It is hard for anyone associated with Labour – now or in the past – to find any silver linings in the party’s seismic election defeat. But one might be the opportunity that it gives the party to start the long journey of rebuilding trust with the Jewish community.
Crashing down to barely 200 MPs makes this Labour’s worst election performance since 1935. Post-election polling shows we lost to the Tories in every socio-economic group: now we are neither a party for the working-class nor the middle-class. If this is winning the argument, it’s time to leave the pub.
Millions of people, living in towns and cities (and rural areas, for that matter) who needed Labour after a decade of austerity and crushing welfare cuts were denied a progressive government that gave a damn. That is because we gave them a choice for Prime Minister that they deemed inferior to a phone-pocketing clown in a bulldozer. And getting to the point of this inglorious shellacking cost us three of our best female Jewish MPs.
For the first time in our 99-year history of affiliation to the party, the Jewish Labour Movement effectively downed tools for this election, campaigning only for exceptional candidates – the truest of our allies in the fight against Labour’s antisemitism. Our members had decided, months ago, what last week’s election confirmed the majority of voters believe too: that Jeremy Corbyn was unfit to lead our party or the country.
Our views aligned with the vast majority of Jews. It is intellectually dishonest to pretend that this is not the case, or that those fears weren’t well-founded by Corbyn’s unwillingness and inability to tackle ani-Jewish racism in the party, which had been given permission to flourish over the course of his leadership.
It would be nice to think that people in Blyth Valley cared as much about the welfare of Jews as they do in Barnet. More realistically, it was that Corbyn and his team’s failure to get a grip on antisemitism – whether for moral or political expediency – spoke to those died-in-the-wool Labour voters’ concerns about his competence and leadership qualities. Or lack thereof.
It speaks well of voters everywhere that it wouldn’t occur to them that Corbyn’s was a sin of commission, not omission. The truth is that he made a political choice. He opted to keep his allies close as part of his political project, rather than show them the door because they were racist.
Nor should you believe the lie that most Jews vote blue. Of course, our community is as heterogeneous as any when it comes to our politics. But for many of us, our Jewish and Labour values are intrinsically linked. So it is a heinous failure by Labour that so many Jews were being asked to compromise between their identity and their political beliefs at the ballot box. Never again.
Especially when the alternative is a party with a deep problem when it comes to Islamophobia, led by an equally distasteful charlatan. Our Prime Minister is untrustworthy, racist and misogynist. Let no-one take our rejection of Corbyn as an endorsement of him. This made the choice for so many Jews that much more agonising. And it is one we are determined that they should never face again. That no-one who is progressive should have to make.
That is why hundreds of people have joined or rejoined JLM in just the last week. So they can have a voice in Labour’s future, as an affiliate member. We stayed and fought. Now it’s time to fight some more. For a leadership which will promise to adopt any recommendations arising from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission’s investigation.
For a leadership that will drive out partisan factionalism from Labour’s disciplinary system. One that sacks all those senior staff which colluded in tolerating and denying antisemitism. One that speedily ejects all the crank conspiratorial Jew-haters that have infected the Party.
There are many, many decent party members who want this too. There are even more who left the party and who want to reclaim their voice. For the conundrum is this: we need a strong leader to take the action needed on our membership, and a membership willing to vote for that leader.
Perhaps we can’t cut this Gordian knot. But anyone who cares about the future of inclusive, progressive, left-wing politics needs to help us try. It may well be the last chance Labour has of restoring trust with a community that traditionally regarded the party as its natural political home.