Labour 2018

Dom Sayer – Chairman of our Labour NOW! policy group writes about why Labour must unite , to bring the battle to the Tories over the coming months

In the fast moving world of current politics, especially in the last few weeks, by the time I have written this piece I fear that it will already be out of date and yesterday’s news. Such is the rate of change recently, in the last month or so we have had a John Le Carre style spy story, a news event created out of the style of someone’s hat and most recently a scandal about anti-semitsim within the Labour party.

Whatever ones views on the cause, responsibility and origins of these stories, it is safe to say that this has not been a period to remember for our party. Whether it be the somewhat muddled response to the Skripal assassination attempt, the absolute non-story of Jeremy Corbyns hat that may or may not have been photo shopped to look more ‘Soviet’ or the very serious issue of dealing with anti-Semitism in our midst, we have not had a good month. This is down to a number of factors, from a perceived lack of leadership from the top to some very virulent anti-Semitic members who are threatening others online and indeed in person. The sight of hundreds of people demonstrating against any injustice is always something that should be taken very seriously. The fact that it was from a community (and supporters) who have had more than their fair share of persecution, against our party should be a true embarrassment to us all. Even if, incorrectly in my view, you feel that this has all been whipped up in to a media frenzy to oust Jeremy Corbyn, it is still a concern that we have got this far.

Now let me clear, I think most people do not believe that Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-Semite. I have seen nothing to suggest that he is one, supports it in any way shape or form or believes in others right to hold these abhorrent views even on the grounds of free speech. I wholeheartedly believe that this last week must have been difficult for him, as I can imagine no other person so opposed to any form of racism and I fully accept that he is indeed an “ally” to the Jewish community in the process of stamping out such hatred. His speeches and voting record back this up.
What is also clear though, is that he suffers from occasional serious ill-judgement. When it comes to dealing with the fact that whilst he is not an anti-Semite, there are others around him that are. In writing his response to ‘that mural’ he has opened himself up to a line of attack that grows stronger every day. It was anti-Semitic and anyone who says otherwise is defending the indefensible. That it happened to be written by the leader of a political party that is dedicated to equality, justice and is explicitly anti-racist, it is hard to accept and pretty galling. His desire for free speech, whilst admirable, is occasionally misguided and supplies some distasteful people with far too much airtime. When the creator of the mural itself states that the “older white Jewish folk […] had an issue with me portraying their beloved #Rothschild or #Warburg etc as the demons they are” how can anyone not see this as anything but the Jewish tropes of yesteryear. Even the now disgraced former mayor of Tower Hamlets, Luftar Rahman, was quoted as saying that “the images of the bankers perpetuate anti-Semitic propaganda about conspiratorial Jewish domination of financial and political institutions”.

To make things worse, when the leader’s office was given the chance to deal with this, the response was at best underwhelming at worst dismissive. Had the fourth and final (I think) statement been released as the initial response, would we have seen the anger that caused the demonstration at parliament? Would those in the Jewish community and those who support them felt the need to protest in their hundreds, I am not so sure? The anger would rightly still be there but the need to hit the streets may have been assuaged. #EnoughIsEnough has been born out of our party, our great party not listening to a minority group who feel vulnerable due to racism against them. I don’t think I can imagine a less ‘Labour’ attribute than that.

Jeremy Corbyn has energised tens of thousands of people to become members of our party and the movement. He has presided over an incredible increase in our membership and the enthusiasm for our cause. This is an incredible achievement that we all want to continue. We now have the largest membership of any political party in Western Europe, with almost 600,000 people committed to Labour. Jeremy Corbyn, his team and his policies deserve a massive amount of credit for this. There is no doubt that his decency, humanity and authenticity are great pulls to the public at large and those that meet him.
Yet there is an elephant in the room. It is easy to talk to those people who already sing ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ and having gained that base we did a lot better in the general election in 2017 than we thought, but here is the rub… what has happened since? Preaching to the converted is one thing, convincing the electorate is quite another. We presently have a government that seem rudderless, are in hoc to the extreme right of the party, who are decimating our public services and cannot seem to see anything but Brexit, Brexit and more Brexit. So we ought to be miles ahead in the polls right?

No. What the public has seen is what we have seen. They have witnessed a party confused on how to respond to the potential notion that Russia may have attempted to assassinate people on British soil, they have seen some of our supporters willing to go nuts about a hat and that Jewish people are worried that we are anti-Semitic. The image we are portraying is not one of a ‘government in waiting’ but that of the ‘loony left’ in-fighting once again. Is that the image of a party ready to govern, I don’t think so.

Right now, when in the public gaze, we are letting ourselves down. We don’t look like we are capable of governing, even though so much of what we want to implement will radically help our society, we are unable to get that message through. Polls are continuously putting us and the Tories around neck and neck. In fact in any serious polling done, we have not led since the end of February.

Simply put this feels like a new version of a TV show that was originally aired in the early 1980s. The cast are different, the issues have changed but the script is ostensibly indistinguishable from the original. That led to 14 more years of Tory government. What is more important? Talking of de-selections for hard working MPs because they are not fully on board with the Jeremy Corbyn Labour brand? Or accepting our differences, acknowledging our serious problems, dealing with those problems and then taking the fight to the Tories. We need to win the next general election. We need to win it for all the people we are meant to represent, because if we don’t, we are condemning them to years and years of Tory rule. Is it not the Tories we are meant to fight rather than ourselves?

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