This is a guest post by Ben
I understand that there is a constituency of people who read this blog who take every opportunity to decry the whole Labour Party for anti-semitism. Surely not? At the “watercooler of the Decent Left”?! Well, apparently so.
I thought a small corrective to the many dismal stories of betrayal, disgrace and ignominy might be in order.
I read with a heavy heart the following motion on the agenda for Holborn and St. Pancras Constituency Labour Party’s October General Committee (for the happily uninitiated, this is the sovereign body in respect of the affairs of the CLP on a month-to-month basis, and it decides official (oooh) CLP policy):
Jewish National Fund (Kentish Town)
This [branch/GC] congratulates Frank Dobson on signing the Early Day Motion 1677 about the Jewish National Fund. Camden Labour has a proud history of opposition to racism and supremacism.
For members’ information, the text of EDM is: That this House welcomes the Stop the Jewish National Fund (JNF) Campaign launched on 30 March 2011 by the Palestinian Boycott National Committee, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign and others to inform the public about the JNF – Karen Kayemet L’Yisrael, its ongoing illegal expropriation of Palestinian land, concealing of destroyed Palestinian villages beneath parks and forests, and prevention of refugees from returning to their homes; notes that the JNF’s constitution is explicitly discriminatory by stating that land and property will never be rented, leased or sold to non-Jews; further notes that the UN rejected the JNF USA’s application for consultative status with the Economic and Social Council on the ground that it violates the principles of the UN Charter on Human Rights; regrets that the Prime Minister is a JNF honorary patron; and believes that there is just cause to consider revocation of the JNF’s charitable status in the UK.
Frank Dobson is our long-serving MP. This dreadful EDM was promoted by the “Stop the JNF Campaign” – one of the tentacular bodies associated with the wider Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement. Its press releases describe Israel as “racist”, “colonialist” and an “apartheid state” (see www.stopthejnf.org press releases on the internet passim – they don’t hide this stuff, thankfully).
Honorary patrons of the JNF include such horrendous racists and bigots as David Bellamy, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. And I used to think Frank Dobson was such a nice pet loyalist.
The extremists behind this sort of thing tend to hide in the shadows. I suspect that few of the real anti-semitic nutters would turn up at something like a CLP GC in most places (sorry for the acronyms). They send these sorts of overblown, distorted, immoderate, bilious, uncharitable motions down through their contacts to yer actual reasonable human beings who are not informed enough to challenge the anti-semitism and partiality inherent in their nature, who then deliver them to branches and GCs for adoption.
I prepared a speech, wondered what the hell the two new active members turning up from my branch would think of this unhinged ultra-leftism (“Is this normal?!” was heard as a response), and got ready for ignominious defeat and considered whether I should resign from the CLP executive and as Chair of my branch. Holborn & St. Pancras is something of your classic leftist inner city CLP, you see. David Miliband came third behind his brother and Dianne Abbot in the endorsement meeting held for activists, amidst dark mutterings about his complicity in torture and similar black arts as a patsy for the evil Yankees. I’d only just moved to the area then – wondered what on earth I’d let myself in for.
But something rather surprising happened at the meeting on Tuesday the 25th of October. The routine depressing bile against Israel as encapsulated by the EDM encountered substantial – indeed, majority – opposition from the floor. Largely from Jewish members, some of whom had turned up specially, but I was happy to add my voice to the discontent. One lady had eschewed a Jewish Labour Movement meeting in favour of attendance, another gentleman spoke movingly of his grandparents’ and parents’ commitment to both socialism and this country in the aftermath of the War. I was moderate in my comments, drawing attention instead to the swivel-eyed loonery of the language of the proponent movement.
And then the motion was rejected, comfortably. The sectarian football game view of Israel-Palestine was rejected. 9 votes in favour, 12 abstentions and 17 against. A particularly notable result given that the CLP was being asked to endorse the prior decision of our MP – the safest line of argument possible for the proponents. Delegates made a decision based on their own consciences and not on the deficient judgment of our MP.
I was approached by a Jewish colleague after the debate who thanked me for my efforts, explaining that she was critical of much that the government of Israel did, but that the motion had clearly been designed to delegitimise a key institution in Israeli society and as such went too far. It seems that the majority of delegates agreed.
Any wider implications? Not really. No one cares what Holborn & St. Pancras CLP official policy is with respect to the Jewish National Fund (or in respect of anything else, for that matter).
But there are a couple of wider lessons for the many committed Party members who I know read this blog:
- The Labour Party is not anywhere near as far gone into radical leftist bigotry as many of the arm-chair commenters here lazily and vituperatively postulate. And it would be uncharitable not to acknowledge that those on the Left of the Party are not necessarily given to madness.
- Always fight. Never be cowed. You just may find that you are pushing at an open door.
The future of the Labour Party is in play. To ensure that it lies with us and not with those who seek to drag it into obscurity, irrelevance and ignominy is not a mere sectarian intra-party battle between the moderate and the extreme; it is to ensure the very future and viability of social democratic politics in this country for future generations.
Bombastic? Sure. Overblown? No. It is not because people care specifically about Israel-Palestine (transparently they do not – and why on earth should they?) that people will look twice if the radical left dominate the public debate in and around the Party, but because the British people have an instinctive distrust of the radical and the extreme. They are right to have that distrust. History shows it. Psephological history indicates that parties tarred with the brush of radicalism fail at the ballot box. Fairly so – I wouldn’t trust the posturing radicals in the Party to run a pig iron factory, let alone to run a modern society fairly and effectively.
To defeat the radical Left in its cheerleading for a whole host of communal, bigoted and anti-democratic ideas is not merely to win the case for universal values, rights and responsibilities – valuable as that is – it is to ensure the space for a sensible moral voice against the Tories that the public is open to listening to when the Right do such things as moot the idea that the minimum wage could be withdrawn from the disabled or lay the ground for the removal of fundamental employment rights. Such naked immorality sadly does not right itself in a time when people feel insecure and scared. The Left and its bugbears, its identity politics and its totemic posturing, is at best a distraction in an age of insecurity. But that’s another blog for another day.
For now, the moral of the story for comrades labouring in the co-operative movement, local parties, unions and socialist societies is: always question, always challenge. Have the courage of your convictions. You might just be up against a paper tiger. The radical Left actively harm the efforts of the Party to answer the questions it has to answer if the nation is to trust it in a time of austerity and fear. They are an obstacle that must be swiftly excised if the Party is to be trusted to govern again in the near future, for the millions that depend on it for a fair deal. The leadership continues to ignore this fact at the Party’s peril, and its own. The more each one of us can do to challenge that politics on a day-to-day basis, the better.