Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

On the Eve of the Labour Conference

Posted on: September 24, 2021

Six or seven years ago, a word cloud tool was popular on Facebook. Many people I knew gave it a go, self included. My most used word was not the name of a family member nor of a much-frequented location, but ‘Labour’. It was in the days of Ed Miliband and not the result I expected.

The Labour Conference starts tomorrow and my thoughts focus on it with an engagement which is no less for my being well and truly no longer a party member.

If I thought that Keir Starmer could hold the line against antisemitism and the self-righteous indignation which spills forth from the left due to his efforts to contain it, I would at least be planning to vote Labour in the next election. In the local and mayoral elections earlier this year, I did vote Labour, believing that the party was on the right track.

By my own choice, I am familiar with the social media outpourings of what might, not very accurately be called the Corbynist left or the hard left. Not accurately, because you don’t have to be hard left to be antisemitic and Marxists are not always antisemitic. Not Corbynist, because the revival of antisemitism on the left was evident long before Corbyn became a household name.

For Keir Starmer there can be doubt about the nature of the opprobrium which comes his way. His advisors will have seen the replies online to his every word and action. He is said to be paid by Israel and his Jewish wife is cited by way of evidence. He is said to be in cahoots with – actually Netanyahu, as the names of Naftali Bennett and Benny Gantz have not yet registered with most of Starmer’s detractors. His cabinet are said to receive ‘backhanders’ from Israel. The entire Labour Party is said to be owned by Likud, not the Israeli Labour Party but their equivalent of the Conservatives.

The Corbynist forums on Facebook are currently all about how best to snub and insult Keir Starmer at conference. They have suggested singing or humming ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ and standing with their backs to the party leader when he makes his speech, but so many claim to have left the party or been suspended that the humming may sound less like a political movement than a bee trapped in the conference hall.

‘The World Transformed’ has a programme of events featuring Zarah Sultana, Jo Grady, Mark Drakeford, Jeremy Corbyn, Shami Chakrabarti and Ash Sarkar, by way of a left alternative. There will be a fringe meeting arranged by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and titled ‘Justice for Palestine,’ with Richard Burgon, Jess Barnard of Young Labour and several officials of the PSC.

The proscribed group Labour Against the Witch Hunt is holding a fringe meeting called Defend the Left, speakers to include Lowkey, Jackie Walker and Graham Bash.

JVL will hold a fringe event chaired by Jenny Manson.

Chris Williamson’s Festival of Resistance is not running concurrently with Conference but in October, in Nottingham. Speakers will include Lowkey, Tosh McDonald, Ilan Pappe and, unexpectedly, ‘the Gillet [sic] Jaune Movement’.

Considerable effort will go into undermining Starmer’s Labour but the only potent opposition to the leadership, in my opinion, will be those who remained in the Labour Party and are still MPs or Union officials.

I was not particularly attentive when Neil Kinnock waged his war against the Militant presence in Labour. It seemed to me then, not now, an internecine matter. I was aware that Derek Hatton was a turbulent character but it did not occur to me to be afraid of antisemitism coming from the left of the party.

I know now that Israel, Zionism and Jews are the daily if not hourly topic of Corbynist social media. Enormous energy is expended arguing that there is and was hardly an antisemitic bone in the Labour Party until Keir Starmer began expelling or suspending members believed to have engaged in antisemitic discourse. As these included the JVL leadership, they responded swiftly by saying they were targeted due to Keir Starmer’s animus against Jews, a prejudice which was as remote from Corbyn, they maintain, as a penguin from the North Pole.

All in all, the Conference has explosive potential. Three years ago, during Corbyn’s leadership, delegates were given Palestinian flags which they unfurled, chanting associated slogans. For many Jewish delegates, it was an intimidating experience. One might think that the Palestinian flag is hardly aggressive to Jewish delegates who might favour a Two State Solution where Israeli and Palestinian flags would fly side by side. This was in no way the import of flag waving at the 2018 conference. It showed that only one kind of partisanship in this conflict was acceptable in the Labour Party at that time. It was as if delegates had been given the Irish tricolore to wave during conflict in Ulster or the flag of the Viet Cong while the war raged in Vietnam. It was a message to Zionists that they were not welcome in Labour and that being unwelcome could be more menacing than a frosty look or a refusal to engage.

This year, if there is a display of Palestinian flags in the conference hall, it will not be with the encouragement of the leadership. If there are Latuff cartoons on show in Brighton, it will be at a fringe event, not an official one.

In 2017, the leader of Brighton and Hove’s Labour Council, Warren Morgan, stated his concern that anti-Semitism was being aired publicly in fringe meetings and on the floor of conference. Warren resigned as council leader in 2018, after representing East Brighton ward for fifteen years.

By the middle of 2019 there had been an exodus from the party of MPs, peers and councillors who considered the party lost to antisemitism. Their testimonies have been chronicled in the film Forced Out, by Judith Ornstein, David Hirsh and Andrea Frankenthal, accompanied by a book of the same name.

Now there is a different landscape in the Labour Party but few have returned of those who left it when antisemitism seemed to have gained the upper hand.

I have not come back. The opposition to Starmer’s leadership is busy and hopeful. Who knows when Labour will be safe again for Jewish members and if it is not safe, how could it be a voting option?

2 Responses to "On the Eve of the Labour Conference"

Familiar sentiments to me. Saddened I am too. In addition to antisemitism Starmer’s reluctance to make Labour the natural home of the Remainer is frustrating. Fence-sitting isn’t progressive politics anymore than is Jew-hating.

LibDem continues to be my first choice, fuelled additionally by their success locally in ousting Tories. My ward now has all three borough councillors LD and the town’s county councillor. The first time in my voting life that my choice actually won an election.

The Conference has kicked off and the new EHRC rules have been passed, 73% – 27% I think. It’s good but one thinks about the 27% who opposed them.

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  • Gillian Gould Lazarus: The Conference has kicked off and the new EHRC rules have been passed, 73% - 27% I think. It's good but one thinks about the 27% who opposed them.
  • keithmarr: Familiar sentiments to me. Saddened I am too. In addition to antisemitism Starmer’s reluctance to make Labour the natural home of the Remainer is fr
  • keithmarr: Thank you once again for perspicacious comment. There is an element of social media, one’s potential anonymity perhaps, that leads to behaviour that
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