In Salford where I live and represent, I know how hurt and angry Jewish residents are at Labour’s failure to combat antisemitism and it is right to apologise. Greater Manchester has a proud history of Jewish Labour MPs, councillors and trade union activists and it is tragic that the support given by the Jewish community to the Labour Party for over a century has come to this.
That is why I supported my local council in adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. It’s why I regularly meet with Jewish communal representatives. It’s why I am proud that the Jewish Labour Movement has been affiliated to the Labour Party for 100 years, and as Leader I would want to ensure that it remains affiliated for the next hundred years and beyond.
My advice to Labour Party members is that it is never OK to respond to allegations of racism by being defensive.
No-one is immune from racism as long as it exists in society, whatever their past credentials in opposing racism.
The only acceptable response to any accusation of racist prejudice is self-scrutiny, self-criticism and self-improvement.
That is why the party is right to be excluding any prominent members who tour the country and the TV studios denying and diminishing the problem of antisemitism.
Sadly however, we didn’t act quickly or robustly enough on antisemitism and although I believe that Labour’s national executive has improved our disciplinary process significantly, it is harrowing that the Equality and Human Rights Commission are investigating our processes.
We now have a duty to respond to any recommendations they make by enacting them swiftly and in full.
I will also enact all of the Board of Deputies’ recommendations, and I believe that our processes must be transparent, fully independent and with proper independent scrutiny. When elected as Leader, I will work with the Jewish Labour Movement to reform them further. But reforming the disciplinary procedures is only half the battle. We can and must expel antisemites, but we cannot overcome antisemitism without education.
The problem of antisemitism in the Labour Party – people holding negative and stereotypical ideas about Jews – extends beyond the much smaller number of ideological antisemites, just as it does in the general population.
Unfortunately, some people who regard themselves as anti-racist may nevertheless, when talking about the legacy of colonialism or the distribution of power within our capitalist society, use some of the negative stereotypical ideas or images that have become embedded within our culture over time.
We need an education programme that challenges the conspiracy theories and explains the tropes. Labour party members who do feel strongly about Palestinian rights must also understand why Jewish people in Britain today, for whom the Holocaust is a recent memory, see the existence of a Jewish state as a source of hope and security. They must learn to recognise the racism that permeates even a party that sees itself as anti-racist.
As Leader of the Labour Party I want to rid our country of racism. I know that to do so I must first ensure that we get our own house in order.