Most people will remember the nuns’ song from The Sound of Music: “How do you solve a problem like Maria? How do you catch a cloud and pin it down? How do you find a word that means Maria? A flibbertijibbet! A will-o’-the wisp! A clown!”
Inexorably, it comes to mind this week, only with Naz Shah, the MP for Bradford West, in the lyrics. Yes, that Naz Shah, our Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion, recently appointed (or should that be anointed) by Sir Keir Starmer, the man
who vowed to root antisemitism out of the Labour Party.
The same Naz Shah, in fact, who was suspended by Labour in 2016 – by none other than Jeremy Corbyn – for antisemitic comments on social media. And who was reinstated after a fulsome apology in the House of Commons for her remarks.
The same Naz Shah who went to build bridges with the Jewish community in Leeds and Bradford, assuring them she had much to learn. And the community believed her to be genuine in her assurances and held her up as an example of someone who was ready to say when she’d got it wrong, unlike many, many, of her Labour colleagues – including, of course, the repellent Corbyn.
What then, are we to make of the latest actions by Maria – sorry, I mean Naz – the woman who didn’t just turn up to a Friends of Al Aqsa rally on 30 May, but spoke to the crowd, urging them to “keep the pressure up” by emailing MPs to push for Israel to be investigated by the International Criminal Court.
Not a word from the “flibbertijibbet” Ms Shah about Hamas and its rocket attacks on Israel.
It wasn’t her first public outing with a group of er, questionable people: on 12 May she and Corbyn took part in an online ‘Stand With Palestine’ event; and on 22 May she spoke at the hatefest demo in London.
I ought to make it clear that I have no problem with MPs expressing support for the Palestinians – but not at the expense of overlooking demonisation of Jews without uttering a word of protest, and this is important, at the event itself.
Naz Shah is in an unenviable position as MP for Bradford West. I can hardly pretend that she is not wholly obliged to the desires of her electorate – who are, indeed, mainly Pakistani Muslims, pro-Palestinian to a man (women’s voices, especially women politicians’ voices, barely count).
But, to some extent, MPs who sit for constituencies with large Jewish populations – Margaret Thatcher, back in the day when she sat for Finchley and Golders Green, or Christian Wakeford, MP for Bury South, doing his best to learn Hebrew – are in similar positions.
The difference is that grown-up politicians strive to express the other’s point of view, even if they don’t fully embrace it.
So Naz Shah’s latest “apology”, that she will “never shy away from using my voice to raise the plight of the Palestinian people but I will never tolerate antisemitism and I totally condemn anyone perpetrating it”, has a hollow ring.
She has claimed that someone at a rally at which she spoke “made remarks… in Arabic” which she does not speak, and said things she herself would not say. People had tried “to infiltrate demonstrations about the situation in Palestine to spew hatred”.
I’m prepared to believe she doesn’t speak Arabic – but once she learned just what was being said, I would have hoped for something a bit more full-blooded.
Maybe the girl just can’t help it. But, you know, shadow minister for community cohesion? Laugh? I can’t stop.