Janice Turner (The Times 30/4/2016)
With the left’s antisemitism laid bare, many progressives are no more keen on a Corbyn government than a Cameron one.
It is an ugly phrase, “told you so”. No one likes Cassandra shaking her head, with that jarring mix of disappointed and smug. But on Thursday, as “Hitler” and “Labour party” were twinned in every bulletin, as Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension of Ken Livingstone was undermined by his “why-the-hell-do-I-have-to-do-this” mien, as a Labour MP wrote an article begging long-standing Jewish members not to leave, I wanted to charter a plane and fly a banner across the sky: “Told you so.”
This was not a conspiracy drummed up, as Corbyn claims, by “people concerned about Labour’s strength at a local level”, a Blairite plot or an MSM (mainstream media) hatchet job on a radical socialist programme. Nor even was Ken’s Nazi media tour a quixotic one-off. This grinding of Labour’s reputation into the filth live on TV was foretold, it was encoded in the Corbyn victory’s DNA. And across Britain, thousands of Labour supporters found no satisfaction in being proved right; only despair.
Our political home has been squatted in by careless, incompetent fools, too arrogant even to see what harm they do. “Racism is normally an attribute of the right,” said Jon Trickett, MP, a Corbyn ally, on Newsnight. Yes, the left are the good guys; no need for a party inquiry, to look into our souls. We are the righteous; ergo everything we do is right. You could see it in Livingstone as he stomped about on the Holocaust: I’m truth-telling here, you Jews are just having “feelings”.
So often, the Labour leader — after hours of backstage prevarication with spin doctor Seumas Milne striving to find him an opt-out — has issued a crisis statement as if someone had him in a half-nelson. OK, if a Paris-style attack was under way in London, I’d let police kill terrorists. Fine, I support party policy to remain in the EU. The shortfall between his words and delivery is comical to behold. And even as he promises to tackle antisemitism his zero intent is clear. How could it be otherwise? His three-quid army, many — like him — from the angrier fringes of the pro-Palestine lobby, are the well-spring of Labour antisemitism. Moreover, Corbyn, like Ken, was connected with Labour Briefing, the far-left group, during the early 1980s when it held meetings exploring how Hitler was a Zionist. He may as well suspend himself.
Labour MPs need to stop hand-wringing and organise
Yet the frustrating thing for non-Corbynistas is we can see a way forward. And Naz Shah, the young Bradford MP, suspended for suggesting Israeli Jews be transported to America, could, curiously, be part of it. Her abject, thoughtful apology was a realisation that such unthinking, tribal antisemitism was part of the same “left-wing” Islamism that allowed George Galloway to use her own forced marriage to shame her. Shah could be a brilliant ambassador for secular, progressive politics in Muslim communities. Whereas Ken, who fêted extremists for mayoral votes, sees no need for change.
Indeed, “abhors change” should be the motto of the Corbyn left. Why bother recalibrating the world-view that all Muslims are oppressed, downtrodden by the imperialist West just because Islamic State is now removing heads? Hence, on one of the most pressing, modern social problems — the rise of a misogynist, homophobic, orthodox credo that wishes death to apostates and brainwashes British teenagers into jihad — Her Majesty’s Opposition has nothing to say.
What does it have to say on anything? Pipe down and let the “new politics” settle in, Corbyn fans told those of us who voted for the admittedly uninspiring alternatives. And we hoped for a Chauncey Gardiner miracle. That somehow the inflexible, aspic-preserved politics of “Thatcher’s Britain” could find traction now. But the PMQ gimmick of putting questions from “Clare in Stroud” or “Kevin in Barnsley” was quickly abandoned. It turns out that Jeremy Corbyn can’t slay, or even shame, a slick, sharp Tory government just by the laser-beam of his political purity.
Shadow ministers have to be clever and competent, speeches need to be pungent; the single, snarky question that’s fine from the back benches seems infantile up front. Corbyn isn’t even fielding a B team, more like interns gussied up in suits and ties. I never thought I’d miss Ed Balls. Dammit, I miss Nick Clegg.
It has felt for months now that Labour faces a Tory majority of, say, 100, not the reality of a working majority of 18. Even riven by Europe, at war with junior doctors, retreating on disability living allowance and forced academisation, with David Cameron’s dubious tax affairs, the Tory citadel seems unbreachable. Only in the talent and gravitas of former ministers — as when Yvette Cooper lobbies for child refugees — or in a few bold voices on the whips’ “hostile” list, such as Wes Streeting and Jess Phillips, does there seem to be any opposition at all.
As the May elections loom, Labour activists are despondent. While they ponder how to tackle doorstep questions about Hitler, the Corbynistas, who rarely deign to campaign, squat on Twitter berating stalwarts with leaflet rounds as “Bliar-ites” and Tories. Corbyn can deny it, but this week has precipitated a crisis.
Longstanding, instinctive Labour supporters are wondering where to put their crosses. These politically displaced persons will now vote in a more ad hoc way: for good Labour candidates, but not all. Feminists, who smelt misogyny on this 1970s left men’s club from the start, will look to the Women’s Equality Party: it won’t win seats, but could scupper Labour in marginals. And now, scales tumbling from eyes, many progressive people have realised they want a Corbyn government no more than a Cameron one. Labour MPs need to stop hand-wringing and organise. This cannot hold.