This has column has long bemoaned the regular but disproportionate and ineffective calls from its author’s old school and university colleague, John Mann MP, for senior political figures to resign because they have irked him. But Mann is absolutely right in calling for the expulsion of Ken Livingstone from the Labour Party for his invoking of Adolf Hitler in a broadcast interview apparently intended to calm the row about antisemitism in the Labour Party.
Just when we thought the Labour Party had reached the bottom, Ken Livingstone took out his shovel and carried on digging fast and furiously. Jeremy Corbyn was slow to act as this row about antisemitism in his Party rumbled on and escalated over weeks and months. An Independent Inquiry has now been established to investigate the matter. Long grass, big kick; matter delayed until after the local government elections on 5th May and probably the EU referendum on 23rd June.
Such delaying tactics are a noble political tradition, but we should ask ourselves just how serious this problem is and what the inquiry, if truly impartial and independent, is likely to conclude.
Antisemitism, as John Mann has consistently observed in his role as Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Semitism, is a nasty and bigoted perspective. It is one manifestation of racism. It is a calumny against the Jews and was the mind-set that underpinned and was used to justify the philosophy of the Holocaust which led to six million men, women and children being sent to the gas chambers in Nazi German along with the handicapped, homosexuals, left-wing politicians and those who spoke out against this mass extermination.
At the risk of inflaming the ire of readers as Ken Livingstone did when he poured petrol onto the flaming fire of this heated political row, this column asserts that under Jeremy Corbyn and his inner clique antisemitism has become institutionalised in the Labour Party.
Certain attitudes, paradigms and cultures have been found to have existed in other organisations in the past: from racism in the police force, and a refusal to challenge the behaviour of stars within the BBC, to local authority children’s services departments refusing to acknowledge Asian gangs organising the systematic abuse of children in care, and to companies in the City with their glass ceilings for women’s careers and the culture of greed amongst bankers. Today, antisemitism has Labour in its vile grip.
That does not mean that antisemitism is endemic in Labour, and certainly there are many, many thousands of Labour supporters and members who rightly and consistently abhor such prejudices, finding them deeply repugnant and personally and politically unacceptable. But, if you have a Party Leader and his cohort of cronies who cannot when speaking at meetings at the Labour Party Conference last year organised by Labour Friends of Israel (yes they do exist in their droves) even bring themselves to use the word “Israel” or to acknowledge the possibility of a “two state” solution in the Middle East a paradigm is created, a prism through which all aspects of the issue are viewed and distorted.
Yes, there are actions by the Israeli state that are viewed with genuine horror, quite rightly, by many observers in all political parties. Their military responses when provoked kill innocent men, women and children just as terrorist attacks on Israeli citizens do. The provocative settlers on land considered by Palestinians to be theirs are inevitably going to raise passions. But these are not things for which the Jewish race or even Israelis can be condemned. There is a vigorous debate in Israel between political philosophies which hold and promote very different views.
The people of Israel, of all different faiths and none, cannot all be held individually responsible for the actions of the state, just as Labour supporters campaigned in this country against the bedroom tax, the poll tax and our engagement with a number of military adventures in the recent past.
If Jeremy Corbyn cannot accept the possibility of a two-state solution, the only conclusion we can draw is that he believes in a one-state solution, with the state of Israel being subsumed within a greater Palestine. On such matters the Labour Left including both Corbyn and Livingstone are trapped within their own paradigm and are prisoners of their own extended logic taken to ridiculous extremes.
The institutional problem for Labour is that this paradigm pervades its Leadership’s thinking on other matters of foreign and domestic security policy. Its support for Hamas and Hezbollah, like its historic sympathy with the IRA, and its role as apologists for the Soviet Union with all its horrors. These are born of a loathing of the United States of America which they see as a Great Evil in the world, a position not that far removed from the views of Daesh, Al Quaeda, Boko Haram and the host of other death cults with so despise the values that the USA espouses and which they see as embodied in the very existence of the state of Israel.
As this row engulfed his Party, Corbyn’s stated position was that there was no issue, no crisis, no problem. It took John Mann’s righteous explosion to reveal that the Emperor had no clothes, and to force Corbyn to abandon that position so dramatically that an independent inquiry was needed. And for his pains, John Mann is reprimanded by the Labour Party. What message does that send?
There are many in the Labour Party, the majority, who are revolted by antisemitism, and indeed by all forms of racism. Many of them are personal friends of your author. But, how have they allowed Jeremy Corbyn and his cronies, his ideological fellow travellers to drag the Party, with its noble historic traditions, to a place where the national media is ablaze with examples of Labour antisemitism? The electorate are taking the view that there’s no smoke without fire, particularly when senior figures like Ken Livingstone are wantonly fanning the flames.
Sadly, some have already been blaming the “Zionist controlled media”. You simply could not make this up. It is a nightmare from which many in Labour are desperately hoping they will awake, but whilst Corbyn is their Leader they have more of this yet to endure as the reputation of their Party is systematically trashed, and at a time when its Frontbench should be running rings around the Conservatives, riven as they now are by a vicious civil war over the coming European Referendum.
This column despairs for the future of British politics with Labour in such disarray. Our constitution requires for its checks and balances an Opposition that could credibly form an alternative Government to the present one. Do voters really look at the current mess that is Labour, with its exposed underbelly of antisemitism, and feel they could vote for that?
Cllr Chris Whitehouse KSG is Chairman of Westminster’s leading political consultancy, www.whitehouseconsulting.co.uk, Secretary of the Catholic Legislators’ Network, a Trustee of the Right To Life Charitable Trust, and a Member of the Isle of Wight Council (Cons. Newport West).