Starmer must resist calls to go back to bad old ways

Sir Keir Starmer (left) alongside former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (centre) (Via Jewish News)
Sir Keir Starmer (left) alongside former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (centre) (Via Jewish News)

First, the good news.

The London Assembly constituency of Barnet & Camden, which is the biggest Jewish ‘seat’ to be contested at any election, was comfortably held by Labour.

Jewish Labour Movement member Anne Clarke, who takes over the reins of Andrew Dismore – a true friend of our community – has big shoes to fill, but she’ll do a fine job. Along with wins in Brent & Harrow and Enfield & Haringey for JLM supporters – we have strong representation in City Hall.

Of course, the big story in London is Sadiq Khan’s re-election as London Mayor. This is the first time Labour’s candidate won the Mayoral vote in Barnet, the most Jewish borough in the country.

That’s a real achievement. Together with wins for Labour candidates in Borehamwood and some strong performances in Bury, it hopefully shows Labour has begun the slow and painstaking process of rebuilding trust with the Jewish community, across the country.

Khan has been a true friend of our community. We saw how his regard and respect was reciprocated when we went on a walkabout in Golders Green last month.

Moreover, he’s been a real ally and supporter of JLM in our wilderness ears, fighting the awful stain of antisemitism in the Labour Party. He’s had our back and was never afraid to speak out when we asked. In short, he’s been a real mensch.

But more widely, these elections have been more than disappointing.

In England, Scotland and Wales, incumbency has mattered; understandably, having gone through a national crisis.

Nevertheless, the faultlines of Labour’s electoral coalition has been exposed by these results, with support in many (but not all) traditional working-class areas in sharp decline. Keir Starmer has been wise enough to acknowledge this disconnect.

Thursday’s polls should prove the hangover to Jeremy Corbyn’s failed leadership, not a prelude to the next general election.

That won’t be the case, though, if Starmer and his top team listen to the siren voices of the far left in Labour and the unions who – somehow, in the face of logic and the result of the disastrous 2019 election – say what’s needed now is a clear return to the politics of Corbyn.

These are the people who will never accept the findings of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) that Labour discriminated unlawfully against Jewish members. The ‘anti-racists’ who spewed hate against Jewish MPs, denying and downplaying antisemitism.  The bullies who hate the fact that Starmer has started the hard work to root this poison out.

When left-wing commentators call for an immediate end to suspensions and the ‘witch-hunt’, let’s call it what it is: letting purveyors of left conspiratorial antisemitism off the hook for factional convenience.

Starmer must continue to ignore these noises off and forge ahead on the mission he set out from day one of his leadership to show zero tolerance for antisemitism and detoxify the culture of the Party.

The difference in how JLM, as the voice for Jewish members in the Party, is treated now is night and day. We are respected and listened to, along with other communal organisations.

But we aren’t complacent. This is a long, hard road, and we need to see more progress – like rule changes at annual conference to finally introduce an independent complaints system.

Fixing Labour in the public’s eye after the shameful, parlous state his predecessor left it in will take more than one election. All polling evidence suggests he is a net benefit; any opposition leader would have struggled to make their voice heard over last year.

Pretending otherwise is yet another impossible demand from the far left.

We’re at a turning point now. Giving ground now to the people who got it so wrong under Corbyn, morally and politically, would be a total disaster.

And if that means prioritising speaking to the country over maintaining party unity, so be it.

About the Author
Mike Katz is national chair of the Jewish Labour Movement
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