I have been a member of the Labour Party since 1983, and I’ve stuck with it even when I disagreed with its policies (I still miss Clause IV). Admittedly while Tony Blair was Prime Minister I refused to vote, on the grounds I could not endorse someone I considered a war criminal, but I was not tempted to leave the Party. Now, however, I have lost patience and today resigned my membership. This dissatisfaction has been brewing for some time and has a number of strands, all converging on Jeremy Corbyn.
He has been a disaster electorally; the last General Election was hailed as some kind of victory despite not gaining a majority, but the victory comprised a relief that Labour’s showing wasn’t a disaster, a poor reason to celebrate. At this writing Labour is still behind the Conservatives in the opinion polls, which bearing in mind the chaos reigning in the Tory Party is in itself some kind of achievement. This is largely due to the perception nationally of Corbyn as a potentially disastrous Prime Minister, a perception I think is justified. He is unelectable unless the Conservatives rip themselves apart to such an extent he is able to sneak into Downing Street by default as the least worst candidate, which if it were to happen would not be a vote of confidence in his abilities.
However, as the Blair example shows, leaders come and go but the Party, one likes to think, will be there forever. So rolling my eyes at Corbyn’s unfitness for high office would not in itself be enough to make me resign. The breaking point has come with the controversy over anti-Semitism. Clearly there are anti-Semitic elements within Labour, whether or not it is falsely dressed up as anti-Zionism, and the way in which these are being dealt with has been inept and leads me to question the sincerity behind what little is being done. Several incidents have brought me to this pass.
I was concerned when Corbyn had to apologise over having questioned the removal of Kalen Ockerman’s anti-Semitic mural painted on a wall near Brick Lane. Corbyn had initially defended his concern about its removal on grounds of free speech (though the Jewish Chronicle noted his hypocrisy as he also attended a rally against the Jyllands-Posten Mohammed cartoons). However, as Baroness Julia Neuberger said, and which should have been obvious to Corbyn, if you can’t see a problem with the painting you lack sensitivity to what constitutes anti-Semitism.
On the other side of the coin, Corbyn has referred to Hamas and Hizbollah as ‘friends’. Agreed that does not make him an anti-Semite himself (though Margaret Hodge, who happens to be Jewish, seems to believe he is), but he is happy to be their bedfellows. As further evidence of Labour’s ambivalence on the subject, the Chakrabarti enquiry two years ago hardly cleared the air, and feet shuffling rather than action followed its report. The Livingstone affair was a long-running embarrassment brought to an end only by his resignation.
Still, I hoped the situation would resolve itself. When the Board of Deputies of British Jews criticised the Party and organised a protest against it, they were accused of being largely Conservative in their make-up and not having Labour’s best interests at heart. It was possible the issue was being used as a convenient means to attack Labour by those whose political affiliations lay elsewhere, or even by those within the Party wishing to undermine Corbyn.
There is probably an element of opportunism in the attacks on Labour certainly, though if this is in part a ploy by the Tories to divert attention from their difficulties it isn’t being terribly successful. Yet when it comes down to it, the anti-Semitism isn’t being made up, and if I were a Jewish member, I think I would have quit in disgust some time ago; after all, who wants to be seen as a kapo, as one Jewish member of the Party was called? For me, it has taken a little longer to reach that decision.
Now, despite a valiant rearguard action by the PLP (though even that I have seen dismissed as simply an attempt to undermine Corbyn), a code of conduct on anti-Semitism was adopted by the NEC minus some of the key elements contained in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism. The Campaign against Antisemitism accuses Labour, in so doing, of dictating to Jews what they may call anti-Semitic (gentilesplaining as the Campaign memorably calls it).
To suggest that somehow the International Definition precludes criticism of the Israeli government’s actions is a red herring and is incorrect. The full International Definition of Antisemitism has been widely adopted, including by the UK government and large numbers of local councils, putting the NEC out of step and leading to the suspicion of ulterior motives. There may be legal challenges to the code and further consultation with Jewish groups, but the fact this should be necessary suggests a lack of coherence and an unwillingness to take an unambiguous stand on what is acceptable within the Labour Party.
That Corbyn has had such a tin ear on anti-Semitism for so long is exasperating, and his lack of vigour – apart from occasional anti-racist platitudes – leads to the suspicion he is concerned to appeal to a constituency he values more than the Jewish one. As a result I do not feel I want to continue to belong to an organisation unable to tackle the issue with decisiveness. While this is not the only subject which has left me disenchanted with Labour, it is the final one, so after 35 years I decided to quit.