The mole-whacker

John Mann MP never hes­i­tates to speak out on an­tisemitism. Lee Harpin wants to know why.


I’M SIT­TING in the of­fice of the MP who is the most ef­fec­tive op­po­nent of an­tisemitism in the House of Com­mons, and I’m feel­ing a lit­tle awk­ward. My first ques­tion to John Mann, was, I thought, pretty in­nocu­ous. What in­spired his ef­fec­tive and vo­cal cam­paign against an­tisemitism, which in­cluded his me­morable heck­ling of Ken Liv­ing­stone as a “Nazi apol­o­gist”, af­ter the vet­eran for­mer Lon­don mayor said Hitler sup­ported Zion­ism.

Mann, who chairs the All-Party Par­lia­men­tary Group against An­tisemitism, was so an­gry that Liv­ing­stone ended up hid­ing in a dis­abled loo.

I’m in­ter­ested to know what mo­ti­vates this non-Jewish Labour politi­cian to speak out so strongly. His con­stituency of Bas­set­law, Not­ting­hamshire has few, if any Jews liv­ing within its bound­aries. What trig­gered his con­cern? But he doesn’t give me eye con­tact and an­swers brusquely: “It’s the wrong ques­tion to ask.

“I am an elected politi­cian, a na­tion­ally elected politi­cian. And if na­tion­ally elected politi­cians aren’t pre­pared to tackle an is­sue like an­tisemitism then no-one else will.

“It is what we are elected to do and it should be an ex­pec­ta­tion. That per­haps shows why there is a prob­lem — that you were even ask­ing that ques­tion.”

Af­ter that it’s hard to get the con­ver­sa­tion back to what re­ally in­ter­ests me, the man be­hind the politi­cian and cam­paigner. I’d gleaned a clue from a speech he gave in 2009, when he was hon­oured by the Amer­i­can Jewish Com­mit­tee. “When the Jewish peo­ple walk tall some don’t like it,” he said then.

To­day, though, I ask, isn’t the prob­lem even more acute? Last week the Com­mu­nity Se­cu­rity Trust re­ported that at­tacks were at record lev­els.

“Jewish peo­ple are the ca­nary in the cage for so­ci­ety,” says Mann. “That’s a fact. Sus­pi­cion is a key con­cept. And what un­der­lies sus­pi­cion is dis­trust, which then leads onto con­spir­acy.

“You know how it goes: ‘These peo­ple can’t be trusted. The money clip­pers, the me­dia ma­nip­u­la­tors, the con­spir­a­tors.’ In con­stituen­cies like mine there is be­nign an­tisemitism.

“You ask peo­ple, as I have done, to give their im­pres­sion of who are the Jews. And of­ten the replies comes back that a Jew is some­one who is suc­cess­ful, a busi­ness owner. ‘They are very good em­ploy­ers,’ comes the fur­ther re­sponse.

“But then fol­low the in­evitable com­ments about money — ‘they’re a bit tight’ , ‘a bit stingy’.

“It’s that re­la­tion­ship be­tween Jews and money, it’s very deep rooted in so­ci­ety.”

He warms up a lit­tle, speak­ing of the “ma­tu­rity of pol­i­tics” he has ex­pe­ri­enced among Jews.

“It’s not found within the Jewish com­mu­nity as such. But within any Jewish fam­ily there is more likely to be co­her­ent and in­tel­li­gent dis­cus­sion of pol­i­tics than prob­a­bly among other fam­i­lies in the coun­try.

“I think Jewish teenagers are more po­lit­i­cally aware than their coun­ter­parts across Bri­tain.”

Maybe he sees a re­flec­tion in his own fam­ily, as his wife, Joanna is deputy leader of Bas­set­law Coun­cil. They have three chil­dren. I don’t feel though that ques­tions about the Mann fam­ily’s din­ner time dis­cus­sions would be wel­comed, although I’m pretty sure that Brexit must be on the menu.

Last June, Mann sur­prised many when he an­nounced that he’d voted to leave the EU — in­sist­ing Labour vot­ers “fun­da­men­tally dis­agree” with the of­fi­cial Re­main stance of the party.

“I do not think there is a di­rect cor­re­la­tion be­tween Brexit and an in­crease in an­tisemitism,” he says now.

“But I think some of the rea­sons peo­ple voted for Brexit has con­trib­uted to it. I would say the key word here is alien­ation. Alien­ation from the es­tab­lish­ment has freed up racists to feel more con­fi­dent in be­ing racist, which will prob­a­bly lead to more an­tisemitism.

“But this has been there since the fi­nan­cial crash of 2008. It has not just emerged be­cause of Brexit. It was al­ready there. In Ger­many for in­stance, where there is a com­pa­ra­ble rise in racism, there is no Brexit

When Jewish peo­ple walk tall some don’t like it

move­ment. And in Switzer­land and Nor­way there is also a com­pa­ra­ble rise in racism — but these coun­tries are not even in the EU.”

Mann ac­cepts there are now “shock­ing in­ci­dents” oc­cur­ring in the UK, and else­where in Europe. “Peo­ple who have of­ten lived with­out any has­sle in this coun­try are now get­ting abuse from mo­rons.

“It’s the kind of abuse that we thought we had stamped out in the 1970s — and has tended to be against peo­ple of colour be­cause they are more eas­ily recog­nis­able.

“But if you are Jewish and wear­ing a kip­pah, in some parts of the coun­try you will now get abuse.”

How to deal with the ris­ing tide of an­tisemitism? “It’s like the fair­ground,” rea­sons Mann. “If the mole sticks his head up out of the ground you knock it back down again.

“As par­lia­men­tar­i­ans we should be do­ing that in­stinc­tively — and so should the Jewish com­mu­nity. If Don­ald Trump comes here then the Jewish voice should be heard — be­cause he is em­ploy­ing an­ti­semites.”

Last De­cem­ber I heard Mann de­liver a typ­i­cally fiery speech to a gath­er­ing of around 200 Jewish Labour Move­ment sup­port­ers dur­ing a Chanukah party event held at

the Party’s cen­tral Lon­don HQ. He at­tacked his party’s leader Jeremy Cor­byn over his fail­ure to clamp down on an­tisemitism within the party.

De­spite opin­ion polls show­ing Jewish sup­port for Labour col­laps­ing to as low as eight per cent, Mann re­mains op­ti­mistic that things will change. “The best thing that could hap­pen to Labour would be that the large num­bers of Jews who voted for the party in the past de­cided to re­join.

“It is en­cour­ag­ing that there hasn’t al­ready been this fall-off of Jewish mem­ber­ship be­cause of Cor­byn, Ken Liv­ing­stone, Jackie Walker and the oth­ers.

“Some have left, but more have joined. I would en­cour­age those who want to join to get stuck in.”

Is this re­ally re­al­is­tic, I ask. “Things can change quickly,” he in­sists.

“Tony Blair brought back a lot of the Jewish vot­ers who had pre­vi­ously switched to the Tories un­der Mar­garet Thatcher.

“If Labour had a leader who un­der­stood and could com­mu­ni­cate with the Jewish com­mu­nity prop­erly, that would trans­form the sit­u­a­tion overnight.

“Jeremy Cor­byn still has to learn these skills, shall we say.”

We agree that you can­not ig­nore the con­tin­ued fail­ure of Labour’s lead­er­ship to stamp out an­tisemitism from within its ranks. “You can see the ab­sur­dity of the in­flu­ence of the far-left at places like the Ox­ford Univer­sity Labour Club,” he says.

“Stu­dents are be­ing picked on be­cause they are Jewish and seen as vul­ner­a­ble by a small group.”

As for Ken Liv­ing­stone, cur­rently sus­pended, Mann does not mince his words. “He should sim­ply re­sign,” says Mr Mann. “Re­sign to his al­lot­ment.”

We’ve talked for an hour and I re­sign my­self to never re­ally break­ing through Mann’s fa­cade.

I switch my tape recorder off but then he asks me to turn it on again.

“Here’s some­thing new for you,” he says, with a hint of irony in his voice.

“Ev­ery­one knows the Bat­tle of Ca­ble Street, but no­body knows the Bat­tle of Hol­beck Moor.

“One week be­fore Ca­ble Street, Oswald Mosley tried to march through the Jewish quar­ter of Leeds.

“He as­sem­bled the Black­shirts on Hol­beck Moor — but he never got off.

“The anti fas­cist pro­test­ers, in­clud­ing the Jewish com­mu­nity, bat­tled him and, un­like Ca­ble Street where he marched, he never got go­ing.

“My grand­fa­ther was the butch- er whose shop was the near­est to Hol­beck Moor and my fam­ily lived on the street op­po­site.

It was the Labour move­ment, the trade unions — there were big Jewish trade unions — it was a very big Jewish work­ing class com­mu­nity. Mosley and fas­cists got a beat­ing — and my fam­ily were part of the protests.

“There is a tra­di­tion in my fam­ily — there’s his­tory and tra­di­tion there. It gets passed down through gen­er­a­tions.”

At last I have an an­swer to my first “wrong ques­tion.” I open my mouth to ask more. But our time is up, and he’s on to his next ap­point­ment.

Bri­tish Jewish teens are very aware of pol­i­tics


Mann meets Ken, and doesn’t mince his words

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