Labour’s Enemy Within

28 Feb

Image may contain: one or more people and glasses, text that says ""When Labour has needed loyalty he has been sharpening his knife looking for a back to stab. When unity is required, he manufactures division." Len McCluskey, Unite General Secretary"

What do they say about feeding the monster? Back in December, Labour MP Chris Williamson publicly opposed Islington Labour Party’s decision to ban saxophonist Gilad Atzmon, an Israeli Jew labelled “antisemitic”, from a Christmas gig. In the face of orchestrated attacks from the unholy alliance of an Israeli lobby led by Labour Friends of Israel and Jewish Chronicle, with right wing Labour forces willing to use all and any means to unseat Jeremy Corbyn, Williamson recanted.

That was not only weak but foolish.

Far from being mollified, that alliance, ably facilitated by deputy leader Tom Watson, has now secured Williamson’s suspension on ground of antisemitism. The Guardian, still a credible source to the insufficiently attentive, yesterday ran a Jonathan Freedland piece opening thus:

Credit to Chris Williamson for originality. Not many have suggested that Labour’s chief problem with antisemitism within its ranks is that it has been too apologetic to the Jewish community, that it has shown an excess of concern and contrition.

As a matter of fact – not that Nakba apologist Freedland is overly concerned with such things – Williamson has suggested that the problem is a Labour left too apologetic, not to a ‘Jewish community’ conjured up to meet the requirements of Freedland’s prejudices, but to those forces identified in my own opener. Any problem of antisemitism within Labour is, as Jonathan Cook and Jewish Voice for Labour (below) show, vanishingly small. Far smaller, to be sure, than tory antisemitism.

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I welcome yesterday’s defence of Williamson by two writers, Glen Secker and Alan Madison, from Jewish Voice for Labour.1 Here’s an excerpt:

… there is no record of the thousands of abusive messages MPs like Ruth Smeeth claimed to have received, alleging most emanated from the Labour Party. The source of these might well have been traced to the ten fake twitter accounts masquerading as Labour Party members, unmasked by journalist Asa Winstanley. But to our knowledge, such numbers have never been submitted for investigation.

Margaret Hodge MP was informed by [Party General Secretary] Jennie Formby that of the 200 dossiers of cases of antisemitism she had submitted, only 20 were found to be by Labour Party members. In other words, her allegations of antisemitism in the party had been exaggerated tenfold. And single handedly she accounted for approaching one fifth of all referrals.

Headlines proclaiming there was “no safe place for Jews in Corbyn’s Labour”, or that Labour needed, in the words of Marie van de Zyl, when vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, to “drain the cesspit of antisemitism”, have been shown to be contradicted by the evidence.

Secker and Madison go on to say:

If the facts are at such odds with the accounts of leading politicians and mainstream media, there can be only one explanation – these accounts are driven by ulterior political agendas. Other forms of racism, for which manifestations in the UK are 70 times more prevalent than those for antisemitism, barely get a mention. At the last election Labour fell short of becoming the government by a few percentage points. The next election is predicted to be as close. The damage to the party inflicted by the allegations of antisemitism is calculated to impact on this tipping point – to keep the party out of office.

Full piece here. Meanwhile, this comment below an OffGuardian post nails it.

The Labour left, Williamson included, has indeed been over apologetic in the naive belief these McCarthyite witch hunters can be placated. They can’t, and as others have noted, you can never win by playing the game of constantly rebutting smear; of spending inordinate amounts of time and resource seeking to show it as inaccurate. To go down that road is not only to stoke the monster’s appetite. It is to allow a cynical enemy to define the terms of engagement. Jeremy Corbyn, besides rejuvenating a moribund party, is the first Labour leader ever to stand up for the people of Palestine. Time to go on the offensive and show ethnic cleansing apologists like Freedland for who they truly are. And to show those who would return the party to neoliberal ‘values’ for who they truly are. Appeasements made on the back foot, to that which cannot and should not be appeased, must stop.2

One final point. Secker and Madison pull their punches. In confining their criticisms to “leading politicians and mainstream media” they let right wing Labour – the Tom Watsons, John Manns, Frank Fields, Margaret Hodges and Gang of Nine3 – off the hook. Since Labour’s inception, that right wing has repeatedly shown itself as preferring a Tory government to a left led Labour one. One instance being Frank Field’s 1987 call, from his Birkenhead constituency to Labour voters in next door Wallasey, to give their cross to Tory incumbent Lynda Chalker. She was defending a slender majority and Field’s explicit aim was to keep out left wing Lol Duffy, whose team had worked like demons to build up the Labour vote. Chalker scraped home by 279 votes, and Duffy was later deselected in the rigged ‘‘by-election panel’ which parachuted in Angela Eagle, the nonentity who would later challenge Corbyn for the leadership.

Field’s call was of a piece with a century of Labour history. See Ralph Miliband’s excellent book, Parliamentary Socialism. (Shame neither of his sons read it or, if they did, digested its message.) Yes, I do ‘get’ Secker’s and Madison’s reluctance to broaden the counterattack and, yes, I thank them for their speedy, “not in our name” rebuttal of charges so malevolently intended. But I fear that unless the party, energised by two resounding leadership victories and the confounding of Corbyn’s critics on June 8, 2017, deals with its Enemy Within – Watson for starters – we’ll see a slow, then not so slow, ebbing of its current fortunes.

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  1. Just yesterday, Jewish Voice for Labour was forced to cancel the screening of a documentary acclaimed by film makers Mike Leigh and Peter Kominsky, both Jewish, on the “antisemite” witch hunts within the Labour Party. Full story here.
  2. In this context special mention must be made of Owen Jones, whose ‘unpersoning’ of Chris Williamson is subject of a Kit Knightly piece in today’s OffGuardian.
  3. I’m aware of course that some of these people are no longer “right wing” – or any other kind of – Labour but that takes nothing away from the point I’m making.

6 Replies to “Labour’s Enemy Within

  1. Spot on Phil

    I too was thinking of writing similar as you you cannot ever fill the monsters hunger; the more you give it the stronger it gets and wants even more. There is no chance of the social democracy programme adopted by the Labour Party conference being implemented whilst the enemy is within. It is no coincidence that local elections are nearby: a disastrous result and the knives will be out to replace Corbyn by Watson – et tu brute.

    If the monster within behaves like this now, imagine what it would do if Labour was elected. A very British Coup is taking place. The left is too frightened, and wants to compromise.

    • Thanks Jawed. Re your last sentence, have you seen the Kit Knightly piece in today’s OffGuardian? I only just linked to it, in the second footnote, possibly added after you read my post.

  2. Thanks, Phil, for the detailed info you’ve provided. I was sickened to see Margaret Hodge triumphant on the news last night. Glad to hear though that Chris W is planning to defend himself. But when Jewish Voice for Labour said exactly the same thing last summer on mainstream news programmes about Labour being too apologetic and how JC should stop apologising, I don’t think their spokesperson got suspended……

    • Ros, in my ignorance I once lauded Hodge for her seemingly magisterial performances when chairing the Select Committee on Tax Avoidance. She didn’t look quite so steely when shrieking at Corbyn that he was “a fucking racist”. In a fairer world she, like John Mann, would be sued for slander.

      The witch hunts go wider than Britain. Senator Omar in the USA, and les gilets jaunes in France, have been/are being tarred with the same brush. I can’t find the link now but Jonathan Cook has written on this in the last day or two. At the same time McCarthyism has intensified, which may throw light on your closing sentence. Indeed, it may throw light on why Williamson, having wobbled on Atzmon – and I’m not going to armchair judge him for that – rediscovered his mettle in Sheffield.

      PS – just found that Cook link

  3. Not being known for my subtle appreciation of the various nuances of outright offensives, rather than defensive policies, I still don’t understand why the left have bowed and scraped to the true anti-semites (those who defend Israel against non zionist Jews). Nobody with an ounce of grey matter can fail to understand what is happening and that can be verified by following the many comments on the subject available on Facebook.

    As for Len McClusky, who I voted for, I would like to see him go much further in calling out the guilty for what they are. And what’s wrong with the old tactic of naming and shaming? It works in social media and if it’s truths exposed, there is no slander or libel to be answered for. If a sitting MP is misrepresenting facts then he/she is bringing the party into disrepute and should be kicked out of the Labour Party.

    If Corbyn doesn’t take the bull by the horns, then the anti-semitism liars are simply going to be emboldened in their assaults. Why would they change a tactic that has shown itself to be working so well for them?

    Corbyn is steadily losing his grip on the party, but seems to be unable to see the damage his “kinder” politics are doing to the credibility of the party or the fact that the membership are now starting to question his resolve or strength of character. Rolling over and taking the punches doesn’t cut it.
    As for Tom Watson, I was given a chance to vote for him and he turned out to be a snake, as he was in Blair’s team, is there nothing in the Labour Party Rules that can offer the membership a re vote? I know a great many members who have wanted him gone for a very long time.

    I didn’t know what it was that Frank Field had done until I read this article of yours, thanks, but was he suspended or kicked out for bringing the party into disrepute or breaking LP rules back then? I’ll have to look it up.

    Many thanks.

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