Labour conference was in buoyant mood this week at Brighton. Understandably so you might say. The mood music was that this was a party with momentum and on the verge of government.
However, in the midst of this jubilant atmosphere, one ugly issue began to rear its head again; anti-Semitism. Remarks at a party fringe event around whether people should be allowed to question whether the Holocaust happened created a worrying sense of deja vu.
Accusations of anti-Semitism have plagued Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership tenure. Immediately after becoming leader Corbyn found himself defending comments he made about Hamas. Controversial remarks from Ken Livingstone then followed in 2016. This, alongside other events, led to the conduction of the Shami Chakrabarti inquiry into allegations of anti-Semitism.
Since last summer the issue has continued to bubble away, but has not flared up again until this moment. There was a hope that a new, stricter rule on anti-Semitism agreed at the conference would put an end to this discussion. Alas not.
The level of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is much debated. Senior Labour MP John Cryer, has said he has been “shocked” by the level of some anti-Semitic tweets sent by party members. Allies of Jeremy Corbyn, however, such as Len McCluskey, Ken Loach and Ken Livingstone argue that these claims of anti-Semitism are driven by leadership plots.
Regardless of the legitimacy of the accusations, this is not an image the Labour Party can shake. This should worry all in Jeremy Corbyn’s team. Ethically, any political party in the 21st century should long have moved on from anti-Semitism, especially one supposedly on the progressive wing of politics.
Electorally, it carries a cost as well. In two heavily Jewish constituencies in London at the 2017 General Election; Finchley and Golders Green and Hendon, the swing towards Labour was notably smaller than elsewhere in London. The 9.1% average swing Labour enjoyed across London would have been enough to win the seats.
Labour as a party need to act swiftly and firmly against these allegations. The longer this whiff of anti-Semitism continues, the more damaging it will be. So, yes question and criticise the actions of the Israeli government if necessary, but know where to draw the line. It is time for the Labour Party to do whatever it needs to, to bring this to an end.
Article by Mike Hough