Tag Archives: Luciana Berger

Berger, Umunna & Co: Good riddance to bad rubbish

The formation of the Independent Group vindicates what the left has long been saying. So called ‘moderate’ Labour MPs belong in another party

As everyone knows, on February 18, seven parliamentarians – Luciana Berger, Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith, Ann Coffey and Mike Gapes – announced that they were forming the ‘Independent Group’ of MPs, and the next day they were followed by Joan Ryan. Then, on February 20, they were joined by three Conservative MPs: Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen.

But let me deal first with the Labour defectors. Typical was Ryan’s statement: “I cannot remain a member of the Labour Party, while its leadership allows Jews to be abused with impunity and the victims of such abuse to be ridiculed, have their motives questioned and their integrity called into doubt.” The others made similar claims, with Berger stating that since Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader Labour had become “institutionally anti-Semitic”. In reality, what we have, of course, is not a situation where Jews are “abused with impunity”, but one where rightwing Labour MPs – some of whom happen to be Jewish – are being criticised for their disloyalty.

For example, as far as I know, there is no evidence that any of the Wavertree Labour members supporting a motion of no confidence against Berger had made any anti-Semitic comments. She was targeted not because she is Jewish, but because of her refusal to commit to the party! Just before the original seven quit, a statement was being circulated on social media calling on all Labour MPs to pledge to work for a Labour government “under whatever leadership members elect”. Reasonable, you might think. But Gavin Shuker complained that, by being approached in this way, he was being told to “completely obey and not question Great Leader Jeremy Corbyn”.

However, while such responses are self-evidently pathetic, the media for the most part is behaving as though they are totally in order. For instance, on February 20, Radio Five Live featured a phone-in, where listeners were asked why they thought that prejudice against Jews was not being countered as rigorously as racism against black people – the assumption being, of course, that this was the attitude of the Labour leadership.

Yet no examples of actual anti-Semitism were given. A representative of the Jewish Labour Movement was asked to relate his own personal experience and he immediately came up with a comment directed against him at a recent Labour Party meeting: someone had responded to what he had said by stating that he was a “well-known Zionist”!

And what about deputy leader Tom Watson? He has declared that Berger was the “first casualty” of anti-Semitism and he “no longer recognises” his own party. Acting as though the eight were genuinely committed to ‘Labour values’, he complained that “There are those who are already celebrating the departure of colleagues with whom they disagree”. Talk of “betrayal”, he said, does nothing to help explain why “good colleagues” might want to leave Labour. He called on Corbyn to bring Labour back into the “mainstream tradition”.

In other words, the party’s number two is only just stopping short of saying that the eight were right to leave, because, following Corbyn’s election, ‘Labour is no longer the party I joined’. Watson is clearly unfit to serve as deputy leader. But the real agenda is obvious. It is to prevent by any means possible the election of a Corbyn-led government in the interests of the establishment and British capital.

Just look at the statement promoted by the Independent Group at its launch press conference. It does not take much reading between the lines to see what they are up to. They want to “pursue policies that are evidence-based, not led by ideology”: we need to “reach across outdated divides”. The “ideology” they are particularly opposed to, of course, is Corbyn’s. After all, “Britain works best as a diverse, mixed social-market economy, in which well-regulated private enterprise can reward aspiration and drive economic progress.” By contrast, Labour is now “hostile to businesses large and small; and threatens to destabilise the British economy in pursuit of ideological objectives”. There is no “ideology” behind this blatant pro-capitalism, is there?

As for foreign policy, “We believe in maintaining strong alliances with our closest European and international allies on trade, regulation, defence, security and counter-terrorism.” Yet Labour “now pursues policies that would weaken our national security” and “accepts the narratives of states hostile to our country”. In other words, Labour must remain firmly in the imperialist camp.

Centrist party

It was hardly an impressive launch, with each of the seven giving their own separate, often incoherent assessments of the way ahead. For the most part – unlike the Gang of Four, which split to form the Social Democratic Party in 1981 – they are nonentities.

But that does not mean they can just be written off. For example, that is exactly the implication in the Morning Star front-page headline – “The insignificant seven” (February 19). But Joan Ryan is only the first of a number of other Labour rightwing MPs likely to join them. Those said to be on the verge of quitting include Margaret Hodge, Louise Ellman, David Lammy and Ian Austin. As for Jess Phillips MP, who has also come under attack for failing to commit fully to the party, she “has had to put nine locks on her door out of fear for her safety” (The Daily Telegraph February 19). Well, what can you say about behaviour that forces you to put nine locks on your door?

And when the Parliamentary Labour Party – meeting in the evening following the Independent Group’s initial press conference – heard John Cryer, the PLP chair, “pay tribute” to the defectors, it reacted mostly with applause. But this response has hardly been countered by the leadership, with Corbyn himself saying he was “disappointed” the original seven had left and publicly thanking them for their past service to the party. As for John McDonnell, although he correctly stated that the defectors should now do the “honourable thing” by resigning as MPs and standing for re-election, he also bent over backwards before their accusations (particularly over ‘anti-Semitism’), promising a “mammoth listening exercise”.

We should not be misled by the relatively low profile of the original defectors. It is not only other Labour MPs who are considering joining them. In addition to Soubry, Wollaston and Allen, an unnamed minister and three other MPs are also said to be considering doing so. Of course, it is not Corbyn’s leadership of Labour that motivates the Tories, but their own government’s stance on Brexit. If Theresa May presses ahead with a ‘no deal’, that will surely trigger a reaction of some kind – no doubt this has already been taken into account by the Independent Group following their prior discussions with such Tories.

The IG statement declares that, in addition to all its other shortcomings, Labour under Corbyn’s leadership has “failed to take a lead in addressing the challenge of Brexit and to provide a strong and coherent alternative to the Conservatives’ approach”. This is a key motive in the thinking of those who want to form a new centrist party – stay in the European Union, possibly after a second referendum. It also no doubt figures prominently in the thinking of the likes of Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, who is said to be considering stepping down to make way for a new centre party under a different leader after the local elections in May.

We should not underestimate the damage such a party could cause. It is not its electoral impact that should worry us though. Unless we are talking about a national government – far from impossible – a new centrist party will not sweep the board at the next general election. Indeed it would be lucky to retain the MPs it already has. No, it is the chilling effect that a rightwing split might have within the Labour Party. The cowardly statements coming from Corbyn and McDonnell do nothing to embolden the leftwing rank and file in the constituencies. But if anyone wants Jeremy Corbyn in No10 and John McDonnell in No11 committed to actually enacting the programme outlined in For the many, not the few, then the Parliamentary Labour Party has to be thoroughly renewed.

The careerists, the pro-Nato, pro-capitalist right must be deselected and replaced by candidates who are not only committed to defend Corbyn against the right, but who have a proven record as class fighters and are committed to genuine socialism.

Unless that happens, there are a numbers of dangers. Firstly, Corbyn could be nudged, bullied and forced ever further to the right – we have already seen his collapse over Trident renewal, his now Platonic republicanism, his criminal silence over the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt. Secondly, the left in the constituencies could be lent on by the leader’s office not to hold trigger ballots in order to avoid adding to the number of defectors. Thirdly, in the event of Corbyn rediscovering his left-reformist past, the present rightwing majority of Labour MPs will not give Corbyn the parliamentary vote of confidence the constitution requires in order to form a government. The monarch will be advised by the privy council to look at another figure in the House of Commons who can get a vote of confidence.

So the formation of the Independent Group needs to be turned from a warning that Labour will suffer further splits, if the left presses ahead with trigger ballots, into proof that the majority of sitting Labour MPs are traitors to the working class and ought to go – and go quickly.

Peter Manson
(this article first appeared in the Weekly Worker)

Drama about Luciana Berger: Open the second front!

The public spat involving Liverpool Wavertree Constituency Labour Party, the media and sections off the Labour right might may seem to be just the latest skirmish in the slow coup that has been underway since the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in 2015. All the usual elements and players in the drama are present: the allegations of anti-Semitism, the demand by the right for suspensions and expulsions, the lurid media stories about bullying and intimidation – and a rather weak response from the Corbyn leadership in the face of an open attack on the rank-and-file members who support him. So have the events of the last fortnight been any different from the countless other attacks launched by the right and their friends in the media over the last four years?

In the last edition of this paper Carla Roberts explained very well the context for these latest attacks on the Labour left (‘Split – and split now!’, February 7). The growing political challenge to the Blairite rump that still controls the Parliamentary Labour Party; the increasing possibility of successful trigger ballots replacing rightwing MPs with Corbyn- supporting candidates; and the possibility of a snap election – all have concentrated the minds of the Labour right wonderfully, as they contemplate a somewhat uncertain future. Whilst some, undoubtedly, want to hold on to their seats for careerist or personal reasons, others are looking to the future and (for them) the appalling vista of a Corbyn government. They need to keep all the MPs they can to continue their work of sabotage and undermine any hint of radicalism, should Labour be successful at the polls. The capitalists need a reliable fifth column inside our movement and Tom Watson and company are just the ticket. So trigger ballots and the composition of the PLP are crucial issues for them, as well as their friends in the media and the boardrooms.

Another important factor is that the appointment of Jennie Formby has seen some relaxation in Labour’s internal regime. Under the previous general secretary there was a ‘Shoot first and ask questions later’ approach: unfounded allegations against individuals and CLPs were met with summary expulsions and suspensions. Anyone who stuck their neck above the parapet risked disciplinary action, resulting in a reluctance to criticise or engage in debate on contentious issues.

Many on the left counselled caution: ‘Don’t rock the boat; if you do speak out, our CLP will be shut down and members expelled’ was a frequent cry. ‘Keep your heads down and wait for better days, and trust in Jeremy,’ many left comrades advised. Well these are better days and it is now that we should fight back against the right and their rearguard action to hold onto power. For these reasons alone the controversy surrounding Liverpool Wavertree is not just another episode in our four-year civil war. For all sides in the battle the last few days represent a qualitative shift to a new phase.

The sequence and pattern of events in the Wavertree affair now seems clear. Two motions of no confidence in the arch-Blairite MP, Luciana Berger, were tabled by members of the CLP. Although signed by only four members of the party, they reflected widespread oppositiontoherpositiononanumber of important issues, ranging from her support for Israeli actions in Gaza to her uncritical support of the Tory government’s posturing over the

Salisbury poisonings.
However, the main thrust of opposition was twofold: one key issue was her refusal to categorically deny persistent media reports that she, along with a number of other Blairites, were preparing to leave Labour and set up a new putative centrist grouping. The second, equally significant issue for members of the CLP was her similar refusal to confirm that she would support a Corbyn- led Labour government. Usually reliable sources in Liverpool suggest that she was asked directly at a CLP meeting whether she would back such a government and, it is alleged, she evaded the question and refused to give a direct answer.

It may seem terribly old-fashioned to the Blairite sophisticates who write Guardianopinion pieces offering advice to our movement, but ordinary members in Wavertree seem to think that it goes without saying that a Labour MP should publicly proclaim their support for a Labour government and should not evade the question, whether it is put by Eddie Mair, Robert Peston or a party member at a CLP meeting.


In terms of this drama, so far, so normal. The next act also had a familiar pattern to it. The motions of no confidence were circulated to members in advance of the all- members meeting by the CLP secretary. Given the importance of the issue and the possibility that Luciana Berger might not be able to attend the scheduled meeting because of parliamentary commitments, the CLP’s executive agreed that these motions would be taken at a special weekend meeting. It was at this point that the familiar chorus walked on to the stage and began their song
of woe. Following a leak of the CLP’s internal communications to the media, the local newspaper, The Liverpool Echo, ran a story about the motions.

This was followed by a solo performance on the stage of the House of Commons by that celebrated keeper of the Blairite true faith, Tom Watson. He deliberately and quite inaccurately linked the no-confidence motions to Lucian Berger’s public statements on anti- Semitism, suggesting that a virulent gang of racists in Wavertree CLP was trying to silence her. In a virtuoso performance delivered with all the sincere aplomb of a polished actor, he spoke of a “hateful, bullying culture”, which was not only “threatening towards Luciana personally”, but was “bringing our party into disrepute”. He later wrote to Jennie Formby to “take the necessary steps to suspend Liverpool Wavertree Constituency Labour Party” because of this “intolerable” behaviour. This trope of linking the political criticisms of Berger to anti-Semitism was repeated ad nauseam by media commentators and Labour’s right wing over the next few days. Liverpool Labour mayor Joe Anderson, shadow education spokesperson Angela Rayner and Guardiancolumnist Owen Jones all joined in, as did the usual suspects in the PLP. We were all invited to ‘stand with Luciana’ against the anti-Semites who were trying to bring her down. Once again the drama was following a predictable script.

But a new twist in the tale began to emerge. In response to the furore, John McDonnell made a clear defence of Wavertree CLP’s right to hold its MP to account and denied that anti-Semitism played any part in the tabling of the motions. He argued that it was Berger’s refusal to support a future Corbyn-led Labour government or rule out joining another party that had caused the crisis. Speaking to the BBC, he suggested that all she had to do was publicly deny that she was planning to leave the party and the issue could be swiftly put to bed.

Other left MPs, such as Ian Lavery, also showed support for the CLP. Most significantly, Jennie Formby responded to Watson’s demand for the suspension of Wavertree by rejecting his call, arguing that there were no grounds at all for doing so. This was a new and (for Watson and the right) a most unwelcome development. The other actors in the performance were not following the script at all! Big Tom’s stature was much reduced.
Just when it looked as if the action on stage was withdrawn, the movers explaining that they had been under sustained media pressure and harassment since their personal details had been leaked to the media. Again such bullying, undertaken by the media and instigated by the Labour right, was neither unusual nor unexpected. Neither were the attempts by the media to further muddy the waters and attempt to smear the CLP chair, who is Jewish, and other activists with claims of anti-Semitism.

According to sources in Liverpool – confirmed by some media reports – there was another, less expected perhaps, series of pressures on the movers of the no-confidence motions and the CLP. This appeared to come from figures close to the Corbyn- McDonnell leadership, who were urging that the motions be withdrawn. It was also suggested that, whilst leading figures on Labour’s left supported the right of CLPs to hold their MPs to account, now was not the time to move no-confidence motions, especially when such a high-profile opponent as Luciana Berger was in the firing line.

Fight back

So there the performance seems to have ended. The motions were withdrawn; the media continued digging around on Facebook, Twitter , etc for profiles of anyone in Wavertree whose name had been passed on to them by the Labour right; stories continued to appear, and Wavertree CLP was brought up at a PLP meeting by the Labour right as yet another example of the rampant anti-Semitism they see everywhere.

However, the curtain has not quite come down on this show yet. In fact it will run and run, because the underlying issues that it raises have not gone away. The Labour right and their friends in the media played their part, as expected, but some aspects of the left’s part in this drama need looking at critically. Whilst the support that the Corbyn leadership and the general secretary gave to Wavertree CLP was welcome (and a distinct improvement on previous statements in cases such as Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker and Marc Wadsworth), it still left plenty of room for improvement. Put simply, the Labour right launched a pre-emptive strike against Wavertree as a direct challenge to the Corbyn leadership and the whole of the Labour left.

We cannot wish this away by urging caution or restraining members who want to hold Blairite MPs to account. If we do not begin the fightback now, we will have to fight even harder if Labour wins an election and the inevitable sabotage of a Corbyn government begins. If Luciana Berger and her fellow Blairites do not do the job for us by joining a new centrist party, we have to help them on their way by using any new trigger ballot procedures to replace them with socialists committed to the historic goals of our movement.

There is a civil war going on in our party, initiated and vigorously perused by the Labour right – let us recognise that fact and take them on in a fight to the finish. Now is not the time to compromise: now is the time for the Corbyn leadership and the whole of the Labour left to take the fight to the enemy within. In the war against the Labour right, it is time to open the second front.

New trigger ballots will see many MPs given their marching orders

Perhaps some of the most obnoxious Blairites in the PLP will actually jump before they get pushed, hopes Carla Roberts of Labour Party Marxists

One is reminded of the boy who cried wolf when evaluating the latest reports about a group of Labour MPs planning to split from the party – perhaps to join with the Liberal Democrats or form a new Blairite, centrist party. We have heard it all before, of course. This is, after all, not the first time such ‘rumours’ have made their way into the national press as a way of putting pressure on Jeremy Corbyn since his election as leader in 2015.

However, there are a few reasons why we should not simply dismiss the possibility that, this time round, there might actually be something to it. And no, not because the reasons to split from Labour have become so overwhelming – in addition to ‘anti-Semitism’ and Brexit, some MPs apparently “despair” of the fact that Corbyn refuses to get behind a CIA-led coup in Venezuela – because these interventions tend to end so well, don’t they?

We only know the names of three of the six MPs behind this latest rumour (though Vince Cable has let it be known that six “is very much at the lower end of the figures” that he is aware of), but those three are very interesting: Luciana Berger, Angela Smith and Chris Leslie have been plotting against Corbyn from day one.

It is perhaps no coincidence that two of them have just had local no- confidence votes cast against them: Leslie’s Constituency Labour Party in Nottingham came out against him in September 2018, while Smith lost the vote in her Sheffield constituency of Penistone and Stocksbridge in November. Luciana Berger’s CLP, Liverpool Wavertree, might just had to cancel a scheduled no confidence vote, but there is no question that she is unpopular among members. The local CLP executive, which since 2017 has been clearly dominated by Corbyn supporters, has publicly ‘censored’ her on numerous occasions – for example, for not backing Corbyn over the Salisbury poison incident, and, more recently, over her public campaign for a second Brexit referendum. No doubt she will have also been instrumental in moving the motion in the Parliamentary Labour Party, accusing Corbyn once again of not acting on ‘anti-Semitism’ (more below).

Trigger ballots

A vote of no confidence does not start a deselection process, of course. Such votes have no official standing in Labour Party rules. Yes, they are a slap in the face for the MP and make for bad press, but, until recently at least, a sitting MP could just shrug off such votes.

That all changed at last year’s Labour conference, however. In the face of a very successful campaign led by International Labour for the mandatory reselection of all MPs (under the name of ‘open selection’), Corbyn and his allies agreed instead to reform the existing trigger ballot – a way, perhaps, of softening the blow and not spook rightwing MPs too much. But it was a huge political own goal, in our view. It is, after all, the right in the PLP that has been driving the slow coup against Corbyn. The membership, given half a chance, would have long replaced the most ardent rightwing MPs.

But until last year it was virtually impossible to get rid of a sitting MP. A majority of all local union and Labour branches affiliated to a CLP had to challenge the MP by voting ‘no’ in the so-called trigger ballot. Each branch and affiliate was counted equally, irrespective of the number of members. A CLP usually has far more union affiliates than Labour branches and, unfortunately, those union reps tend to vote with the right (just like they do on the national executive committee).

But last September conference voted to replace the current trigger ballot with two separate ones: one for local affiliated bodies like unions; and one for local party branches. The threshold in both has been reduced from 50% to 33% and it is enough for one of the two sections to vote ‘no’ to start a full selection process – ie, a democratic contest between the different candidates. It is a small step forward from the status quo (though totally insufficient, when one considers that in the 1980s the party allowed the full, democratic and mandatory reselection of all candidates).

There is very little question who would win the support of local members if there was a democratic contest between a campaigning Corbyn supporter and a Blairite like Angela Smith or a back-stabbing career whinger like Luciana Berger. And they know it.

While there is not often good news coming from the Labour NEC, we understand that the January 22 meeting of its organising committee commissioned general secretary Jennie Formby to “prepare a plan to ensure that CLPs have the opportunity to call a selection process if they so wish, even if Theresa May calls a new ‘snap’, short-campaign general election”. NEC member Darren Williams has confirmed that this is correct.

As an aside, it is questionable whether May really is preparing for a snap election on June 6 (or whenever). Yes, somewhat surprisingly, the Tories are ahead in the polls, but surely she has to consider not just how wrong the polls were last time (and one would have thought that the government’s inability to actually deliver Brexit will add to that uncertainty), but also the political make-up of new MPs. Many, if not most, local Conservative Associations are dominated by a very active pro-Brexit wing, guaranteeing that the next crop of Tory MPs will probably be even more opposed to any ‘deals’ that Theresa May can pull out of her hat.

No matter: the Labour NEC decision is of huge importance politically. When Theresa May called the last snap election in 2017, the NEC was still dominated by the right and the party bureaucracy still led by general secretary Iain McNicol. Together they agreed that every sitting MP would automatically become the candidate once more, without even allowing local members or union branches the possibility of a trigger ballot. And, in many CLPs without an incumbent MP, unsuccessful candidates from the 2015 general election were simply reimposed. That was a crucial trick to keep the PLP stuffed with Blairites, who would use their privileged position to sabotage and plot against Jeremy Corbyn.

We know that many CLPs have long been eagerly waiting for the NEC’s timetable to pop into their inboxes. Without the executive’s go- ahead, no trigger ballot can take place. That is why Berger, Smith, Leslie (and many others) will now be in serious discussions about how to salvage their political career – if it is indeed salvageable. All three are outspoken ‘remainers’ and supporters of a second referendum. They might consider standing for the Liberal Democrats, but, as that party is currently languishing at around 8% in the polls, it is hardly a safe bet.

Standing as an independent is perhaps even more risky – unless you are really popular locally, which Angela Smith and Chris Leslie are certainly not. Berger has a certain message that the media like – ie, Jeremy Corbyn is a dangerous anti- Semite. She might just get enough push from the establishment and the media to get elected. The virulently anti-Corbyn MP, John Mann, also seems to be seriously entertaining that option. He is one of the few Labour MPs who have responded positively to Theresa May’s pretty outrageous offer to ‘convince’ Labour MPs to vote for her deal in exchange for financial bribes: he has indicated that he would go for it, if she “shows us the money”. The man seems pretty aware of the fact that his Labour career is coming to an end. About time too.

If enough of those rightwingers get together and jump ship before they get pushed, there might even be a possibility of them forming some kind of new ‘centrist’ party. It is conceivable that such a party could come to an electoral deal with the Liberal Democrats in a few select constituencies, which could perhaps see the return of a few former Labour MPs.

The problem here, however, is not just the short-lived history of the Social Democratic Party, which still serves as a serious warning. There are also divisions over Brexit: the Labour right also has its fair share of Brexiteers – 14 of them defied Corbyn’s three-line whip and voted against Yvette Cooper’s amendment that would have required May to delay Brexit if she could not get a parliamentary majority for her deal. Those two wings could not coexist for long in the same small party, at least in this political period.

We would guess that quite a few current MPs will soon simply throw in the political towel and look for pastures new – perhaps some cushy job in a think tank or on a company board. Naturally, we would have preferred it if Jeremy Corbyn and the NEC had had the guts to expel these traitors.

The taming of Corbyn

While some on the Labour right still hope to force Corbyn to resign, writes Carla Roberts of Labour Party Marxists, others are aiming to change the man and his politics

If you do not already hate Facebook for selling your data to rightwing companies who manipulate elections and blackmail politicians, for keeping copies of all your messages and phone conversations or just for generally stealing your time and life energy, last week should have given you plenty of reason to start doing so.

Not only has Jeremy Corbyn been ‘outed’ as having been a member of a third Facebook group in which some people posted shite (although he never posted anything there himself): but Luciana Berger MP, parliamentary chair of the pro-Zionist Jewish Labour Movement, was said to have dug up a six-year-old, now infamous ‘mural comment’ he did make on another Facebook group. In reality, of course, she did no such thing: somebody else pointed it out to her. One of those, we are guessing, who have been reporting, smearing, outing and witch-hunting Corbyn supporters as anti-Semitic for the last two and a half years.

Now, finally, they got the man himself. Of course, he did not “defend an anti-Semitic mural”, as the bourgeois media have fumed. He asked why it was being removed: “Why? You are in good company. Rockerfeller [sic] destroyed Diego Viera’s [sic] mural because it includes a picture of Lenin.”

One can argue over the artistic value of the rather crude depiction, angry-student-style, of bankers playing Monopoly on the backs of oppressed black people. And one can certainly argue about how obviously anti-Semitic the dodgy painting is; many on the left are engaged in this rather futile debate. But blogger Jonathan Cook reminds us of the bigger picture:

Interestingly, the issue of Corbyn’s support for the mural – or at least the artist – originally flared in late 2015, when the Jewish Chronicle unearthed his Facebook post. Two things were noticeably different about the coverage then.

First, on that occasion, no one apart from the Jewish Chronicle appeared to show much interest in the issue. Its ‘scoop’ was not followed up by the rest of the media. What is now supposedly a major scandal – one that raises questions about Corbyn’s fitness to be Labour leader – was a non-issue two years ago, when it first became known.

Second, the Jewish Chronicle, usually so ready to get exercised at the smallest possible sign of anti-Semitism, wasn’t entirely convinced back in 2015 that the mural was anti-Semitic. In fact, it suggested only that the mural might have “anti-Semitic undertones” – and attributed even that claim to Corbyn’s critics.

Both points are fascinating. They show how dramatically the narrative around anti-Semitism has changed in the last two and a half years; how successful the right has been in portraying the Labour Party as being awash with anti-Semites. Now the gutter press, along with The Guardian, have become such experts on the matter that they are certain the mural was “obviously anti-Semitic”. This shift also includes the views of a certain Jeremy Corbyn (see below).

What is indeed “obvious” is the fact that this latest faux outrage was clearly orchestrated – building up ammunition for an upping of the witch-hunts of Corbyn supporters. He had already been hammered for his ‘unpatriotic’ response to the ‘Russian agent’ crisis – surely everyone supports another cold war with Russia?

Crucially, local elections are taking place in less than six weeks time, on May 3. The hope of the right is that we will not see a repeat of the surprisingly good result for Labour that we witnessed in the 2017 snap general election, which brought Corbyn some reprieve. The right in the party is clearly prepared to risk a bad election result in order to put pressure on him.

None of this is surprising. Only the most naive will believe the nonsense about the new-found ‘unity’ behind Corbyn in the Labour Party. The right will continue to fight the genuine left, the socialists and the Marxists in the Labour Party to the bitter end. They could split, but the first-past-the-post British electoral system punishes such attempts. The disastrous failure of the Social Democratic Party serves Labour’s right as a reminder of that.

March 26 demo

web-Zionist-hundreds-of-people-protest-outsWeb-ide-parliament-against-antisemitism-in-the-labour-partyThe March 26 demonstration in Parliament Square has to be firmly seen in this context. It had nothing to do with any mural, Facebook group or anti-Semitism. Trying to get rid of Corbyn has so far proved futile. As long as the man remains popular among Labour members, they just cannot get shot of him. Having weathered a storm of attacks at the beginning of his leadership with admirable aplomb, he is also unlikely to resign.

Hence we are in the middle of phase two of operation anti-Corbyn: tame him to become a reliable manager of British capitalism and pliable ally of the US when it comes to the politics of the Middle East.

As an aside, we note in this context that Donald Trump’s newly appointed security advisor, John Bolton, has proposed a ‘three-state solution’ for the Middle East, where Gaza would be given to Egypt, and the West Bank to Jordan. It is a mad plan, but not so mad that somebody like Trump would not go for it under the right conditions – especially as it would solve the problem of Jerusalem: “The contentious issue of Jerusalem’s status as the purported capital of ‘Palestine’ would disappear, since Amman would obviously be the seat of government for an enlarged Jordan.” Problem solved!

Both the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) and the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), which called the demo, are, of course, far from the ‘independent community organisations’ that they have been portrayed as. The BoD’s president is Jonathan Arkush, a member of the Conservative Party. The chair of the JLC is Jonathan Goldstein, a director of M&C Saatchi – an advertising agency network owned by Maurice Saatchi, former chair of the Conservative Party.

A dozen or so of Tory MPs attended the demo, including Eric Pickles, as did a number from the Democratic Unionist Party, including loyalist hardliner Ian Paisley junior, who was posing happily for selfies with Norman Tebbit. They were joined by quite an assortment of nasties: we spotted David Collier, one of the people behind the vile and racist blog, GnasherJew; and Emma Feltham and Jonathan Hoffman, both from the no less vile Labour Against Anti-Semitism.

Among the Labour traitors at the demo were pretty much all the usual suspects, including MPs Chukka Umunna (who was literally rubbing shoulders with Tory cabinet member Sajid Javid), Luciana Berger, John Mann, Stella Creasy, Liz Kendall, John Woodcock, Chris Elmore and Wes Streeting. The latter promised in his speech to “drain the cesspit of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party” and has announced on Twitter – somewhat ironically – that his campaign will also target supporters of Labour Against the Witchhunt.

We did not spot Harriet Harman at the protest, but she tweeted: “Standing with Board of Deputies of British Jews and Jewish Leadership Council. Anti-Semitism represents everything that @UKLabour is against.” The demo was also supported by BAME Labour (run by Keith Vaz MP).

However, former Labour MP Chris Mullin took a different view in his comments on Twitter:

I am not a Corbynista, but I can see what’s going on here … Alleged anti-Semitism [is] yet another stick with which to beat Corbyn – along with Corbyn, “friend of the IRA, Hezbollah, Hamas, Czech spy, Soviet spy …” You name it. Whatever next?

Mullin gave us some possible answers to that question in his fascinating novel A very British coup, which imagines the tools the British state might employ in order to get rid of a leftwing prime minister. In short, it will stop at nothing. Monday’s demonstration was only a little taster – much, much more is to come. The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism has already called for a demonstration “against anti-Semitism under Jeremy Corbyn” in London on April 8.

Not surprisingly, with that kind of crowd, frequent calls for Corbyn’s resignation from the speakers were interjected with shouts of him being a racist and worse. Speaker after speaker said former London mayor Ken Livingstone had “no place in the Labour Party” and placards were held aloft, bearing the slogan, “Labour for the many, not the Jews”, amid chants of “Enough is enough”. They shouted “Shame on you” at the counterdemonstrators – organised with eight hours notice by Jewish Voice for Labour and supported by Labour Party Marxists, Labour Against the Witchhunt, the Jewish Socialists Group and Free Speech on Israel. Former Socialist Workers Party leader Lindsey German, now of Counterfire, was among those addressing them. Her former comrades, who usually jump on anything that moves, were absent, however: The SWP probably still have their knickers in a twist, having allied themselves with hardcore Zionists in their front campaign Stand up to Racism.

Corbyn and IHRA

Most conspicuous by its absence (and general silence) was, however, Momentum. This is an organisation that has been set up explicitly to defend and support Jeremy Corbyn – yet it does nothing in the middle of the latest attack against him. The dozen or so employees at Momentum HQ have not even managed a single Facebook post or tweet since March 20 (apart from sharing a couple of posts put out by Corbyn’s office).

Momentum owner Jon Lansman has published one singe tweet on the subject, in which he writes: “We need a serious proactive programme of education and training about anti-Semitism within @UKLabour but we should also recognise the seriousness of the determination to stamp it out by @JeremyCorbyn.”

Is this lack of public support payback for Corbyn not backing him for the post of Labour general secretary, as some have speculated? But his closest supporters in the Parliamentary Labour Party – Diane Abbott, John McDonnell and Chris Williamson – have remained silent on the issue too. So the real answer is unfortunately more simple: Corbyn has, quite simply, folded on the question.

He has not only accepted the false narrative of the right – that the Labour Party indeed has a serious problem with anti-Semitism that needs to be “stamped out”. He has now gone a rather dramatic step further. In the crucial paragraph of his March 26 letter to the Jewish Leadership Council and Board of Deputies, published just before their demo, he writes:

Newer forms of anti-Semitism have been woven into criticism of Israeli governments. Criticism of Israel, particularly in relation to the continuing dispossession of the Palestinian people, cannot be avoided. Nevertheless, comparing Israel or the actions of Israeli governments to the Nazis, attributing criticisms of Israel to Jewish characteristics or to Jewish people in general and using abusive phraseology about supporters of Israel such as ‘Zio’ all constitute aspects of contemporary anti-Semitism.

Firstly, we note Corbyn’s strange phrase that criticism of Israel “cannot be avoided”. That sounds very apologetic. I wish I could avoid it, but … No, criticism of the actions of the state of Israel is, in fact, essential for any socialist with a democratic bone in their body.

The rest of the paragraph is clearly inspired by the controversial ‘Working definition of anti-Semitism’, published by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. The definition itself, adopted by the Labour Party at last year’s conference, is not the problem. But now Corbyn also seems to have accepted the disputed list of examples that shows what the definition is really about: conflating anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism and support for the rights of the Palestinian people.

For example, Corbyn’s assertion that the mere use of the word ‘Zio’ constitutes anti-Semitism, is, frankly, absurd. ‘Zio’ is simply a – yes, highly critical – abbreviation of the word ‘Zionist’. Zionism is not a religion or a nationality: it is an ideology. You are not born a Zionist – you choose to believe in the right of Israel to oppress another people. And if you do, hell, you deserve to be criticised.

According to Corbyn, it is now also anti-Semitic to compare “Israel or the actions of Israeli governments to the Nazis”. We wonder if he has read a newspaper recently. The heroics of Britain in World War II (with a tiny bit of help from the Soviet Union and the US) are utterly ingrained in British culture. Comparing anything and anybody nasty to the Nazis is a short-hand for ‘bad’. Just last week, Labour MP Ian Austin called for the England football team to pull out of the World Cup, because “Putin is going to use it in the way Hitler used the 1936 Olympics.” Boris Johnson replied: “Yes, I think the comparison with 1936 is certainly right.” Bombastic PR from both of them, obviously. But clearly, it is a common feature in British politics.

So should only Israel be immune from comparisons to the Nazis? They are said to be offensive to Jews, who were victims of the holocaust. What about the Roma? After all, hundreds of thousands of Roma people were killed by the Nazis. Or do only those countries currently involved in systematically oppressing another people get this special status? It is nonsense and Corbyn knows it. His son, Tommy, has posted a comment on his Facebook page, pointedly asking, “Why is it that I can criticise my own or any other government, but criticism of the Israeli state is immediately branded anti-Semitic?” Yep, ask your dad about that one.

We also fear that the formulation could be used to discipline Labour Party members who commit the crime of pointing out that in the 1930s the Zionist movement cooperated with leading Nazis in the attempt to persuade German Jews to migrate to Palestine. This is historic fact. But it is an unpleasant one that the Israeli government and its Zionist supporters in Britain do not want to be reminded of. Ken Livingstone has been suspended for two years now after pointing it out. After Labour’s national executive committee made noises that Livingstone might soon regain his full membership, the right seized on the case and demanded his permanent exclusion.

After all, Corbyn had already proven with this entirely unnecessary public “apology” over ‘Muralgate’ that he is indeed prepared to give even more ground on the issue of false and exaggerated allegations of anti-Semitism. So why not kick him while he’s down?

After the March 26 demo, Jonathan Arkush, director of the Board of Deputies – and a Tory, remember – has let it be known that before “Jewish community leaders” can “sit down” with Jeremy Corbyn to discuss the matter, a list of “their demands” needs to be met: “Ken Livingstone really cannot remain. His views are shameful and disreputable. He will have to go.” The Guardian speculates in the same article that

demands for the expulsion of Jackie Walker, a former vice-chair of Momentum, were also expected. Walker has been suspended after being filmed saying there was no definition of anti-Semitism ‘that she could work with’ [she actually meant ‘in that meeting’].

Arkush also said he would like

action to be taken against those who minimise reports of anti-Semitism, including Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, who suggested it was “mood music” to undermine the leadership; and Labour MP Chris Williamson, who claimed the Labour right was “weaponising” anti-Semitism.

Unfortunately, judging by Corbyn’s own grovelling apologies, we are far from certain that he will not jump to the tune of the right and at least urge that the NEC permanently expel Livingstone and Walker. That would truly be a scandal and has to be opposed by all socialists.

We are not surprised that somebody like Keir Starmer uses the opportunity to stick the knife in – he is a Blairite at heart, after all. Ditto Chuka Umunna, who complains to the British media about the “shameful” way Corbyn has behaved. More problematic and telling are the comments by shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, a Corbyn ally. She has echoed the comments of Jon Lansman, promising “education” and “a zero-tolerance approach” on the question of anti-Semitism, stating that it was “devastating to realise that the Jewish community had lost faith in our approach to anti-Semitism”. Nonsense, of course – there is no homogenous “Jewish community”, as should have been clear from the two mobilisations on March 26 and the success of groups like Jewish Voice for Labour.

We hear that the shadow cabinet “informally” agreed on March 26 – in Corbyn’s absence – that the recommendations from Shami Chakrabarti’s report should be implemented in full, which apparently “will require a significant overhaul of party machinery, including appointing a general counsel, and an in-house team of lawyers to ensure procedure is followed properly”.

It goes without saying that we are all in favour of disciplinary cases being handled much more quickly and efficiently, to avoid good comrades being unable to get involved in party work for years, while they are  suspended. But we fear that, in the current climate, this call may not necessarily be the good news it appears. It could be used to institutionalise the witch-hunt against leftwingers and pro-Palestine campaigners.

In this context, we note with great concern in the same Guardian article the reported demand “to establish specific accounts on social media platforms that would identify and call out supporters using anti-Semitic language”.

So instead of the Zionists from Labour Against Anti-Semitism and the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism reporting people to the compliance unit, it should be the Labour Party itself hunting down its own members! Monitor them to make sure they behave like good children.

This is a slippery slope into a very undemocratic culture of thought crime and (self-)censorship. This is exactly the opposite of the kind of open and democratic working class culture we need.

We also wonder if this suggestion for a social media police force has anything to do with the fact that Jon Lansman (or those running his Facebook account) has suddenly been sending ‘friend requests’ to hundreds of leftwingers, having previously been very cautious about accepting the ‘friend requests’ from others. Once you are friends with somebody, you can see not just their posts and comments, but also the postings of their friends …

The main problem with dancing to the tune of the right is the simple fact that appeasement does not work. Once he delivers the scalps of Livingstone and Walker, Corbyn will be faced with demands for more of the same. John Mann MP claims in the Daily Mail that the Labour Party bureaucrats are currently dealing with “more than 200 claims of hatred”, with “shocking anti-Jewish sentiment” – though not a single example is provided.

The right in and outside the Labour Party must be very pleased with how successful the weaponising of anti-Semitism has proven to be. There is now very little to stop them from demanding that Jeremy Corbyn next looks again at some of his other political principles – be it the renewal of Trident, increasing the defence budget, supporting military action for ‘humanitarian’ reasons, etc, etc.