Louise Ellmam’s resignation highlights the depths to which Labour has sunk
BY JAMES BICKERTON
The resignation of Louise Ellman from the Labour Party was another of those moments that should have been a watershed but wasn’t. After Luciana Berger she’s the second female Jewish Labour MP to have quit the party over anti-Semitism with another, Margaret Hodge, locked in a deselection battle. You would have thought this would prompt supposedly moderate Labour MPs, inheritors of a proud anti-racist tradition, to act.
Unfortunately you’d be quite wrong. Recent years may have provided plenty of cases of political cowardice, but Labour centrists, with a few honourable exceptions, have allowed the term to encapsulate them entirely.
If the centre-left appeared indifferent, beyond the usual flurry of mutinous tweets, the broadcast media did little to shock them into action. At 10pm on Wednesday Ellman posted her resignation letter on Twitter claiming anti-Semitism had become “mainstream” within Labour under his watch. By 2pm the following Thursday the story had all but vanished from the BBC News homepage. An incendiary claim of institutionalised racism had been replaced in the top 14 slots by stories like “Vatican launches new ‘eRosary’ bracelet” and “Samsung: Anyone’s thumbprint can unlock Galaxy S10 phone”. Another Jewish Labour MP resigning from Labour over racism had become, well, just one of those things. Worth mentioning to be sure, but certainly not for long.
If much of the centre-left, and presumably at least one BBC editor, are determined to avoid the subject that only makes it more incumbent on the rest of us to speak out. To start with its worth examining Ellman’s resignation letter in some detail. In an incendiary note she asserted “under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership anti-Semitism has become mainstream within the Labour Party”. The MP for Liverpool Riverside claimed Jewish Labour members had been “bullied, abused and driven out” whilst “anti-Semites have felt completely comfortable and vile conspiracy theories have been propagated”.
This is far from an isolated case. When Berger quit Labour in February she accused her former party of tolerating “institutional anti-Semitism” and “a culture of bullying, bigotry and intimidation”. In July of 2018 Margaret Hodge, who memorably defeated the BNP’s Nick Griffin in 2010, was reported to have called Corbyn a “f**king anti-Semite and a racist” to his face. When challenged the only word she denied using was the first. In the same month the three biggest Jewish newspapers in the UK published a joint editorial claiming a Corbyn administration would represent an “existential threat to Jewish life” in the UK.
Of course its one thing to read this in the abstract and quite another to hear it in the flesh. I covered a rally outside Parliament in 2018 against anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, organised by the Campaign Against Antisemitism. Attendees told me again and again, some on camera, that if Corbyn becomes Prime Minister either they are seriously considering leaving the UK or they have friends or family who are. Many, probably a majority, of those I spoke to were former Labour supporters. The sense of betrayal was palpable. If was quite something, in 21st century Britain, to see members of a minority community openly fearful for their future in our country. That I suspect is a scene I’ll retain till my dying day.
British politics right now is full of curious ironies. In 2007 a Labour Government launched the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to enforce anti-discrimination legislation. A little over a decade later and that same body has launched a formal investigation into the Labour Party, only the second political faction to receive that dubious honour after the BNP. We already know, thanks to former Labour employees turned whistle blower, that key figures from Corbyn’s office intervened in anti-Semitism disciplinary cases to support friends or allies of the Labour leader. In return they were ostracised by much of the Corbynite clickbait media. I don’t doubt that, when the EHRC finally releases its findings in the new year, we will learn a whole lot more.
Jeremy Corbyn, I’m quite confident, has done more to normalise racist sentiment in Britain than any politician from a mainstream party since Enoch Powell. As a backbencher he went out of his way to defend, and in some cases befriend, anti-Semitic organisations and individuals. These included terror groups like Hamas, an organisation which called for the murder of Jews worldwide in its founding charter. No Corbynite has the right to act surprised that, when their idol became Labour leader, anti-Semites flocked to the party. They are, whether Corbyn realises it or not, an integral part of his political base. I don’t think there can be any doubt that Labour is, for now, an institutionally racist political party. Its own former MPs have said as much. The only question is whether it can pass through this phase, if indeed it manages to, without causing irreparable damage to Britain’s Jewish community.
James Bickerton is a writer and journalist. Follow him on twitter: @JBickertonUK