Anti-Semitism and Labour

The last time that I can recollect a senior religious figure leaping into the political fray was Cardinal Thomas Winning back in early 1997, prior to the general election which was due. He made a vigorous attack on Labour over its policy on abortion. Thus, on one level, it came as no surprise when Labour – and particularly its current leader – came under the cosh this week from another religious leader, this time the chief rabbi. The issue now is anti-semitism within Labour, and the Labour leader’s attitude towards this.

I do not know how many Labour Party meetings or events which the chief rabbi has attended (very few, if any, I suspect), but over my fifty five years in the Labour Party, I must have attended literally thousands. Never have I witnessed anything remotely anti-semitic. Of course, that does not mean that there are no anti-semites within the party; but, like Corbyn, I would argue that it is a miniscule figure. Yes, even one is too many, but within any organisation of over half a million members, there will be some crackpots who need to be dealt with.

A follow-up interview with rabbi Julia Neuberger irritated me. Again, I do not know on what she bases her views, but she began by referencing the “dreadful” treatment doled out to former Liverpool Labour MPs, Louise Ellman and Luciana Berger. From what I have read, the principal medium of the harassment was social media – a double edged form of communication. This cannot be condoned but I do question how this relates to the Labour Party. With one exception, I am unaware of Labour members’ involvement. That exception, quoted by Neuberger in the interview, was Liam Moore – “we all know about Liam Moore”, I think she said. Well, very few do, Ms Neuberger. Let me enlighten them.

Moore lives in Walton. He was formerly a self-proclaimed Militant supporter, until he was “born again” and became an evangelical fundamentalist Christian and Phil Collins impersonator. He strikes me as a very confused man, looking for a spiritual home. Not that the anti-semitism of his remarks can be condoned in any way, but they raised the question of his suitability to be a member of the Labour Party, never mind a council candidate. As soon as his comments were brought to the attention of the party, he was immediately removed as a candidate.

So what is the evidence that the two former Labour MPs were subject to anti-semitism in the Labour Party or at the hands of Labour members? Which Labour members were involved other than Moore? Where has the Labour party failed to deal with anti-semitic bigots in either the Wavertree or Riverside constituencies? I am not aware that there were any. Why, then, has this myth been perpetuated to the detriment of the thoroughly decent members of these constituency parties? I fear that the answer lies far away in the Middle East.

For many years now, there has been great controversy over Israeli policy vis-a-vis the Palestinian people. It has not been limited to the “usual suspects” on the left of the political spectrum in the West. Indeed, there are huge differences of opinion within Israel itself. Its people are by no means of one voice over its government’s policies. However, in recent years under Benjamin Netanyahu, those policies have become more extreme with help and support from the United States.

Back in 2007, two very distinguished American academics, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, published a book called “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy “. This chronicled in great detail but in a dry academic way, just how the Israeli government influenced American policymakers and the wider American public. The tools for this were a wide variety of front organisations – think tanks, cultural groups, and the like. The two professors were excoriated for their efforts. As a result, a template was thus set for attacking anyone who might shine a light on the reality of Israeli government policy as such groups were sharpened up around the world as an instrument of Israeli foreign policy. One of these groups is alleged to be Labour Friends of Israel within our parliament, an organisation in which both Ellman and Berger were deeply embedded. There are similar groups for the other political parties in parliament. All strive, quite legally, to influence attitudes and policies in the favour of Israel. In my opinion, this is where there is a big problem for Labour.

Corbyn has strongly identified himself with the plight of the Palestinians, speaking out on their behalf. Not unusual for him – he has spoken out on various other contentious hotspots around the globe. For many on the right of politics, his views are anathema. His world view is a greater concern for them than his take on domestic policy. It would be of particular concern to the Netanyahus of this world, given their total disregard for the United Nations and international law.

Many believe that a policy decision was taken to conflate criticism of Israeli government policy with anti-semitism as a means of undermining Corbyn as Labour leader and as a potential prime minister. Anti-semitism and criticism of a foreign government, are, of course, vastly different propositions, notwithstanding sophistry to the contrary. The objective is to put all objective and rational discussion on the back burner for fear of being labelled an anti-semite. The tragedy is that the result is not only a complete failure to address an acceptable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but a diversion from the real racist danger within British society – the rise of the far right.

I have always said that, had I remained in parliament, I would have neither nominated Corbyn nor voted for him, as Labour leader. However, I cannot stand by and witness the wholly despicable character assassination of him under the baseless charge of anti-semitism. Likewise, I cannot and will not accept the charge that the Labour Party is institutionally racist or anti-semitic. It is not.

Troublesome Times

These are indeed difficult days throughout the world, none more so than in the political sphere. I have watched in fascination as American congressmen and women have sought to pin the charge of bribery (amongst others) on their President. At the same time, others in that troubled democracy continue to seek to exonerate that proven liar of any guilt, despite the overwhelming weight of evidence that he has quite deliberately betrayed his oath of office. Meanwhile, millions of American citizens display either breathtaking ignorance or sublime indifference as President Trump rides roughshod over the American constitution.

Here in the United Kingdom, another thoroughly duplicitous scoundrel and proven liar seeks election as British Prime Minister whilst displaying an incredible degree of hypocrisy. Aping his American friend Trump, Boris Johnson launches repeated, vitriolic attacks on his principal opponent with baseless accusations, echoed by the Tory press. Remarkably, millions of our fellow citizens once again seem ready to accept the tired, old “reds under the beds” line of the bulk of Fleet Street.

Trump and Johnson are personal friends and political allies. Both are guilty of pathological misrepresentation. Neither has any regard for the proprieties of political life generally accepted and observed in their respective countries. Both are narcissists, more interested in their personal advancement than that of their nations. Despite the best efforts of many in both Congress and Parliament, they have both managed to defy attempts to hold them to a meaningful account. Their apparent determination to defy the laws of their lands, raises the question first raised by the Roman writer Juvenal: “Quis custodiet Custodes?” – who guards the Guardians?

Of course, if you believe as I do that ultimately, all politics is local, we need look no further than our own city-region to appreciate the value of this question. London has an elected mayor, as does our city-region. However, London has a directly elected assembly charged with holding their mayor to account, keeping him (or her) in line. Thanks to the glaring inadequacy of national legislation, there is no similar supervisory body elected to serve a similar function within city-regions like our own. Instead, we have the council leaders of the six local authorities within our city region meeting in conclave, without any mandate from the people of the city-region, or even from the electorate of their individual boroughs. Instead of validation of their role, we have a clear democratic deficit. That structural weakness clearly needs to be addressed; but it can only be done in Parliament.

Far more scandalous is the position of elected mayor foisted on the people of Liverpool via a backroom deal negotiated between former Tory Chancellor, George Osborne, and current mayor, Joe Anderson. No referendum (unlike other cities) as to whether the electorate wanted such a post – one that is surely superfluous with the advent of a city-region mayor. Given that the city has three forms of mayor, it is easily understood why people are regularly confused as to who does what. There is overwhelming, if anecdotal, evidence that Liverpool electors dislike the post AND the current incumbent. Nevertheless, the city’s ruling Labour group, when given the opportunity to resolve this problem, in their usual vacillating fashion, kicked into the long grass that chance to rid us of this nonsense.

So once again I ask: who guards the guardians within the city? Liverpool has developed once again a woeful reputation with individual and institutional investors. It is widely seen as a place where scam artists operate with impunity. Whilst various agencies – the police, the Serious Fraud Office, regional squad Titan – are laboriously looking at the numerous allegations of fraud involving the city, particularly with regard to “development”, the mayor and the council, wash their hands of the damage done, notwithstanding the massive direct losses to the council itself. I wish the recently appointed chief executive every success in finding his way through the mire. The gross incompetence of the mayor, and the abject failure of councillors to hold him to account, only serves to exacerbate the dreadful effects of government-imposed austerity on the city.

I have said repeatedly in this blog and elsewhere, that the cornerstones of good governance are transparency and accountability. Without them, anyone allowed untrammelled power will go awry. When that person is as personally limited and flawed – whether a President, a Prime Minister, or a simple mayor – disaster is bound to ensue.

Aims and Values

Throughout a lifetime of interest and involvement in what we call politics, I have always believed that, in the broadest sense, politics was about a set of values, and their application via a series of aims, for the good of all. In a wider context, politics have evolved into the relatively modern phenomenon of political parties which people join to advance their beliefs. Those parties have usually been defined rather loosely – left, right or centrist – although each is normally a coalition of interests.

The Conservatives have been viewed as the party of the status quo, defending the rights and privileges of those who have, resistant to demands for change which regularly bubble up within the body politic. Labour, meanwhile has historically presented itself as the party of the have nots – the disaffected, the deprived, and the socially marginalised. The Liberal Democrats has sought to bridge the divide between these two. Other parties are more narrow. The Greens pride themselves as the party of the environment, whilst the nationalist parties are, by definition, circumscribed geographically. Oddities like the Brexit party and UKIP are single issue vehicles with one self-evident aim.

Approaching the general election, the major parties as we have known them, appear to be cracking at the seams – at least at a national level. It is not just a consequence of Brexit, although that is a massive catalyst in the internal crises facing the major parties. The glue which has bound these “broad coalitions” together for many years appears to be rapidly dissolving, like the planetary ice caps. More and more, the broad coalitions are becoming redundant, superseded by special interests without the wider allegiances of yesteryear. However, in musing on these matters, I recall the sage advice given to his colleagues by the former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Tip O’Neill, that” All politics is local”.

Within our city-region, there has always been an extra edge to party politics. On the surface, some things may seem to have changed, but that would be a superficial appreciation of the current state of affairs. Thus, while Sefton looks politically quiescent, the same north-south tensions obtain which have hindered it for forty five years. Across the Mersey in Wirral, there remains an obsession with the outdated issues and sectarianism of the 1980s. Knowsley may be judged by the recent challenge to sitting MP, George Howarth, killed off by the central Labour diktat to constituency Labour parties, that all sitting MPs be reselected for the forthcoming general election.

However, as the saying goes, God – and the electorate – moves in mysterious ways. Two of our local boroughs face serious problems which illustrate why Labour as the local governing party need to rediscover why they are in public life. They are Liverpool and St Helens. Given the Labour hegemony in the two boroughs, it is not too fanciful to believe that both could face melt down in their different ways.

I wrote recently about the toxicity within St Helens Labour. I was not to know then that two female councillors would depart Labour, including the chief whip, in exasperation at life in the Labour group. These losses have nothing to do with Brexit, but they do reflect a real breakdown in internal discipline, with the council leader caught in the middle of continuous faction fighting. This situation speaks volumes to me about those who are plotting and scheming within St Helens Labour. They display little understanding of how essential collectivity is, preferring that their own petty ambitions predominate.

Liverpool is no stranger to the adoption of an exceptionalist pose; and it remains bogged down in the usual morass of unenlightened self-interest. Two months ago, the Labour group on the council had an away day to discuss the mayoralty. It was obviously designed to head off the widespread dissatisfaction with the role and its incumbent, and also as a reaction to a Liberal Democrat motion due to go before the council. What was clear from the minutes of the meeting was that there was a great deal of unhappiness within the group on the matter. They recognised that both the rank-and-file Labour membership and the electorate were at odds with the council over the mayoralty.

Despite some spurious assertions “from the floor” (according to the minutes), many councillors are concerned by the many gaps between the official mayor/council position and the views of both the electorate and Labour Party members. Curiously, the minutes refer to different agenda items, one entitled “Political and Economic Environment”. This in turn was headed by the bald statement that “Len McCluskey in favour of elected City Mayors”. So who gives a toss what Len McCluskey thinks? He is not in any elected office in Liverpool, and I doubt whether he is still on the electoral role in the city. Obviously, the council cares what the union boss thinks, if not the electorate or lay party members.

The indicative vote which had been held across the city constituency by constituency voted 2 to 1 against an elected mayor. The highest body for lay members (the Local Campaign Forum) also voted against the role of elected Mayor. The Labour group’s answer was to kick the issue into the long grass until 2022. So much for Labour party democracy. You might say that a job creation programme has been reinforced for the sole benefit of Joe Anderson. Is it any wonder that people lose faith??