and solidarity.

Labour must change the rules so that we root out all antisemites from our ranks and create a hostile environment towards those who deny the existence of antisemitism.

Zero-tolerance is just the start. We must change the culture. To do that will require the commitment to fight to drive change through.

Around 1,500 were estimated to have turned up to say no to antisemitism in Westminster at the Enough is Enough demonstration in March 2019 (Jewish News)

I am committed to this fight. That is why I have published a plan with specific moves to tackle antisemitism.

It is the product of many conversations with Jewish colleagues and friends. It focuses on a new independent disciplinary process, comprehensive training but also transparency. Unless we are more open we cannot hope to rebuild trust.

My hope is that I have built the trust and credibility to lead on this issue by speaking out in public and private over the years. Whether it was speaking in the House of Commons debate about antisemitism and making it clear we cannot pick and choose which sort of racism we choose to confront or joining Luciana Berger in demanding the party to apologise for defending an antisemitic mural. As chair of Labour Friends of Palestine, I refused meetings with JVL. At the 2017 party conference, I stood with colleagues to demand nobody should question the right of Labour Friends of Israel to be in the Labour Party. And for years I have challenged the fallacy that doing so would restrict free speech in relation to Palestine.

The abuse faced by Jewish members of our party has been utterly disgraceful. Everyone who has stood up to the abusers has become a target too.

Those of us that want to be allies have to make sure we never back down in the face of that abuse and criticism.

This is personal to me. My grandad fought in the war and was elected to Parliament afterwards where he was involved in efforts to build and defend the state of Israel. My father faced racism in his work, and in the communities he tried to make home. We are the Labour Party, and we must be the vanguard in the fight against antisemitism. That means speaking up, and standing with our Jewish members and the Jewish community.

I won’t ask Jewish members to trust me, I want to earn your trust and lead the fight to change the culture in our party.

I have always been part of that fight. I will not let you down.

About the Author
Lisa Nandy MP is running to be leader of the Labour Party
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