THE defection of nine Labour MPs should have been a body blow against the anti-Semitism currently infecting Her Majesty’s Official Opposition. Instead, thanks to the three Tory defectors who quickly followed suit, the new Independent Group has become nothing more than a last-ditch attempt to halt Brexit – effectively throwing Britain’s Jews under a bus.
British Jews, many of whom have been feeling the effects of the new wave of anti-Semitism unleashed by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership first hand, were awarded a moment of blessed relief last Monday when the first seven Labour MPs took to the stage to announce their resignations.
Among them was Luciana Berger, the MP for Liverpool Wavertree who has suffered a torrent of vile anti-Semitic abuse over the last few years from within her party. During her resignation speech Berger denounced the party as ‘institutionally anti-Semitic’, making it clear that she had been forced out because of racism.
Another of the seven, former Commons Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Mike Gapes, said he was ‘sickened that the Labour Party is now a racist, anti-Semitic party’.
This ought to have been a pivotal event in the fight back against anti-Semitism in the UK: a Jewish MP being forced out of a mainstream British political party because of racism is a clear line in the sand over which Labour has now stepped.
And for a moment it seemed that Berger’s resignation, and those of her colleagues, had sparked a national conversation over the grip of anti-Semitism in Leftist politics. On Wednesday morning the New Statesman published an article by Peter Mason, national secretary of the Jewish Labour Movement, calling Berger’s resignation a ‘watershed moment’ for Jewish Labour members as he questioned whether they had a future within the party.
On the same day an eighth Labour MP, Joan Ryan, quit for the new group explicitly over anti-Semitism, saying she was ‘horrified, appalled and angered’ by Labour’s record on tackling anti-Semitism within its ranks, and accusing the leadership of allowing ‘Jews to be abused with impunity’.
But by Wednesday afternoon the push-back against anti-Semitism that was starting to build was knocked flat, trampled under the feet of Mesdames Soubry, Wollaston and Allen as they rushed to turn the new Independent Group into their own anti-Brexit crusade.
In a joint resignation letter sent to Theresa May on Wednesday, Soubry, Allen and Wollaston made it abundantly clear that they were joining the oxymoronic Independent Group because of their commitment to the Remainer cause, writing: ‘Brexit has re-defined the Conservative Party – undoing all the efforts to modernise it. There has been a dismal failure to stand up to the hard-line ERG.’
From that moment on the narrative on the new parliamentary grouping shifted irreversibly toward Brexit (a gift to the BBC, which had already been striving to define it purely in those terms).
So when Ian Austin became the ninth MP to quit Labour on Friday, explicitly citing anti-Semitism as the cause, he said he had no plans to join the Independent Group: ‘I think the Labour party is broken and clearly things have to change but that’s not what today is about, and I’ve not talked to them about that.’
Mr Austin, the son of a Holocaust survivor and a lifelong Labour Party member, has taken a principled stand against Labour anti-Semitism. The Dudley North MP told his local paper, the Express and Star: ‘I am appalled at the offence and distress Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party have caused to Jewish people.
‘It is terrible that a culture of extremism, anti-Semitism and intolerance is driving out good MPs and decent people who have committed their life to mainstream politics.’
Later on the BBC’s World at One he said: ‘I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn is capable of dealing with this [anti-Semitism within the Labour Party]. I think he has spent his entire time in British politics on the extreme fringes, dealing with, defending, working with all sorts of extremists, and in some cases terrorists and anti-Semites.’
Times columnist Iain Martin tweeted: ‘Ian Austin believes in implementing the result of the 2016 referendum, so he cannot sit with TIG, which sadly has been infiltrated by the Stop Brexit faction Soubry, Allen and Wollaston.’
Ian Austin believes in implementing the result of the 2016 referendum, so he cannot sit with TIG, which sadly has been infiltrated by the Stop Brexit faction Soubry, Allen and Wollaston.
— Iain Martin (@iainmartin1) February 22, 2019
Of course, Soubry and her two backing singers may care deeply about the current resurgence of anti-Semitism – although if so, one might question why they chose not to contribute to the three-hour Commons debate on the subject on Wednesday – but the fact is that in their enthusiastic rush to turn the Independent Group into a Remain lobby group, the inglorious three have ridden roughshod over the legitimate concerns held by many British Jews, crystallising our fears that anti-Semitism isn’t being taken seriously enough.
Jews may be a tiny group electorally speaking, but surely the echoes of history ought to amplify our concerns when we speak up? One wonders what, precisely, we have to do to make our voices heard. Lose a referendum, perhaps?