Before I start, a note to my readers: You will no doubt have noticed that I have been offline for a couple of months or so. Nothing bad has happened thank G-d, it has simply been a combination of lockdown blues, a bout in quarantine, depression at the mess our “government” is making of… well … governing, combined with a certain burnout.
And now without further ado:
This is a guest post by frequent contributor and faithful reader Brian Goldfarb who reviews the status of the Labour Party today after Jeremy Corbyn was ousted, and unfortunately kicked sideways, remaining the Labour MP for Islington, rather than out altogether.
For the young ones among Anne’s readers ,“Things Can Only Get Better” was the campaign theme song for Tony Blair’s “New Labour” Party in 1997. The UK General Election of that year was a landslide for Labour: from a Conservative majority in single figures, it went to a Labour majority of 170+. For those of us of the “sane” left (that is, in the centre or on the right wing of the Labour Party) “oh what bliss it was in that dawn to be alive”. 7 or more Cabinet Ministers lost their seats and any number of junior ministers plus any number of “up-and-coming” hopefuls vanished into the outer darkness.
I was one of those sane lefties, and after we had seen our own Labour MP returned with an increased majority, those of his workers in the hall where the counting took place repaired to a rented room in a public house where we could have a private party, while watching the rout of the Conservative Party while sipping our favourite alcoholic beverage (we went home by taxi!). There was a great book published shortly after that election: Brian Cathcart “Were you still up for Portillo?” – yes we were, and we cheered as loudly as the Labour Party workers in the counting hall when he lost. It’s only taken me 23 years and a lockdown to get round to reading it!
So, for me, the next 13 years were good, politically. Then Labour lost the 2010 election and we got Ed Miliband, when it should have been his brother David (who might not have so quickly resigned after losing the election of 2015, or even got a better result), which led on to Jeremy Corbyn, of whom the best that I can say is that at least he was forced out after losing his second General Election (his greatest supporters, the trade unions, will have ousted him in 2019: they want and need a Labour Government to protect the rights of their members and blow hard left policies).
Was/is Corbyn an antisemite? I wrote this article, The trouble with Labour under Corbyn – an open letter to sympathetic non-Jewish friends, for this site almost 2 years ago. Fortunately, thanks to changing circumstances, it is, and I hope will remain, dated. For a short while, the question at the beginning of this paragraph remains just that: a question (however one which to many people, lots of them who might otherwise have voted Labour in 2019, the answer remains tipped on the side of “yes”, as we found out last year). We will get a better perspective on this when the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), a Labour Government creation, reports its conclusion in a month or so as to whether the Labour Party’s internal structures for dealing with accusations of antisemitism within its ranks was flawed to the point of condoning antisemitism.
It needs to be noted that the only other political party the EHRC has ever investigated is the British National Party: Britain’s most successful far-right party in the post-World War Two era.
Hardly nice company for a supposedly anti-racist political party to be keeping.
However, I long ago made up my mind: for anyone who counts Hamas and Hezbollah among his “friends” and who entertains Sheikh Rashid Saleh (imprisoned in Israel and barred from the UK By Theresa May when she was Home Secretary for promoting the “blood libel”), there can only be one answer. And I wouldn’t be posting here if it was in the negative.
Well, I knew early on in the 2019 General Election campaign that Labour were not going to be the next government, not even as the largest single party, so I could safely vote for my Labour MP, a moderate and pals with our Rabbi (also “dangerously” liberal). But I never expected the rout that followed. Some of it was, undoubtedly, in areas that had voted for “Brexit” from the European Union (the so-called “red wall” that had voted Labour for decades ([there’s a two-fold joke about such constituencies: “we don’t count Labour votes here, we bloody weigh ‘em!”, and “they could put a monkey up wearing a red rose, and they’d elect him”] which went Conservative for the first time in 9 decades. But elsewhere, Labour candidates (who were uncomfortable with their leadership) were reporting (whether or not they won) at the fall in support over perceived antisemitism in the Labour Party at the highest levels.
And it was worse than that: good, solid centrist MPs like Tom Watson and John Mann (the former the elected Deputy Leader, and therefore couldn’t be sacked by Corbyn for his deviant views re antisemitism, the latter notable for his views on the evil of antisemitism – see my review on his book for this site here – retired as MPs rather than remain Labour MPs. John Mann was promptly ennobled as Lord John Mann and made the UK Government’s “antisemitism Czar”. My wife asked why Margaret Hodge didn’t do the same: after all, she had recorded a meeting with Corbyn in which she had called him an antisemite. My reply was that, having seen the same polls that I had, she wanted to dance on his political grave: which she got to do (I sent her an email congratulating her on keeping her seat and making that comment – I didn’t expect and didn’t receive a reply: Margaret Hodge is far too polite to do that!)
So, am I able to answer my own question at the head of this article? In a word, yes!
Jeremy Corbyn having fallen on his sword (if only that were literally true, except that some [literally] poor minimum wage manual worker would have had to clean up the blood), the Party had a rush of sense to the head and elected Sir Keir Starmer as its new Leader.
So, for those who haven’t caught up with the news yet, who is he, and what’s his background? Okay, forget the “Sir”: that’s a reward in monarchical Britain for being a highly successful barrister (the ones who appear in court and do all that Perry Mason stuff). He also became the Director of Public Prosecution Service; Ros (my wife), who is a former Solicitor and judge, says he was good at his various jobs. Although he’s only been an MP for 5 years. he is really good. The day he was elected as Leader, he made a very public statement to the UK Jewish community promising to root out antisemitism in the UK Labour Party and restore the UK Jewish Community’s faith in the Labour Party.
Okay, so far, so good. But, as the UK English maxim has it, “fine words butter no parsnips”: how do we know he really is one of the good guys?
Well, in the first Prime Minister’s Questions (in which the Leader of the Opposition gets first crack at the PM) I saw, Boris Johnson stood up and announced that he was taking “direct control of the Government’s fight against the pandemic” (remember Covid-19?). Well, even I, as a social scientist and not a lawyer, recognised an open goal for a barrister as good as Starmer! So, his response? We could sense Keir deciding which stiletto to select to slide between Boris’s (metaphorical) ribs: after thanking the PM for his pronouncement, he asked “Would the Prime Minister like to tell us who was in direct control before?”
It’s the sort of question (which a seasoned politician should never leave open) which leaves the sake floundering: which it did.
But it doesn’t stop there: Keir Starmer is not Jewish, but his wife is, and he has noted that he regularly attends Friday Night dinners with his wife’s family, so he is sensitised to these issues.
And it gets better: Maxine Peake, a well-known UK actress, posted an article on social media that claimed that US police forces had learned all about the choke-hold that killed (among far too many other African-Americans) George Floyd in Minneapolis from Israeli police forces and/or Mossad. Ros (see above) attended a Platform at the UK’s National Theatre (in which actors, directors, etc, talk about the productions they are in, etc) and found her extremely hard left(and off-putting). Peake withdrew this article (but only after a row broke out) when it was pointed out that many police forces across the globe co-operated on all sorts of issues, and that the Israeli contribution was always on counter-terrorism issues: nothing to do with choke-holds.
BUT: Rebecca Long-Bailey, hard left (i.e., Corbynite) candidate for the leadership and now Shadow Education Secretary “liked” this article. Before she could withdraw it (after a row broke out in the Parliamentary Party), Starmer sacked her, and refused to accept any withdrawals or apologies.
Watch this great video summarizing Starmer’s first 100 days:
So, have things just got better in the British Labour Party? Probably. Which is far more than could be said under Corbyn’s leadership. We will know for sure when we get Starmer’s response to the EHRC’s report,
Hopefully, very soon.
Watch this space, as they say.