As election nears, the witch-hunt steps up

On Piccadilly outside Green Park, London. A picture of a middle-aged white man wearing a blue rimmed hat with a yellow ribbon round it which says "Stop Brexit", and next to him someone is holding up a banner that says "Get your Johnson our of our democracy". Several EU and British flags are on display.
An anti-Brexit demonstrator in London, November 2019.

So, the week before last, the date for a forthcoming general election — 12th December — was finally announced and parliament was prorogued (dissolved) for real, after months of wrangling so as to stop Boris Johnson using an election season as an opportunity to crash the country out of the EU without a deal. Since then, a number of MPs on both sides of the House have announced they are standing down, in some cases in response to persistent abuse (e.g. Heidi Allen, a former Tory who defected to the Independents/Change group and then the Lib Dems) but in some a clear attempt to undermine the Labour Party’s chances of winning a parliamentary majority while Jeremy Corbyn remains leader. The Liberal Democrats have secured defections from both main parties and are contesting all seats, aggressively targeting some seats which have pro-Remain Labour MPs (e.g. Emma Dent-Coad in Kensington, who secured a tiny majority in the 2017 election shortly before the Grenfell disaster). I have also seen a ratcheting up of the witch-hunt against Labour candidates, sitting MPs or otherwise, for opinions on Israel that could be deemed, particularly by partisans of Israel, to be antisemitic; one of the candidates involved stood down on Friday.

I was unable to find the blog post by Kate Ramsden, the Unison union official who was standing in the Gordon constituency in Aberdeenshire in Scotland; maybe it has been deleted, or maybe it was not on her blog but on another. However, she was quoted as comparing Israel to an abused child (referring to the Holocaust and perhaps other persecutions Jews suffered in the past) who becomes an abusive adult and the Labour party apparently said she could keep her candidacy if she deleted the post, which it appears she did. The Jewish Chronicle quoted Jonathan Goldstein of the self-appointed “Jewish Leadership Council” as saying that this was “evidence of a deliberate cover up by Labour to hide the open antisemitism of a candidate”, yet there is no evidence of any anti-Semitic content at all; she was calling for international action to force Israel to cease its abuses of the native Palestinian population. If anything, the comparison was too soft on the abusers, many of whom are not Holocaust survivors or their descendants; the attitudes underpinning Israel’s harassment and intimidation of Palestinians are taught in Israel’s schools, media and army. Much as we cannot excuse a real abusive adult because he was abused (by someone else) as a child, we cannot excuse Israel’s oppressions on the grounds that some of the oppressors’ great-grandparents suffered in Auschwitz (and we also cannot justify an ongoing occupation on the grounds of a war by Israel’s other Arab neighbours, two of whom are now at peace with Israel, 50 years ago).

It goes to show that anyone who does not accept the narrative of Israel and its apologists overseas is vulnerable to being accused of anti-Semitism if they are not Jewish, or of being a “self-hating Jew” or “not really Jewish” if they are Jewish. In either case, they are the targets for the new witch hunts against anyone seeking to become a Labour councillor or MP. Muslims have always known this, of course, as has anyone who has been active on the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement over the years, but it appears that Labour has been wrong-footed and cowed by an aggressive campaign by a group of pro-Israel bullies and dirt-diggers which does not tolerate dissent. Also last week the JC dredged up an old Facebook post by Zarah Sultana, standing in Coventry South to replace a retiring Labour MP, which accused the Labour Right of ‘weaponising’ anti-Semitism to silence or get rid of their political enemies (which is true); more recently, like Naz Shah in Bradford, she has made a grovelling about-turn, claiming that anyone who uses that term today is contributing to the problem.

The biggest issue in this election is Brexit; make no mistake. It will be the last time we get to vote in an election which will determine whether we get a further vote on the matter. Of the three major parties standing in England, one (itself threatened by a party that favours withdrawing without a deal) favours a bad deal which isolates the British mainland and splits the UK, one favours a further referendum and the third favours annulling the results of the 2016 referendum and revoking Article 50. The Tories have purged many of their dissidents and voters will be faced with new, often more extreme, candidates in the forthcoming election, making this a great opportunity for both Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Yet the two parties which do not have hard Brexit as party policy refuse to form any sort of pact, some in the Labour party have chosen this point rather than weeks or months ago to make their move (like Watson) and the Liberal Democrats insist on not only standing candidates in constituencies with pro-Remain Labour MPs but on standing well-known candidates, including prominent Labour and Tory defectors such as Sam Gyimah who is contesting Kensington. This has led to suggestions that the party is really angling for a coalition with the Tories and is willing to risk a hard Brexit to that end; an alternative explanation is that it has become a refuge for those whose hatred for Jeremy Corbyn is greater than their love for anything or anyone.

They proclaim that they will not form a coalition with “an anti-Semite” yet forget that they formed a coalition with the Tories when Boris Johnson was in the cabinet and do not rule out doing so again. Johnson’s very obvious racism, sometimes casual and sometimes studied as exemplified during his years as Spectator editor, is written off as nothing serious when any racism can have lethal consequences. Not only have I seen letters published on Twitter addressed to Labour MPs telling them the authors will not vote for them because of their association with Corbyn, even though those MPs are innocent of any involvement in the scandal and in some cases are Jewish, I have heard people proclaim that they will vote Tory to avoid helping to elect anyone who might form a coalition with Corbyn. They propose to throw the whole country under the bus, expose us to a hard Brexit with an unfavourable trade deal with both the EU and the USA, all because they can tolerate the stench of numerous racisms against visible minorities that are the target of much official and unofficial hostility but not the whiff of another, towards people they see as “like them”. It is a coalition of wickedness and insanity.

I’ve been critical of Jeremy Corbyn in the past, mainly regarding his ambiguous stance on Brexit and his party’s insistence for too long on “honouring the referendum result” despite the narrow result (the Remain share was greater than many general election wins) and mounting evidence that the Leave campaign lied, employed overt racism and broke the law. I live in a Tory/Lib Dem marginal and will be voting Lib Dem because Labour has no chance of winning, which is one reason I’ve never rejoined the party. However, I’m not going to be loudly criticising Corbyn in the few weeks up to this election, because I want the Tories out and his is the biggest opposition party and the one with the best chance of securing, if not a majority, then at least a large proportion of seats; the Lib Dems have always been a small party and remain a small party which lost the trust of most of its voter base in the 2010-15 coalition. The Labour party has committed itself to a further referendum on Brexit; it’s not my preferred option, but it gives us another chance and that is immeasurably preferable to isolating ourselves with a bad Brexit deal (or none), with the strife and misery that could result from that. However, Labour must face down the bullies, racists and McCarthyites who use false claims of anti-Semitism to silence dissent to a pro-Western and pro-status quo narrative and intend to tolerate no dissent to that narrative; otherwise, they could face challenges from independents in key constituencies. It used to be the party that sang, “though cowards flinch and traitors sneer, we’ll keep the Red Flag flying here”; a party dominated by those cowering before racists does not deserve to win any election.

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