Another day passes, another story of the apparently growing divide between Labour and its Jewish members emerges, but that is not what this piece is about. Upon reading most articles surrounding this, you may notice the conspicuous absence of a central figure: the leader of the UK Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn. Some say he does not wish to engage with spurious criticism which is being stirred by agitators; Russian accounts posting anti-Semitism under the guise of Labour accounts is by no means unheard of.
Yet Corbyn’s silence does far more damage than ‘feeding the trolls’ otherwise might. His belligerence has allowed the creeping suggestion of anti-Semitism, a charge with zero hard evidence when levied against him personally, to fester and stick. This is not intended as an instruction manual for firing any MP with a few words to say about Israel; the clear majority of modern British Jews would far rather know that their Prime Minister supported them, than care about his personal views about a foreign state. Pro-forma responses are simply not enough.
As a long serving MP Corbyn’s task as an opposition leader should be clear: constant communication with the public. Politics is a game in which talking the talk is as important as walking the walk. Soundbites work, and by not utilising them the party misses a golden opportunity to distance itself from these claims. The rest of his party has no problem doing so, with Ash Sarkar, Aaron Bastani and Billy Bragg, among others, calling for Willsman to step down. All staunch Corbyn supporters who are able to both speak out against the downplaying and invalidation of anti-Semitism within the fringes of the party by Willsman, while also retaining their position. The lack of media engagement by Corbyn spells out a clear message: either he is happy to tolerate those who hold these abhorrent views for the support they offer him, or he is directly complicit.
It needn’t have got to this point. The modern left has become the de-facto enemy of social injustice, partially due to the pandering of the political right to its fringe elements. There is a balance to be struck between maintaining your supporters, some of whom hold abhorrent views and, as an individual aspiring to the highest seat in the land, making even the vaguest of gestures towards inclusivity. That balance can only be wrought, and wrought it will have to be if the party is to have any hope of political success. Corbyn’s comments today were wholly inadequate. His claims that ‘Views were expressed at the meeting which I do not accept or condone’ cannot assuage any fears as he refuses to give name to those ideas he wishes to reject. I am not worried about ‘concerns and anxiety’ I am worried about the inclusion of anti-semitic ideas in popular political discourse. The domain of the intolerant is the fringe, Britain cannot allow these attitudes to become mainstream and by not vocally denouncing any such ideas within his own party Corbyn allows this to happen.
The tragedy is that this could be done with a single speech. One polished, media treated speech saying once and for all that his party will not tolerate its members denigrating either Jewish members or their experience of anti-Semitism. The same should be said of Islam, of black members and of any other minority. The power in being the more progressive party will manifest in a higher number of voters, particularly young ones. It will also be unanswerable: The Conservative acceptance of extremist fringe groups into their ‘big tent’ means they will be unable to respond in kind without losing mass support. It is crucial for both the Labour party and its supporters that this does not become their position with the anti-Semites and Islamophobes within their own party
By Junior Account Executive, Fred Hay.