Competing fears at the ballot box

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn during the launch of his party's manifesto in Birmingham. (Credit: Joe Giddens/PA Wire via Jewish News)
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn during the launch of his party's manifesto in Birmingham. (Credit: Joe Giddens/PA Wire via Jewish News)

Some people can’t imagine how anything but keeping Jeremy Corbyn out could even matter. The Labour leader is considered to be steeped in antisemitic politics, and his party has made an enemy of Britain’s Jews. Antisemitism is anti-democratic politics, not an add-on eccentricity.

One could reasonably debate the value of any specific proposal in the Labour manifesto but, taken as a whole, it is a ‘transitional demand’.  Corbyn’s people wrote it believing it is so extravagant that it cannot be delivered under the system they call ‘capitalism’. 

The manifesto is intended to precipitate a crisis that they hope will bring down the democratic state and replace it with… well, insert your own fantasy. This Corbynite fantasy is intrinsically intertwined with the idea that liberal democratic states, which they name ‘imperialism’, are the underlying oppressive force on our planet. And in this worldview, the United States of America and Israel occupy a special and symbolic place at the vanguard of all that is evil. Corbyn’s anti-Americanism – his contempt for those he thinks have no culture, no roots in the soil, and who are only interested in money – is related to the antisemitism of which he is accused.

In normal times, most people would simply vote Tory, and Corbyn would be finished. But today’s Conservative party is no less radically wrecked than the Labour party.

Back in the 1960s, when Enoch Powell tried to make xenophobia and racism into principles of public policy, he was defeated but how his politics of resentment has returned. We saw the Tory party roll over before a radical agenda of smashing up the democratic institutions of post totalitarian Europe; we saw it frivolously overthrow the Thatcherite legacy of a European free market and Europe’s part in extending that across the world.

Labour’s attempts to normalise its own antisemitism by pointing at Tory Islamophobia and racism brought only more shame onto itself. But Boris Johnson’s answers to questions about Islamophobia last weekend seemed retrospectively to have legitimised Labour’s analogy, because Johnson borrowed every one of Corbyn’s own stock answers. 

We oppose all racism; nothing racist about me; dragging up things I said in the distant past; my grandfather knew the Koran by heart; my mother was at Cable Street.

It is simply a fact that the Brexit movement is in part fuelled by xenophobia and racism and that the Johnson/Brexit Tory party has plugged into this source of energy.

We do not forget the Windrush scandal. People who had been in this country for decades were thrown out of their jobs and their country because the government had decided to create a ‘hostile environment’.

We do not forget that Johnson forced the Queen to close down Parliament so he would not have to bow to its sovereignty. How did anybody think this was legal? And when he found it was not legal, he shrugged at the Supreme Court like I shrug at the traffic warden in Ballards Lane. Closing down Parliament, even if you invent a fancy word to describe it, is not how democracy works.

Like Donald Trump, Johnson is a vulgar and untrustworthy man; he is not kind or thoughtful; he is selfish; he is a predator. He is not fit to lead.

What frightens you more, Corbyn or Johson? Labour’s antisemitism or Tory populism? Corbyn leading a minority government or Johnson with a rampant majority?

I cannot help you weigh up the competing fears. These questions about how we feel each threat are visceral. 

This is not a crisis of the right or of the left, but a crisis of our democratic community as a whole. 

About the Author
David Hirsh, Sociology Lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London Author of the new book: 'Contemporary Left Antisemitism'.