Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

Archive for April 2020

The consensus among diehard Corbynists seems to be that the new Leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer, is a Blairite and a Zionist, not to be trusted and not to be supported. His instant outreach towards Jewish organizations placed him firmly in the enemy camp, in their eyes. Many claim that they are leaving the Labour Party and some say that they can no longer even vote Labour.

‘But the Tories are worse,’ comes the reply and the more moderate Corbynists advise ‘Give Starmer a chance.’

‘He is no different from the Tories,’ reply some.

‘He stabbed Jeremy in the back,’ says another. They cite Owen Smith’s bid for leadership in 2016, supported by Keir Starmer, or Starmer putting pressure on Corbyn to take up a Brexit position or, most damning of all, the Jewish family connections, which make them think he must be Mossad’s man in Victoria Street. Others advocate remaining in the Party and making life as hard for Starmer as they believe it was for Corbyn, being opposed by the PLP at every turn.

The counter-intuitively named Jewish Voice for Labour group (at this point in time, not discernibly Labour nor, for the most part, Jewish) display a recurring message, ’Don’t leave, organize,’ adapting the words of American Labour activist Joe Hill: ‘Don’t mourn, organize.’ They have attracted to themselves many of those who were expelled from Labour for antisemitism and who are thus not precisely able to leave but it is the thought that counts.

At his first PMQs, which of course occurred in the age of lockdown, Keir Starmer was civil and well-prepared, more than equal to Dominic Raab who was at the opposite dispatch box due to the Prime Minister’s continuing convalescence. The word forensic is used frequently to describe Keir Starmer’s approach, perhaps because of his eminent career as a barrister, Head of the Crown Prosecution Service and Director of Public Prosecutions.

 It is certainly different from Jeremy Corbyn’s style, honed on rallies and picket lines. There is some reason to think that the adoration of Corbyn, so emphatic in the online groups set up to support him, owes something to his intellectual mediocrity which throws into relief his supposed probity and benevolence.

Now the Corbynists are on the margins of Labour rather than the epicentre and describing themselves – as I and like-minded people did over the last five years – as ‘politically homeless’.

Perhaps we are all politically homeless in 2020, or ought to be.

On the election of Keir Starmer to the leadership, several people whose views are similar to mine said that they would return to Labour, if not as members, at the ballot box at least. Some had remained members or otherwise affiliated to Labour throughout Corbyn’s time as leader, believing that it would take only time and a change of leadership for the antisemitism problem to wither away.

They have the latter and eventually they will have the former, but will the problem wither away?

The unpredictable rise of Jeremy Corbyn, his storming of Glastonbury and, as antisemitism under his watch hit headline after headline, his apotheosis in the eyes of his supporters into martyr and idol, inhibit the practice of prediction and prophecy. Who would dare to say what happens next? Who saw Covid-19 coming, six months ago?

There have been ten Labour leaders in my living memory, not counting those like George Brown and Harriet Harman who served as acting leader during the hiatus of a leadership election. The first time I was entitled to vote in a General Election, my Labour vote did not prevent Wilson losing to Edward Heath. Only Tony Blair won elections for Labour, no other.

Shall I vote for Starmer’s Labour when the opportunity arises?

Probably not. If the Holocaust deniers, conspiracy theorists, Israel haters and bog standard ‘Jews are behind it’ antisemites fly their nest in the Labour Party and make their home with the Tories or the LibDems, I might then vote Labour, if we still have a vote. If they return to the margins of politics, far from the possibility of government and if the mainstream parties manage to keep racism at bay among their membership, it will be more of a level playing field, but then Labour will still come carrying the handicap of their Corbyn years.