I saw a tweet from Dan Hodges yesterday, saying it is “now morally indefensible to be a member of the Labour Party”. It produced the same nauseating churn I felt when the Livingstone verdict was first announced. I like to think of myself as a person who would not tolerate antisemitism, and deliberate intellectual fabrication to justify it, wherever it manifests itself. So how can I justify remaining a member of this Party? Labour is a cause to which I have given so much of my energy and passion, into which I invested myself completely. If it now wilfully accepts that people of Livingstone’s despicable ilk are merely part of our ‘broad church’, can I really stay?
Allowing these questions to roll around inside me, I came to an even more distressing perspective.
It is very easy for fellow members and me to say that Ken Livingstone isn’t really Labour, that he’s a tired old man with some eccentric views who doesn’t represent our Party. But after the disciplinary board’s ruling, that line simply doesn’t cut it any longer.
Firstly, Ken is not the sole antisemite within Labour. Although they make up a pitifully small minority, some of these reprehensible figures have risen to intolerably high positions. This, coupled with a leader who has failed to call for Livingstone’s expulsion, has meant that Labour doesn’t simply have antisemites hiding within it, they are now active, prominent, and vocal too, spurred on by the impunity offered by a leadership so weak that they’re afraid to shun supporters from whatever disgusting ideological backwater they emanate.
I obviously can’t say that Ken Livingstone doesn’t represent Labour, when he did represent us as Mayor of London for eight years. Yet his career has been trailblazing for the usage of every asinine stereotype of Jews it is possible to contemplate. In 2014, a year before I became a member, Livingstone went on Newsnight and argued that Jewish people started voting for Thatcher because they had gotten richer. Whilst Mayor, he told two property developers, brothers of Iraqi-Jewish descent, to “go back to Iran and ‘try their luck with the Ayatollahs’” if they disagreed with him, and compared the Jewish journalist Oliver Finegold to a Nazi guard of a concentration camp.
These were comments by a man who smugly trotted out the view that “in 47 years of the party in all the meetings I’ve been in I’ve never heard anyone say anything antisemitic.” The fact that Livingstone has survived in the party for so long can only point to an institutionalised acceptance of antisemitism, over many years, by those who were in the position of power to do something about it. It makes me and thousands of other fellow members sick to have to share our membership with someone more suited to babbling conspiracy theories on street corners than holding public office.
So what are we to do? Should we leave and invest our efforts into a more pure cause, or do we stay and fight? I will always argue for the latter. The nature of our democracy, where large parties draw in all manner of individuals, whose views are often hard to know, causes us unique problems in this country. I, however, would never advocate a member of the Conservative Party resigning their membership if they came across incidences of antisemitism.
If they believed that the Tories were a force for good, I would encourage them to stay and fight for what they believed in, and not let the views of a hateful minority prevail. I say exactly the same to my Labour colleagues now.
The public, the press, and clearly the disciplinary board of our Party can’t do the job for us. It is our moral obligation to stay, dig in, and prepare to embark on the long battle to banish these odious individuals from our Party, to defend what Labour is supposed to stand for: tolerance and respect, no matter how long it takes. To leave, and to abandon the fight, would be to turn our back on so many people who deserve our support, brave MPs like Wes Streeting and Ruth Smeeth, who have been fighting antisemitism with an unrivalled tenacity, and the Jewish Labour members who have played an indispensable role in this Party since its very foundation. All of these people deserve our backing, and to leave them now would be a betrayal not only to them, but to what Labour has achieved and everything it stands for.
So I’m not leaving, and neither should you.