How could a new party affect the Jewish Labour Movement?

The Jewish Labour Movement is Labour’s only affiliated Jewish organisation. Its parliamentary chair is Luciana Berger, who on Monday left the Labour Party to form “The Independent Group”, which is widely expected to become a new centrist party when the seven MPs (or more by that time) are ready for their second launch. Berger’s departure was followed by the resignation of Adam Langleben, a Barnet Labour activist and former councillor who is a member of JLM’s national executive committee. Other members with lower profiles have also quit the party.

JLM yesterday notified its members of an extraordinary general meeting (EGM), to be held on 6th March in London and Manchester. The event will feature Jewish parliamentarians and provide a space in which members can discussed the way forward, but this is just discursive – no formal decisions will be taken. Those will happen the following month, at JLM’s annual general meeting on 7th April. This is a regularly scheduled meeting but could turn into an extraordinary one, in the least strict sense. The email sent to members included a hint as to what kind of interesting decisions might be made: “We will be electing our team of officers for the next three years, as well as debating the issues that our members put forward, including our affiliations.” The last three words are key.

To be a member of JLM, like all other socialist society affiliates, you must be eligible to be a member of the Labour Party. That means you don’t have to be a Labour member, but you cannot be a member of a party that intends to stand candidates against Labour – and this is precisely the longer-term intention of “The Independent Group”. When Berger, who remains chair for now, sets up a new party that would challenge Labour at the ballot box, she could not be a JLM member as it currently stands. And others who have quit, such as Langleben, might join that party too. JLM would have to choose between keeping those valued figures – should they want to remain active within the organisation – and keeping their affiliation.

Although the key players are of course highly sympathetic to Berger’s view that the party has become institutionally antisemitic, and only just about holding on to Labour membership cards themselves, it is not evident that they will opt to disaffiliate. One JLM source told LabourList that there are concerns vacating the space will hand over their authority on issues of antisemitism to Jewish Voice for Labour (even if JVL does not formally affiliate). JLM has been affiliated to Labour for 99 years; a popular view is that “to give it up now would be wrong”. But it is also said Tom Watson’s message on Monday made a big difference in holding back resignations, and if John McDonnell’s “listening exercise” doesn’t allay concerns, the Jewish Labour Movement could retire as a force within the Labour Party.

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