Like the other main political parties, the Labour Party has its conference in September. It is the supreme policy-making body for the party, with delegates from constituency parties, trade unions and other affiliated organizations (including the Jewish Labour Movement) and, ex officio, MPs, MEPs (still) and selected parliamentary candidates. There is always a leader’s speech and generally other well-known Labour politicians will have their spot too. This year it’s in Brighton, and it’s rarely dull.
The Conference is about to start, and as well as the set pieces and major debates on issues such as Brexit, the NHS and education, there will be a buoyant fringe, with enormous variety and nuance.
On the whole the official fringe events are about rallying the factions, discussing policy or just comrades getting together to let their hair down; however, beyond the official fringe there are a few events that should ring alarm bells for any Labourite resolute in challenging antisemitism and distancing our Party from those who continue to breach our rules on antisemitism.
One such is the Labour Against the Witchhunt event, including peeches from Ken Livingstone and Asa Winstanley, the Electronic Intifada blogger who called JLM ‘Israeli embassy proxy’ and is, rightly, currently suspended.
As a member of Socialists Against Antisemitism, a group of left-wing socialists who regard antisemitism as a serious problem on the left as well as in society as a whole, I believe that it is most effectively fought within the left rather than from outside.
There are 22 of us who help to post on social media and we also have a website www.saasuk.org. Our emphasis is on education where possible, but we favour strong disciplinary action where it isn’t. The level of abuse that exists online as well as in the outside world makes it necessary for us to exist.
The other unofficial fringe event we are particularly concerned about is organised by the Labour Representation Committee (LRC).
The LRC was founded in 2004 by a group of left-wing Labour members with John McDonnell prominent from the start and, in its earlier years, it was vibrant and principled. In more recent times it seems to have become a haven for some who have been suspended or expelled by the Party for antisemitism or bringing the Party into disrepute; these include Ken Livingstone (who resigned from the party before he was expelled from it), Jackie Walker and, more recently, Chris Williamson MP, and we have consistently welcomed disciplinary action against all of these individuals.
The LRC is giving top billing to Walker – whose comments about Holocaust Memorial Day, Zionism and antisemitism in general have caused huge offence within the Jewish community – and Williamson, who has defended Holocaust deniers, signed a petition in support of Gilad Atzmon and has continued to insist that antisemitism is not much of a problem in the Party, from which he is rightly suspended.
It is a matter of concern to us that John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor, has not yet cut his ties with the LRC, which we regard as an organisation that has no place within the Labour movement unless and until it stops being a haven for members suspended or expelled for antisemitism and related offences.
We implore John to resign as President of the LRC and send a message to the Jewish community that Labour really are on their side.
We’re heartbroken our party has had to be reported to and investigated by the EHRC, but recognise that the situation we are in has made it necessary. Hopefully, before too long, the scourge of antisemitism can be driven out of our movement completely and permanently