Wednesday 25 April 2018

Len McCluskey on Labour Anti-Semitism

Len McCluskey has played a blinder. Read his article for yourself. He doesn't give the impression, which he has in the past, that Labour anti-semitism is a put up job. He explicitly addresses it. Rightly, he contextualises it as an excrescence, a minority pursuit to be dug out and thrown out using the enhanced powers the party has adopted. And what he does is to give voice to the frustrations and anger rippling through the party membership about Labour's other big problem, the Parliamentary Labour Party problem.

Despite achieving in two years what it took Kinnock nine years to do (and even then got a much better share of the vote), large numbers of Labour MPs are not reconciled to Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, nor will they ever be. As noted last week, it's not a matter of a few disagreements here and there. When you have a big tent, you don't nod politely and sympathetically as folks take an axe to the supports, snip at the tethers and rip up the pegs. There is a hardcore group for whom their opposition to Corbyn is a cypher for their opposition to what Labour is becoming: a mass, democratic movement informed by and responding to the lived experience of millions of people hitherto excluded from mainstream politics. In our new, redefining, refounding party there is little room for champions of water privatisation, Labour friends of Erdo─čan, enthusiasts for hospital car park charges, and self-styled practitioners of the stitch-up. They know it as well, and will do anything, anything to turn the clock back to the time when these people were feted, and their general shittiness wasn't a matter for embarrassment and shame.

This drives their exaggeration of Labour Party anti-semitism. As Len observes, it might be the case some are outraged by the emergence of anti-semitism, but it is also the case it is being talked up and used as a stick to beat the left and the Corbyn project with. They know Labour isn't riddled with anti-semites, they know that as a mass party it's bound to take in the prejudices - to a degree - from the society of which the party is part. But, appropriately in most cases, it's a scab our MPs can keep picking at. That Labour's leadership have looked all at sea at times has merely encouraged them. There are reasons for this, one being Corbyn's well known reluctance to throw long-terms associations under a bus, even if they have dodgy af views on some issues, but it doesn't matter. He could be as contrite as can be, not hang around with the "wrong Jews" any more, and get the Jewish Board of Deputies to oversee Labour's disputes panel, and it still wouldn't be enough. Because it's not about anti-Jewish racism. It's about politics. I know it, you know it, they know it, and the membership knows it.

Going from their behaviour, some have reluctantly accepted they're not going to stand as a Labour candidate ever again and so are bent on the destructive course of doing all they can to wreck the party's chances. They are doing over the party now, but they can be stopped. Their martyrdom fantasies culminate in a departure from Labour at the point maximum mayhem can be inflicted. I've said it before and I'll say it again, the membership can enforce a timetable on them by CLPs ensuring they send delegates to conference who agree with mandatory reselection - such is a suitable finish for people prepared to use anti-semitism for something as inconsequential as their dreary, unremarkable careers.


Ed said...

Good piece, Phil. Just finished reading McCluskey's article and it was a real pleasure to see someone in his position articulating what so many people have been feeling over the last few weeks. More often than not it's the wild, bad faith exaggerations of the scale of Labour's problems with anti-semitism that provoke people into going too far in the opposite direction and being too dismissive. McCluskey got the balance right. Nice to see Coyle, Leslie, Austin etc. called out by name too, it was long overdue.

I've just seen Stephen Bush, who is normally more sensible than the other pol-cors, pearl-clutching about McCluskey's article ('inflammatory and self-harming' he suggests). Staggering to think he can have been watching Westminster politics day by day for the past couple of months and still think it's McCluskey whose intervention is damaging to Labour. Far, far better to get this out in the open now and grasp the nettle, rather than have Labour win a narrow election victory in a couple of years and find itself completely hobbled because there's a group of internal saboteurs lining up with the Tories on every important issue.

Dialectician1 said...

Two points:
1. The 'establishment' will ensure that Britain will never have a Palestinian supporting prime minister. The consequences for the West's imperialist involvement in the future of middle eastern politics would be too dire for them to contemplate. The game they play is soft and hard. The soft stuff is in the drip, drip approach adopted by the Guardian, the BBC and those members of the CLP you describe above. The hard approach is one we all secretly fear. With the election of a radical Labour prime minister, the velvet gloves will be off and the consequences for Corbyn and his most visible supporters will be grim.
2. It is worth reading Pankaj Mishra's 'Age of Anger'. He looks at the reemergence of anti-rationalism, God, social Darwinism and nationalism. Drawing on Nietzsche's fear that with the death of god, the disenchantment with rationalism will lead to resentment/nihilism and an extreme anxieties about identity, race, birth place (the chosen people). 'It manifests itsel today through settler-Zionists, whose secular hero Jabotinsky proclaimed that nationalism was the holy Torah' (page 223).

Shai Masot said...

Let's hope McCluskey holds on to his leadership at Unite. Major blow if he doesn't.

Boffy said...

The actions of the PLP right and soft left shows we need mandatory reselection as soon as possible. The game was given away by the Enoughisenough demo, and by yesterday's publicity stunt of right-wing MP's trudging along with Ruth Smeeth to the NEC.

If Marc Wadsworth is expelled it will be a travesty. There would have been more of a case against him by arguing that his statement reinforced tropes about women being deceitful, going back to the claims about Eve in the Graden of Evil, because Ruth Smeeth is a woman, than there is to claim that there was something anti-Semitic in his statement.

Unless you are going to make the anti-semitic in itself statement that Jews are identifiable simply by their appearance, it is far more convincing an argument to say that Wadsworth must have known that Smeeth is a woman than to say that he must have known she is a Jew!

The only point he was making was that he saw a right-wing Labour MP, engaged in discussion with a Telegraph journalist, and that this tells you something - not about Jews or women - but about right-wing Labour MP's and their connection to the anti-Corbyn Tory press!

Unless you are going to extend the identity of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism to also equate being Jewish with being conservative, (and the last few days debates over the racism of government immigration policy under the Blairites as well as under the Tories shows the Blairites are conservatives) then the is no rational basis for saying that a criticism of right-wing MP's, for their conservative politics is anti-semitic, simply because they are also Jews, any more than it is misogynistic simply because they are also women!

But that is what the right are doing, which leads to them denying the Jewishness of the "wrong Jews" who have been expelled from the party for criticising Zionism, and for criticising those who are undermining Corbyn. It is also what leads to boycotting other forms of anti-racism, for example, Jackie Walker's factual statement about Jews financing the slave trade. It makes no more sense than to deny the anti-Semitism of some in the black community, for example, and indeed, there was a lot of racism amongst blacks against Asians, in Britain.

But, McCluskey is right, its not even about being prepared to speak the truth about all these other forms of racism, but about the way the right are using this issue simply as a means of attacking Corbyn. They are a dead weight around Labour's neck, as the debates over Windrush, and the racist policies of the Blairights over the last 20 years has indicated. We should get shut of them as soon as possible.

Jim Denham said...

McCluskey's article is superficially reasonable and certainly a vast improvement on his previous ("mood music") comments on this subject, but I can't agree he's "played a blinder."

The positive aspects: he acknowledges that anti-Semitism is a real issue in the Party and not just something got up by the right wing; he backs away from his previous statement that he had never encountered anti-Semitism in his 47 years of party membership and "accepts" that others ("Jewish members in particular") may have had "different experiences"; his explicit support for the right of Israel to exist "on the 1967 borders" (ie the two state solution); recognition that Livingstone's remarks about Hitler and Zionism "caused so much understandable offence": all this is welcome.

On the other hand: McCluskey repeats the tired old mantra that anti-Semitism within the party is limited to "a small number of members": I think we all know that it's more widespread than that. The recent statement from Momentum's leadership puts it well: "Current examples of antisemitism within the Labour Party are not only a problem of a few, extreme ‘bad apples’ but also of unconscious bias which manifests itself in varied, nuanced and subtle ways and is more widespread in the Labour Party than many of us had understood even a few months ago."

Corbyn himself has now dropped the phrase "pockets of anti-Semitism" and has accepted (in his Evening Standard piece) that it's more widespread than that.

The other main problem with the McCluskey piece is his suggestion that MPs raising concerns about anti-Semitism are all (or in the main)simply right wingers looking for an excuse to undermine Jeremy and/or they're people who "backed Theresa May in risking a new bloody intervention in the Middle East": I'll leave aside for now, the silence of people like McCluskey on the crimes of Assad and the very real interventions into Syria of Putin's Russia and the Iranian regime: the central point is that McCluskey doesn't seem able to get his head round the idea that right wingers may be raising concerns about anti-Semitism *in good faith* and the important matter is whether or not they're pointing to a real problem, not what their overall politics is - or even what their motives are. John Mann, for instance, is (in my opinion) 100% reactionary and one of the nastiest right wingers in the party: but he has a long track record of fighting anti-Semitism within the party and within society as a whole , that long pre-dates Corbyn's leadership. There is no reason to doubt his sincerity.

Finally, there's the question of the terrible timing of this article, just as Corbyn is seeking to rebuild trust between the party and mainstream Jewish organisations and the vast majority of Jews in the UK, this article can only make that task more difficult, reigniting suspicion and hostility just at the time when Corbyn and his team are attempting to demonstrate that they're taking anti-Semitism seriously and attempting make amends for past mistakes (eg welcoming Hamas and Hezbollah as "friends") by promising a "militant" response to anti-Semitism within the party. I can accept that Corbyn and Formby have a genuine problem in combining such a "militant" response with the need to uphold due process and natural justice in dealing with disciplinary cases, but McCluskey's intervention does nothing to help - especially given his previous ill-advised "mood music" remarks.

Ed said...

No Jim, we don't 'all know that'. The Momentum statement was timid and conceded far too much ground to a deceitful smear campaign, leaving all kinds of hostages to fortune. McCluskey's combative tone was a welcome change after too much of that deferential approach from people who really need to be pushing back against liars and charlatans.

Why should we trust John Mann's sincerity? What has he ever done to earn it? In spite of Momentum's overly accommodating approach, he still exploited the A-S debate at Westminster last week to lob a baseless smear in their direction, claiming that a (real, and very unpleasant) incident involving someone sending a dead bird in the post, which happened long before Corbyn's leadership or Momentum were a glint in anyone's eye, was in some way the fault of the Labour left. When the Mirror's Kevin Maguire gently queried this, Mann responded with bluster and abuse, as you'd expect given his track record.

McCluskey's intervention is exactly what's needed. If by 'mainstream Jewish organizations' you mean the Board of Deputies and the JLC, you can forget about it. There will be no good relations with the BOD or the JLC as long as they retain their current leadership and political orientation; they are right-wing campaigning groups, plain and simple (and not just in relation to support for Netanyahu's government in Israel). Their interventions over the last few weeks, from the 'Enough is Enough' stunt on Parliament Square to their statement after this week's meeting, have been cynical, tawdry and manipulative, just what you'd expect from people who'd sooner embrace Trump than Corbyn. In the middle of it all, Boris Johnson rushed to praise and embrace Viktor Orban after he ran one of the nastiest and most brazenly anti-semitic election campaigns in Europe since 1945, but there wasn't a peep of criticism from Arkush and co for that, because Johnson is one of their political allies and his embrace of anti-semites can be ignored for that reason.

If good relations with the Jewish community in Britain are defined as good relations with the BOD, there will never be good relations, period, and the sooner people realize that and say so openly the better. Several weeks in which the right-wing partisanship of people like Arkush should have been brought to light have largely been wasted. Enough is enough, indeed. We have to challenge head-on the idea that Arkush and the BOD speak for a monolithic Jewish community when they set out to damage Labour in any way they can, anymore than they speak for the entire Jewish community when they congratulate Trump, or praise May's coalition with the DUP, or turn a blind eye to Johnson's embrace of anti-semitic demagogues.

Your advice that Labour should prostrate itself before people like Arkush and their allies in the PLP would be disastrous if heeded. They won't stop until the left is ousted from the leadership, it's as simple as that. No reasonable step that can be taken by Labour's leadership will ever be deemed enough, they'll just pocket it and renew the attack as soon as possible. With most of the media—the Guardian and the BBC as well as the Tory press—happy to follow their lead, they'll never be challenged on their blatant hypocrisies and inconsistencies, unless we start doing it ourselves. The approach you favour has already been put to the test over the last few weeks, and indeed over a much longer period, and been found disastrously wanting. Thank God McCluskey at least isn't minded to go any further down that road.

Anonymous said...

Jim Denham says " the very real interventions into Syria of Putin's Russia and the Iranian regime".
Russia and Iran were invited into Syria by the Syrian government. Is that the same as an intervention?

Ian Gibson said...

Well, the Today programme this morning dealt with it very expeditiously by merely ignoring the opening part of his article and portraying him as denying thee was any problem. There is no winning this battle, except a full-on exposure of the inconsistencies, hypocrisies and lies. As Kipling said: "And that is called paying the Dane-geld; but we've proved it again and again, that if once you have paid him the Dane-geld you never get rid of the Dane."

Anonymous said...

Jim Denham said...

Re: the question of the correct left-wing approach to anti-Semitism, even when the issue involves bosses and right wingers:

In the mid-1930s there was a long-running and hard-fought dispute between the South Wales Miners’ Federation (the ‘Fed’) and the owner of Bedwas Colliery, Samuel Instone (who was Jewish). Arthur Horner the leader of the Fed was approached by some men (presumably miners although this is not stated) who said they were going to smash up some Jewish shops. Horner’s replied “Nobody is going to touch a Jew because you don’t like Instone.” At a later conference in South Wales Horner raised the matter and said that if anybody started anti-Jewish activity on this issue (i.e. Instone being Jewish) he would resign the Presidency of the South Wales Miners in protest.

This is contained in Hywel Francis and David Smith’s history of the SWMF “The Fed” (Lawrence and Wishart, 1980)

Braingrass said...

On the other hand: McCluskey repeats the tired old mantra that anti-Semitism within the party is limited to "a small number of members" Why is that a 'mantra'? Report by Institute of Jewish Policy Research, which is well respected, and without political affiliation, concludes that antisemitism is amongst the lowest in the world in the UK, exists in all political parties, and increases as you move rightwards on the political spectrum (in other words, there is more antisemitism in the centre right than the far left). You can read the report here

Jim Denham said...

It has surely come to something when comrades who want to minimise the problem are reduced to arguing that anti-Semitism in the UK is low compared with other countries and that the right is, on the whole more anti-Semitic than the left both claims are probably true, but what a miserable state of affairs when lefities fall back on such wretched arguments.

Momentum's National Council has higher standards and was much more principled when they put out a statement including:

""Current examples of antisemitism within the Labour Party are not only a problem of a few, extreme ‘bad apples’ but also of unconscious bias which manifests itself in varied, nuanced and subtle ways and is more widespread in the Labour Party than many of us had understood even a few months ago."

Anonymous said...

Scary stuff... but ultimately, I have to concur with point 1.

Anonymous said...

I can't see why it is 'a miserable argument' to point out that data, as opposed to opinion, demonstrates that anti-semitism is a relatively small problem in the UK, and, counter to the media narrative, less prevalent on the left than on the right. That information should be made much more widely known so that this whole issue can be put in a truthful context.
The same goes for the data commissioned by the Campaign Against Anti-semitism and collected by YouGov [available at
and ]
The polling took place with a large sample [in the thousands] in early 2015 (before Corbyn) and August 2017 [after 2 years of Corbyn]. The polls asked Tory voters and Labour voters for their degree of agreement with five different anti-semitic tropes.
The data shows that, for whatever reasons, anti-semitic opinions had declined amongst both Tory and Labour voters, (from 19.3% to 15.5% for Tories - a 4% drop, and from 17.3% to 10.2%, a truly sensational drop by 7% amongst Labour voters.
I know this wasn't a poll of party MEMBERS, but SOMETHING significant happened amongst Labour voters during the first 2 years of Corbyn's leadership (I would put it down to this ethos of discouraging any form of ad hominem or prejudiced comments, but that is speculation on my part). It would be odd to think that amongst party members travel was markedly in the opposite direction towards more anti-semitism but that is what we are being asked to believe.
I've read a fair amount on this issue purely as an interested bystander and I find it remarkable that I have only been pointed to this data from one source (Another Angry Voice blog). Why wasn't it shouted from the rooftops by every Labour spokesperson?

Boffy said...

The argument that anti-Semitism is low in the UK compared to elsewhere is a bad argument. Any amount of anti-Semitism, as with any other form of bigotry is bad, and should not be tolerated.

The relevant points, however are that a) left anti-semitism is not the same as anti-Semitism, it does not stem from a hatred of Jews, but of a distaste for Israel, and tendency thereby to allow that to flow over towards Jews who have been tied to the concept of Israel by Zionists themselves, and by the supporters of Zionism b) the definition of what constitutes anti-Semitism and the distinction between anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism, is therefore important. The actions of the BOD and JLC, illustrate that point. They welcome Trump and neo-fascist governments in Eastern Europe, but refuse to even sit down in a meeting with Corbyn, if it includes the "wrong-type" of Jews, from the JVL, or Jewdas, for example, and here historical references to the 1930's are relevant. What next, will the BOD and JLC, want Corbyn and Labour to have the "wrong Jews" wear some kind of badge to distinguish them from real Jews? c) anti-Semitism should not be tolerated in the Labour Party, including left anti-Semitism, but that is not the issue, the issue is why the Blair-rights/soft-lefts and their supports amongst Liberal/Stalinist groups such as the AWL want to make that a big public issue at this very moment, and why it involves making unsubstantiated accusations against sections of party members, blaming them for every act of anonymous internet trolls, or social oddballs, for example. The existence of anti-semitism and of anti-Semitism in the LP is real, and saying its real is not a smear. What is a smear is saying that a) its rampant in the LP, b) that every instance of anti-Semitism is somehow attributable to sections of the Left, or Corbyn supporters, and c) that somehow Corbyn himself is responsible for it.

Those who fail to make that distinction between what is real, and the motivations of those that are utilising the reality for their own sectarian political ends, are playing the role of being useful idiots for the right.

Jim Denham said...

It's a "miserable argument" because the left should judge itself by higher standards than that - especially the point about the Tories and the right being worse than us - no wonder Labour spokespersons do not "shout [it] from the rooftops" - they're not complete idiots.

Btw: The Marc Wadsworth expulsion does look like a travesty of justice and/or a tremendously maladroit start to Labour’s long overdue drive against antisemitism within the party.

Wadsworth had denounced Ruth Smeeth for consorting with a Telegraph journalist at the Chakrabarti Report launch. There’s no evidence he said anything antisemitic. He denies he even knew that Smeeth is Jewish (I’m not sure I believe him about that, but so what?). In fact he’s been expelled for bringing Labour into disrepute but even if one accepts that he acted stupidly, the “bringing into disrepute” charge is massively overstating the case.

What could be said is that his behaviour was maybe too aggressive, and showed lack of proper regard for the purpose of the meeting – to discuss antisemitism within the party. Perhaps he should be an asked to leave the room. But not expelled from the party.

To have kicked out Wadsworth on such flimsy grounds while the serial jew-baiter Livingstone remains a member is simply perverse.

Boffy said...

I do believe that Marc Wadsworth did not know that Ruth Smeeth was a Jew, because even the recordings, and accepted account of the conversations between them, show that Wadsworth did not know who she was, full stop, let alone, that she was a Jew. When he witnessed the interaction between Smeeth and McCann, and the handing over of documents, Wadsworth asked Smeeth who she was!

So, if Wadsworth did not know who Smeeth was in the first place, why on Earth would he then know that someone he did not even know was a Jew!

But, the fact remains that nothing he said was anti-semitic, and yet again, the failure of the right to provide any evidence for their wild accusations, has simply been covered, as happened with Machover and Greenstein, by the replacement of charges of anti-Semitism with vacuous, catch-all charges of bringing the party into disrepute.

The party does seem to have a problem of anti-Semitism in its bureaucracy, given the fact that many of the people the bureaucracy have expelled have themselves been Jews, just the wrong type of Jews apparently. And, the reason that the same bureaucracy has not yet moved to expel Livingstone is that they know that when eventually they do, they will have to back up their charges against him with facts, in Court, where the likelihood is that all those Jews such as Walter Wolfgang in the Labour Party, who support Livingstone, as well as all of the historical documents and history, as set out by Machover and others in relation to the Ha'avara Agreement, the attempts of leading sections of Zionists during WWII to ally with Nazi Germany and Mussolini's Italy, against Britain, because they saw the former as lesser evils than the latter, the fact that leading Zionists in the Stern Gang, like Yitzhak Shamir, committed themselves to the ideology of National Bolshevism that was developed by the Strasserites, and that they sought to establish a totalitarian state in Israel, would be adduced in Livingstone's defence, which is not something the pro-Zionists will want to have aired.

Shai Masot said...

@Boffy. The charges were of anti-Semitism:

Speedy said...

"The 'establishment' will ensure that Britain will never have a Palestinian supporting prime minister."

Presumably the (in)famously Arabist Foreign Office isn't part of "the establishment"?

Horse, bolted, door. Outside the political echo chamber, the de-toxified post-election brand Corbyn has been re-toxified among the public at large over pointless hard-left obsessions. Yet again, the Labour Party hijacks itself. Well done chaps.

Anonymous said...

I wish the public discourse on these issues was one tenth as articulate and civilised as what I see here!
Jim Denham: I agree that the Labour Party should hold itself to the highest standards, but still think it is fair to point out publicly that there are double standards on the part of the media. Maybe that is unnecessary at the moment though. The Windrush debacle tells its own story about where intense life-changing prejudice lies. I wonder how many will make the link with other times and places where a government harries a group of its own citizens out of its own borders? - not entirely irrelevant to the anti-semitism issue!
As a post-Corbyn newbie I appreciate reading the various comments on the background to Smeeth, Livingstone [both pro- and anti-] and so forth. What I don't understand is why for example Mann isn't in the frame for bringing the party into disrepute. Whatever one's opinions of Livingstone, I found Mann's televisually choreographed harrying of the man quite shocking. And now it appears that in parliament he attributed a dead bird through the post, sent in the Milliband years, to Momentum activists, and when challenged started threatening legal action? Have I got that right? How is that acceptable yet Wadsworth's behaviour (which I've unfortunately not seen) is not?

Ian Gibson said...

@Corbyn4Me: blundering Gruaniad journalism, I'm afraid, and now corrected at the bottom of the article. He was done on grounds of bringing the party into disrepute, and not anti-semitism