Anti-Semitism and Labour

I do not normally deal with issues beyond the concerns of the immediate Liverpool city-region, but charges of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party have been bandied about locally. I refer specifically to “charges” because, as I have often said, I have never witnessed or heard of examples locally of anti-Semitism, either as a member of the party for fifty-five years; as an employee of it; or as an elected member, representing it in parliament.

This current controversy in itself should not be surprising, as these charges seem to have gained currency in parallel with intensive attacks on Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. Generally, they have been amplified by alleged parliamentary colleagues who just happen to be his political enemies within the Labour Party. The party itself has been labelled “institutionally anti-Semitic”, whatever that may mean. Sadly, some of our local Members of Parliament have joined the chorus – along with the departing Police and Crime Commissioner – determined to decry a party with a proud record of anti-racism.

Let me say that no-one can justify anti-Semitism – a pernicious form of racism focussed on Jews. However, there has been deliberate confusion of that detestable bigotry with a quite different matter of criticism of the Israeli government and its policies. The conflation of the two has too often led to misleading accusations that legitimate criticisms of the Israeli government are anti-Semitic when they are not.

The misuse of the grave charge of anti-Semitism was brought home to me back in 2007 when two highly respected American academics – John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt – co-authored a book entitled: “The Israel Lobby and United States Foreign Policy”. It was a scholarly work which set out to chronicle the influence on the United States of highly organised and well-funded lobby groups like the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee or AIPAC (the nearest equivalents which we have might be bodies like the Conservative Friends of Israel and the Labour Friends of Israel).

The reaction to the extremely well-researched and objective book was immediate and vitriolic, with the now all-too-familiar accusations of anti-Semitism directed at the authors. Perhaps this reaction was partly explained by the persistence of anti-Jewish myths propagated by hard –right hatemongers. Yet the publication was also a challenge to the pro-Israel lobby groups who, in common with other such lobbyists, are averse to the illuminating transparency to which right-minded democrats aspire.

This unedifying spat came to mind when I saw that the decidedly dodgy Israeli prime minister, Benyamin Netanyahu (currently facing a range of criminal charges back home) appeared at the annual AIPAC conference in Washington, D.C. To my surprise, I noted that another guest speaker at this jamboree was Joan Ryan, MP, only the second British politician (after one Tony Blair) ever invited to address this body. I have seen no accounts of this anywhere in the British media, other than in the Jewish press. Not only was she chair of Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) but, according to LFI’s website will remain so, despite leaving the party and abusing it in extreme terms to her American audience!

Her speech was a vicious diatribe – a toxic attack on the party which by her own admission, had given her so much, and of which she claimed to have been a member for forty years until she walked out to join the Independents Group. She described a Labour Party which I – and, I suspect, the vast majority of Labour Party members  – do not recognise, probably because it does not exist other than in her fevered imagination. I will not bore you with her ugly, distorted view of the party, except to say that her central charge was that the Labour Party “seeks to demonise and delegitimize Israel”. Great stuff for her audience, of course, and grist to the mill for the sub-text of attacking Jeremy Corbyn personally.

Now, I have said repeatedly that, had I still been in parliament at the time, I would not have nominated Jeremy, nor would I have voted for him. I have no axe to grind with him – he just would never have been my choice. He was, however, elected leader of the Labour Party – twice! In my book, he will remain leader, despite all the plots and conspiracies conjured up to undermine him, until he packs it in, or the party as a whole decides to replace him, not a cabal of self-seekers. One calumny is that Jeremy is anti-Semitic. He is not – this charge just will not wash. Those who wish to challenge those in power in the party, at any level, should do so on the basis of policy debate, never on the basis of personal attacks rooted in deceit.

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Police and Crime Commissioner

It ought to come as no surprise that Jane Kennedy has announced that she will not be standing again for the position of PCC, or that she has left the Labour Party. As PCC, she has been virtually invisible to the wider electorate. It is as well to recognise that she was elected to the post on the basis of a miserable 12.7% turnout. Winning 56% of first preferences, it meant that she actually had a paltry 7% of the electors – principally, Labour voters – supporting her.

This ought to be a consideration now that she is to leave her very well paid – £80,000 plus – position. She was, of course, elected on a Labour ticket; but now that she has deserted Labour, should she not resign from her post immediately? After all, this would be an appropriate point for the post to be integrated into the structure of the metromayoralty of Steve Rotheram, as has been the case in Manchester. At the very least, it would surely save a large portion of the £1 million plus per annum cost of the bureaucracy built up by Ms Kennedy.

As for her Labour Party resignation, no one should be surprised, given her record of resignation. Back in 2006, she noisily resigned from her ministerial post under Blair in protest at the appointment of former LCC chief executive David Henshaw to a highly paid government job. I had no quarrel with that – I had written to Blair along with colleagues expressing my own dismay at the appointment. However, resignation can become a habit. It certainly appears to have been the case with Ms Kennedy.

In June of 2009, she again resigned, this time from Brown’s government, amidst accusations of “No.10 bullying”. She said that Brown’s way represented “the kind of politics I had fought against all of my life”. I found this a bit rich, given the way she had abused me – calling me “a f—king coward” – when I led the vote in the Commons against the Iraq War. Many in parliament believed that her 2009 resignation was tied to the failed plot – led by James Purnell – to undermine Brown.

Later that year, she announced in November that she was leaving parliament; and was quoted as saying that part of her reason was that, post the expenses scandal, she would not be able to continue employing her partner, Peter Dowling. Income consideration was no revelation to me. Back in the 1980s, she and her then husband had told me that they felt that the Labour Party owed them a job given what they believed that they had done for the party.

I found this strange. Other than a speech at the 1985 Labour conference, I did not know what they had done any more than many other members in standing up to Militant. In fact, soon after that conversation, Ms Kennedy was given a job in Oldham for NUPE. She did not return until 1992 for the general election. However, it was an indicator of a mindset which apparently never left her, and which remains all too prevalent today amongst elected representatives.

Having announced her retirement, she set about ensuring that her parliamentary successor should be an unknown , young Londoner – Luciana Berger – who had neither knowledge nor experience of Merseyside. Their paths had crossed when Ms Berger worked for Labour Friends of Israel, an organisation which Ms Kennedy had chaired. With Peter Dowling’s position in the constituency Labour party, it is not too hard to see how Ms Berger – who also lived in Ms Kennedy’s Childwall home during her campaign for the seat – won the nomination. Perhaps Ms Kennedy’s latest resignation is connected to that friendship (Berger and is now an independent in parliament, alongside Kennedy’s best friend, Ann Coffey, MP) – I do not know. But if it looks like betrayal, sounds like betrayal…….then it probably is.

Guile and Gullibility

One should never underestimate the guile of the criminal classes, any more than one should underestimate the gullibility of the political classes. Very often, both groups share common traits, such as all-consuming personal ambition (whether for money, position or power); but, in general terms, they follow very different routes in pursuit of their goals. As one example of this, I have just published a book (Amazon – “The Gangsters, the Judge, and the Politician”) which describes just one controversial interface between criminality and the political world. Although this book looks at this phenomenon in the national context, it might easily have been placed in the context of local government.

I thought of this when I heard of the latest instance of disarray in the conduct of Wirral Borough Council. How easy for the dishonest individual to operate when councillors and officers seem incapable of clear communication between themselves. Even more so in Liverpool, where the perpetrators of well-documented development scams continue to operate with impunity under the myopic gaze of the council. I must say that it strikes me as absurd that local council leaders should be at the annual MIPIM developers’ junket in Nice whilst there is so much evidence of on-going criminality involving developers here at home. Mind you, I have never understood why it is necessary for political leaders to posture at such events as MIPIM when generally, their knowledge of building and development – and its associated finance – is sublimely deficient.

Admittedly, there has been a critical national dimension to what has been happening in our major conurbations. An obsessive culture of deregulation and a laissez-faire approach to governance, needs to be addressed nationally. The harsh reality is that no-one  – councillors, officials, auditors, even the police – seems to be taking the kind of robust investigation and action required to inhibit widespread corrupt activity. Naturally, I must assume that much of what people rightly complain about is technically legal, although how acknowledged scam artists are able to repeatedly set up sham companies and rip people off (including councils!), is beyond my comprehension.

The immediate problem for the voter and the council tax payer is simple. They are constantly assailed by mixed messages. On the one hand, they are deluged under cries of “Austerity!” at every turn, whether in connection with cuts or inefficiencies in local services, or as the reason for increases in their council taxes. At the same time, voters are increasingly aware of massive amounts of expenditure, used – for good or ill – in ways which they do not believe are in their interest.

There are simultaneous promises of jam tomorrow – a plan for this development, high hopes for that one. Too often, these either repeat or contradict previous pronouncements. The electorate is not totally amnesiac, nor is it perpetually forgiving. Voters are taken for fools at the peril of politicians.

We are in turbulent times, locally and nationally. I have never known such disillusionment at all levels with politics and with politicians; and I wonder to where what amounts to widespread studied contempt will lead. I believe that at the local level, there is an urgent need to re-examine the public interest – that of the majority – rather than what so many see as the preferment of private interests. Right now, no-one appears to be speaking for the council tax payer, yet business, including the aforementioned crooks, is being indulged in a way contrary to the interests of the mass of voters. For how long, I wonder, will this be tolerated?

The Gangsters, the Judge and the Politician

Gangsters Front Cover

Check out my new publication on Amazon – a ‘factual account of how two gangsters were able to subvert the British criminal justice system in a spectacular fashion’.

‘TWO CAREER CRIMINALS ARE GIVEN ROYAL PARDONS AFTER SERVING A MERE TEN MONTHS OF EIGHTEEN YEAR SENTENCES FOR MAJOR DRUG CRIMES.  THE MAN WHO EFFECTED THE PARDONS WAS A CONSERVATIVE HOME SECRETARY RENOWNED AS A TOUGH SCOURGE OF ALL LAWBREAKERS.

RUMOURS OF HIGH LEVEL CORRUPTION BEGIN, MAGNIFIED WHEN IT TRANSPIRES THAT THE HOME SECRETARY’S COUSIN HAS CRIMINAL LINKS TO THE TWO FREED GANGSTERS.  EVEN THE UNDERWORLD IS OUTRAGED TO SEE THEM BACK ON THE STREETS.

UP STEPS A LOCAL MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT, DETERMINED TO UNCOVER WHAT WAS BEHIND THE RELEASE OF THE TWO VIOLENT RECIDIVISTS, WHO HAD IMMEDIATELY RESUMED THEIR NEFARIOUS TRADE AFTER THEIR RELEASE.  HIS EFFORTS LED HIM THROUGH FOUR HOME SECRETARIES, PARLIAMENT, THE POLICE, CUSTOMS AND EXCISE, TWO HIGH SECURITY PRISONS, AND THE LIVERPOOL UNDERWORLD.

THIS ODYSSEY TOOK TWELVE YEARS UNTIL THE TWO MALEFACTORS, TOGETHER WITH THEIR ACCOMPLICES, WERE HELD TO ACCOUNT IN 2008 AT SOUTHWARK CROWN COURT.

YET THAT WAS NOT THE END OF THE MATTER.  WHAT OF THOSE WHOSE WOEFUL INCOMPETENCE (AT BEST) ENABLED THESE TWO TO MAKE SUCH A MOCKERY OF THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM?  DID THE ESTABLISHMENT SIMPLY CLOSE RANKS TO IGNORE THE PART PLAYED BY THOSE AT THE VERY TOP IN THE SUCCESS OF THE MOST SUCCESSFUL CORRUPTION OF THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM IN DECADES?’

 

Roundup

There have been some intriguing events in recent days, giving insights into how various political groupings intend to approach the forthcoming local elections. I begin with one of our quieter boroughs, Halton, suddenly replete with hopeful announcements of future developments. Good news galore, you might say, including the council’s intention to turn Runcorn into a tourist hot spot, no less. Joining a publicity shot concerning canal-centred development was local MP Derek Twigg, and what appeared to be two Buddhist monks!! We are also told that the new Mersey Gateway bridge means hundreds of new jobs for the town, along with increasing real estate values – just as major new road works commence.

Knowsley has kept a low profile of late, although I am being told that the Labour monopoly in Kirkby is set to be challenged again by local residents, tired of waiting for the long-overdue – and promised – town centre renewal. Last time out, Labour complacency was shaken by set backs in Prescot and in Halewood. Is Kirkby set to join the club?

Neighbouring St Helens remains preoccupied with the Labour group’s internal rivalries, whilst Sefton’s ruling Labour group faces stiff opposition to the proliferation of proposed housing developments and their potential effect on green space. Such is the nature of local council fortunes as elections loom. Like all local authorities, those of our city-region perpetually face difficult decisions which must be taken. It is at election time when the council tax payer has the opportunity to exercise their franchise regardless of the claims and counter-claims of the different political parties. Even within those parties, it is far from clear cut to predict the outcomes of the election.

Take Wirral, for example. The resignations and deselections may or may not have a bearing on the election results. The divisions within the currently dominant Labour group – and, indeed, the wider Wirral Labour Party – are there for all to see. The mini-group of deselected Labour councillors may yet turn out to have a critical bearing on the council’s future. Perhaps, more important will be the battle to succeed Phil Davies as Labour group leader, and the concomitant redistribution of cabinet portfolios – that is, assuming that Labour retain control.

Come what may, I can see further political embarrassment for Wirral Labour. There are still concerns about retiring councillor Paul Dougherty. His registered address – Waterloo Building in Bridge Street – is the registered home to a number of extremely dodgy companies, together with their extremely dodgy directors. He remains central to the unexplained and hefty pay increases to senior officers of the Mersey Pension Fund. Perhaps a new intake of councillors will take these matters more seriously than has been the case hitherto.

Naturally, Liverpool will again stumble into the local election campaign with Joe leading the way like a poor man’s Donald Trump, although he is not yet facing the electorate himself. Still, he is there making more promises – or trashing old ones – with a cavalier disregard for reality. He has suddenly remembered the empty and unused state-of-the-art Parklands school in Speke. This has for years been costing the council taxpayer £4 million per annum, but he has failed to seal this massive financial drain.

However, he is now promising 1500 houses on the toxic International Garden Festival site (down from the 2500 previously promised). He says this might start in 2020, but his own professional officer , Chris Ridland, has pointed out to the mayor and his cabinet that remediation of the site could cost £30 million and take ten years. Finally, Joe has announced yet another city centre road scheme, beautifying the area around Lime Street and St John’s Gardens at a cost of a mere £67 million. Where all this money is to come from in these times of austerity, we can only guess. Still, it is election time.

One tiny sign of progress is the news that the council’s audit team is to look at long last at the scandal of the match-day car parks. True to form, the Echo has plagiarised what I have been saying for years – and still getting it wrong. There are three car parks which need to be looked at. The biggest – on the corner of Priory Road – appears to be outside of both the scope of the council audit and the Echo’s half-baked reportage. Ho hum, roll on May 2nd.