Labour will only reform if we are part of the conversation

Peter Mason addressing the JLM Extraordinary General Meeting (JLM on Twitter)
Peter Mason addressing the JLM Extraordinary General Meeting (JLM on Twitter)

The result for Labour at this election was crushing.

As the clock struck 10pm, and the exit poll announced, the overriding emotion Jewish Labour members the feeling was one of deep conflict and anguish.

A large part anger at the scale of Labour’s defeat and the leadership that led us there. A significant part disappointment over five more years of austerity, populism and Brexit.

For many too, a not insignificant part  – relief – that those who have failed to tackle anti-Jewish racism through inaction or design, who lied and diminished, obfuscated and prevaricated had been routed.

But this may be short lived. A respite ahead of a change of leadership that could mark a new beginning in the struggle to combat antisemitism on the left.

Just as they did over the scale of evident antisemitism, there are those within the Party who have set about a coordinated campaign of denialism over our epic failure. The countless doorstep conversations where voters groaned at Corbyn’s weak leadership have been explained away as the consequence of a “media smear”.

The queasiness of voters who expressed concern over Labour’s anti-racist credentials has been blamed not on the wrongdoers, but on the activists who exposed it  and the whistle blowers who called it out.

On Brexit, there are plenty who have the temerity to claim that our opaque position was the consequence of “embittered remainers” foisting a second referendum on “principled” and “courageous” Corbyn, despite his supporters having firmly gripped every lever of power in the Party since the second leadership election in 2016.

The conflict those of us who chose to stay and fight over the last few years has been deep.

The departure of Luciana Berger and Louise Ellman were moments of great shame, and the defeat of Ruth Smeeth a moment of deep anger.

As courageous female Jewish MPs, each faced abuse and antisemitism at a scale incomparable with even some of the worst testimonies of Party members that formed the bulk of JLM’s referral of the Labour Party to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.

As a democratic organisation we asked our membership twice, and each time they responded the dogged determination that we would do everything within our power, from within, to hold the Party accountable for the antisemitism that was coursing through our movement. None of us could have anticipated when we made the decision to ask the EHRC to investigate our Party back in 2018, that a general election would have been called as it entered its concluding phase.

Our final submission, the summary of thousands of pages of evidence – leaked in the final week of the campaign – laid bare the scale of the problem.

It attested to the worst examples of institutional discrimination, confirmed by sworn testimony whistle blowers from every corner of the Party’s structures.

Corbyn’s failure will not bring an end to Labour’s antisemitism crisis.

It marks a new beginning of a fight that is not yet over.

There is now a small chance, and probably the final one, that Labour could decisively defeat it by electing a leader who will take the kind of moral and courageous leadership he failed to take.

For the first time in our history, JLM declared a strike, only campaigning as an organisation for exceptional candidates who had consistently stood out as allies in our fight.

Just as Labour has only ever acted against antisemitism when forced to do so, and only exhibiting begrudging duress, Labour will only elect a leader willing to act if we are part of that conversation.

The language of that conversation must be one that Labour understands. One of protest and pressure. One of solidarity with our allies and mobilising for action.

It will be Jewish Labour activists now rejoining JLM and the Party in their hundreds to cast their ballots in the leadership election to make this happen. Some will understandably want to wait until the EHRC have concluded their investigation. But as JLM has shown, we are willing and able to lead this fight and we will continue to do so until it is over.

About the Author
Peter Mason is the National Secretary of the Jewish Labour Movement
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