It’s not all about Brexit

A Labour party logo showing a red rose with a green stalk and leaves.

Last Friday the Guardian printed a letter from a number of famous people who informed us that because of ‘concerns’ about anti-Semitism, they would be ‘unable’ to vote Labour in the forthcoming (12th December) election. These ‘dignitaries’ or ‘luminaries’ include the novelists Fay Weldon, Frederick Forsyth and John Le Carré, actress (and family friend of Boris Johnson) Joanna Lumley, Blair-appointed equalities chief and the right-wing media’s favourite model minoritarian Trevor Phillips, and everyone’s but the Muslims’ favourite Muslims, Ed Husain, Fiyaz Mughal and Maajid Nawaz. Many of them are Tories or Liberal Democrats of long standing that it would have been difficult to imagine voting Labour, regardless of who leads it. According to them, we are all under pressure to disregard this matter in the name of stopping Brexit:

We listen to our Jewish friends and see how their pain has been relegated as an issue, pushed aside by arguments about Britain’s European future. For those who insist that Labour is the only alternative to Boris Johnson’s hard Brexit, now, it seems, is not the time for Jewish anxiety.

But antisemitism is central to a wider debate about the kind of country we want to be. To ignore it because Brexit looms larger is to declare that anti-Jewish prejudice is a price worth paying for a Labour government. Which other community’s concerns are disposable in this way? Who would be next?

Sadly, I live in an area where the nearest thing to an opposition to the Tories is a Liberal Democrat and that’s who I will be voting for next month. To do otherwise would split the anti-Tory and anti-Brexit vote. However, I urge anyone who lives in an area where there is a Labour candidate who can win to vote for them. Much as Brexit will have a devastating effect on the economy which could easily lead to serious unrest, the reasons have to do with so much more than Brexit: they are to do with ending the culture of austerity with its harassment of disabled people and destruction of public services, the run-down of the health system (to say nothing of the threat of its privatisation) and education system, the racist culture of disbelief in the immigration system and so much more besides. All this seems to have been forgotten because the public discourse has been dominated by Brexit and the internal wrangling of political parties including the issue of anti-Semitism in the Labour party (and any attempt to discuss any other issue of racism is dismissed as whataboutery).

In answer to the question, “which other community’s concerns are disposable in the way?”, unlike these concerns and fears which have been front page news practically every week for the past several years now, every other marginalised and vulnerable group of people’s concerns are deemed disposable by the present government and much of the press and broadcast media. People have died because the supports they would have depended on to get back on their feet have been kicked away in the name of deficit reduction. People live in fear of the “brown envelope” which tells them that their disability benefits are due for reassessment, which likely means an encounter with someone prejudiced against them who will lie about their condition and abilities. A disabled friend of mine wrote on Twitter yesterday:

I’m scared that once the protection of being a parent is over in 5 yrs when my boys all reach adulthood, I will be homeless. As a disabled person, the line between life and death for me lies in the hands of Tory bureaucrats who hate welfare. To say the election is about Brexit is yet another sign that people aren’t seeing our pain, suffering, fear and deaths.

Jeremy Corbyn’s record as an MP does not justify any suggestion that he would harass or discriminate against Jews if he was prime minister; on the contrary, he has been supportive of his Jewish constituents as an MP and Geoffrey Alderman, writing on the Spectator website earlier this year, said that despite the fact that Corbyn had acted unwisely on occasions, he could fill an entire article with the philo-Semitic Early Day Motions (EDMs) Corbyn has supported while an MP, including one to facilitate the settlement of Jews from Yemen in the UK. He also noted that Corbyn had supported Jewish objections to relocating Jewish graves to make way for property development while the council, led by Margaret Hodge, had approved the planning application. Meanwhile, in the huge volume of ‘incidents’ and accusations of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party (the volume is being treated as evidence in itself), the signal-to-noise ratio is very low, and of the minority of genuine incidents, many have led to expulsions, including of councillors, MPs and candidates for Parliament. It is not true that the party has “not dealt with it”.

Very many of the signatories to last Friday’s letter are well-known people with long careers in the arts and media who must be fairly wealthy. They will not have been personally affected by the ravages of austerity. I have heard it claimed that many Jews regard a Corbyn government is a worse prospect than a no-deal Brexit; clearly whoever thinks this does not fear for their job or the security of their home. In a letter published today among a set of responses to the letter (printed Monday), it is noted that there are three historians among the signatories and all are privately educated. None of them are Jewish, and they gloss over the fact that many Jews (albeit mostly secular ones) disagree with the calls not to vote Labour; they believe they should dictate whom the public should treat as the voice of “real Jews”. I have heard the group referred to as ‘dignitaries’, but fame does not confer authority. They complain that two Jewish MPs have been “bullied out of the party” but Jewish dissenters have been the victim of bullying and doxing on- and offline and their families have been targeted.

Racism should not be a price worth paying to avoid more serious political outcomes. But that is not the case here; five years of a majority government led by Boris Johnson means five years of austerity, racism, economic decline and isolation for everyone. The alternative is a chance to reverse Brexit and rebuild what the Tories and their coalition partners destroyed. 

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