Why did they stay in the Labour Party?

Picture of two white men in their 30s standing against a blue-grey background.
Douglas Murray and Andrew Doyle

Last week Douglas Murray, a self-proclaimed neo-con best known for a speech in which he called for life for Muslims to be made more difficult across the board in the wake of the terrorist attacks of the early 2000s, was then a director of the Henry Jackson Society, wrote a book called The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam and more recently has announced a tour of the UK offering “an evening with” him and Andrew Doyle (of Titania McGrath fame) with a routine focussed on attacking ‘woke’ culture, published a piece on the website Unherd in which he suggested that Labour would have difficulty recovering from the “toxic mess” of the Corbyn years. He suggested that whoever succeeds Corbyn should be expected to answer for why they remained in the party when it became, on the authority of Chuka Umunna (who left the party this year, helped to form the Independents’ Group, since dissolved, then defected again to the Lib Dems, stood in Westminster instead of his old Streatham seat and lost), an “institutionally racist” party.

In my opinion it’s a little hypocritical for a man who called for life for a minority to be made difficult and who has started to make a living out of attacking the so-called woke police, meaning people who stand up against displays of racism in the media and academia, to be complaining of “institutional racism” just because the minority suffering is a different one to those he has been attacking, or are on the receiving end of racism more generally in society. Previously the best-known institution to be accused officially of institutional racism, by the Macpherson Report, was none other than the Metropolitan Police, and this was after a young Black man was murdered in London by five racist white youths, only two of whom have been convicted and then more than 20 years later; the police bungled the investigation, preferring to harass the victim’s friend rather than investigate the murder. Perhaps Douglas Murray plans to interview serving police officers and ask them why they remained in an organisation condemned as institutionally racist in an official inquiry report.

Nobody has suggested that Corbyn adopted policies that threatened Jewish life or property in the UK, or advocated or defended discrimination against them, or advocated their deportation. It’s often used against Labour that it’s only the second party to be investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the previous one being the British National Party, but the BNP was founded by Nazis from the old National Front, had a policy of repatriation and did not allow non-whites to be members. None of this is true of the Labour party. The claims against the Labour party are of an entirely different order to the BNP and for that matter the Metropolitan Police: that some Jewish members feel uncomfortable (though others do not), some have said they were bullied, that “anti-Semitic tropes” have been used by some Labour figures (and some of these claims are plainly spurious, often based on straining the definition through the needle’s eye) and that others have expressed hostility to Israel, including suggesting that it should not exist. Very many of the utterances which have been exposed were said years ago, often well before they were involved in the Labour party, and were sometimes on private forums, or were discovered as a result of a trawl through someone’s social media accounts.

As for why people remained, there are numerous reasons. Jess Phillips, one of the MPs Murray suggests should be interrogated, was always critical of Corbyn and contemptuous of some of his allies; Kier Starmer was personally untainted by the scandal and is also known not to be in agreement with Corbyn on very much and has been touted as a moderate successor to Corbyn. Many of them will have known that the Labour party was by far the most likely party other than the Tories to form the next government — our system makes forming new parties notoriously difficult — and believed that removing the Tories was essential to save what is left of the welfare-oriented British state, including the health system, and to revitalise the education system which is currently being starved of funds as normally happens during a Tory government. They also believed that there was a need to save the country from the Tories’ ruinous and divisive approach to Brexit. The Lib Dems previously colluded with the Tories in bringing much of this about; the Independent Group included several former Tories who had held cabinet posts under Cameron. Corbyn was popular with the membership, largely because of the mistakes of Ed Miliband between 2010 and 2015 and of his moderate rivals in 2015.

But many of them would also have been committed to the idea of the Labour Party as just that: a Labour party. Unless any new party could secure the backing of some of the trade unions, it would end up as another Lib Dem party or at best, a kind of mirror to the US Democratic Party which is largely dependent on donations from wealthy individuals, some of whom also contribute to Republican campaigns (so as to buy favours from both sides) and some of whom are of a decidedly reactionary character. Labour’s biggest single donation in the 2019 election campaign was from the Unite union which represents a very broad swathe of British organised labour. It is funded by ordinary people’s donation and gives those ordinary people a voice, should they choose to avail themselves of it (the political levy, the part of one’s union fees that go to the Labour party, is optional). There is already one party in this country which is funded by the wealthy and largely champions their interests, albeit making the necessary appeals to people of average income. We do not really need another.

But … maybe some of them really did not believe that Labour was “institutionally racist”; they knew that many of the accusations were spurious and that the campaign was a right-wing, pro-imperialist witch hunt often targeted at Black and Asian candidates and activists, including dissenting Jews. It was not an anti-racist campaign but a racist one, but had enough media traction that they may have believed it wiser to let it blow over than stand up to it. Cowardly this may have been, and facilitated by white privilege, but not anti-Semitic.

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