MY EVENING WITH JEREMY COR­BYN

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE -

THE VIEW of the Lon­don Eye from the suite of of­fices and re­cep­tion rooms used by the Leader of the Op­po­si­tion on the edge of Westminster’s Par­lia­men­tary es­tate is unim­prov­able. Which is for­tu­nate, be­cause the scenes inside Jeremy Cor­byn’s “di­verse com­mu­ni­ties me­dia re­cep­tion” last week left a lot to be de­sired.

The event was in­tended, I be­lieved, to be an op­por­tu­nity for jour­nal­ists work­ing for mi­nor­ity community me­dia out­lets to meet shadow cab­i­net fig­ures and dis­cuss Labour’s re­la­tion­ship with those com­mu­ni­ties. I was wrong. The room was crammed full, not of in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ists but of Cor­bynite men and women from party lobby groups. I was as sur­prised to meet mem­bers of the Jewish Labour Move­ment (JLM) as I was to see ac­tivists from other groups. But of more im­me­di­ate con­cern was the ev­i­dent dis­re­gard many close to the Labour leader still show for tack­ling the an­ti­semitism cri­sis.

The first per­son I spoke to was a gentle­man from the Mus­lim Friends of Labour group. I men­tioned that it was kind of Mr Cor­byn’s team to in­vite us, given how poor the party’s re­la­tion­ship is with the Jewish community.

“No, no,” the man told me, “there is no prob­lem. The me­dia has in­vented it all, blown it up.” But this was barely the tip of the ice­berg. Next up was a back- bench Labour MP who, in an ap­par­ent at­tempt to im­press me, bragged: “The JC? Oh yes, we mark Holo­caust Memorial Day ev­ery year in my con­stituency.” He went on to tell me he grew up in north Lon­don and had “lots of Jewish friends”. Se­ri­ously.

Dawn But­ler, for­mer Shadow Min­is­ter for Di­verse Com­mu­ni­ties, wan­dered over and I guessed what was com­ing. Six weeks ago I said in this col­umn that her stint in the shadow cab­i­net had been “one of the most ut­terly point­less ap­point­ments in the his­tory of British pol­i­tics”.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, she was unim­pressed, but to her credit she made a staunch de­fence of her ef­forts in the role and tore strips off me for the “bul­ly­ing” ar­ti­cle which, she said, would do noth­ing to im­prove re­la­tions be­tween the community and her party.

For so­lace I turned to an ap­par­ently friendly aide from Mr Cor­byn’s of­fice who I had met once be­fore. She asked how the evening was go­ing and I re­peated my ear­lier line about how kind it was of the Labour leader to in­vite us, un­der the cir­cum­stances.

What cir­cum­stances, she asked. “Well, you know,” I said, “the fact the Labour Party is now ab­so­lutely toxic as far as British Jews are con­cerned.”

She re­coiled be­fore em­bark­ing on a rant about how the racism al­le­ga­tions had been over-egged. That old ch­est­nut again. When I tried to ar­gue back she made an abysmal, man­gled metaphor in which she sug­gested if she dis­agreed with one of her chil­dren it didn’t mean that ei­ther of them were nec­es­sar­ily in the wrong, merely that they dis­agreed. The im­pli­ca­tion be­ing that the in­stances of an­ti­semitism British Jews had com­plained about were open to in­ter­pre­ta­tion, which is in it­self an­ti­semitic.

By this point I was gen­uinely shocked at what was hap­pen­ing.

When Mr Cor­byn spoke, he came across well, al­beit ram­bling. He paid

trib­ute to the ef­forts of the “mi­nor­ity community me­dia” and jour­nal­ists from all back­grounds.

Re­call­ing his time at the Na­tional Union of Tai­lors and Gar­ment Work­ers in the 1970s, where he got to know Jewish work­ers, he praised the value of Jewish news­pa­pers to the community af­ter the Holo­caust, say­ing they had kept people “to­gether”.

It was a good speech, which men­tioned apartheid in South Africa and other strug­gles against racism through­out the 20th cen­tury, but was no­table for the ab­sence of any ref­er­ence to ef­forts to com­bat an­ti­semitism.

When he stepped away from the mi­cro­phone, Mr Cor­byn was mobbed. Dozens of ac­tivists posed for self­ies and group-shots. Even the Labour leader looked un­com­fort­able in the midst of such adu­la­tion.

Even­tu­ally the acolytes drifted away and I was able to ask him why he hadn’t men­tioned Je­whate dur­ing his speech. “I have lots to say on an­ti­semitism,” Mr Cor­byn told me. If that’s the case, why not just say it, I sug­gested.

“I have lots to say on an­ti­semitism,” he re­peated, be­fore walk­ing off, hav­ing said noth­ing about an­ti­semitism.

It is so bla­tantly ob­vi­ous as to seem barely worth re-stat­ing, but, the most con­cern­ing les­son from the evening was the ham­mer­ing home of the fact that there is still a com­plete lack of un­der­stand­ing, at the very top of the party, of the dam­age done.

Mr Cor­byn’s clos­est aides, ad­vis­ers and sup­port­ers are so de­fi­cient in the ba­sic, fun­da­men­tal com­pre­hen­sion of why this is­sue gnaws away at British Jews that they can look a Jewish jour­nal­ist in the face and tell him the me­dia have in­flated the prob­lem.

The Labour leader is sur­rounded by friends, fam­ily and syco­phants. This is not even a co­terie of pro­fes­sion­als, versed in po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship. It is a mish-mash of has-beens, lightweights and in­com­pe­tents.

While Mr Cor­byn re­mains in po­si­tion, and they re­main as his ad­vis­ers, it will be im­pos­si­ble to im­prove re­la­tions with British Jews. Events such as this do noth­ing other than pour salt in the wounds.

Mr Cor­byn’s speech came across well, al­beit ram­bling’

A jour­nal­ist from the Daily UK Times, Bri­tain’s largest Asian daily paper, takes a selfie with Mr Cor­byn

PHOTO: PA

Ex Shadow Min­is­ter Dawn But­ler

PHOTO: TWIT­TER

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