Linda Grant ex­plains why she’s still choos­ing Labour

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - LINDA GRANT Linda’s Grant’s lat­est novel ‘The Dark Cir­cle’ has been short­listed for the 2017 Bai­leys Women’s Prize for Fic­tion

SUN­DAY MORN­ING. Re­turned to write this after de­liv­er­ing Labour party leaflets to my neigh­bours through gar­den gates, down steps to base­ment flats, ad­mir­ing front door colours and early lilac in the gar­dens and not­ing how many houses are di­vided into mul­ti­ple dwellings re­flect­ing house prices in the area.

The leaflet is pretty good. It up­dates res­i­dents on lo­cal cam­paigns and is­sues — school fund­ing and traf­fic calm­ing, and re­minds read­ers in a 75 per cent Re­main-vot­ing area, of our Labour MP’s de­fi­ance of the three-line whip to vote against Ar­ti­cle 50.

I’ve de­liv­ered leaflets many times, al­ways won­der­ing what per­cent­age would go straight in the re­cy­cling bin un­read be­cause, un­til I joined the Labour Party in May 2010, that’s where mine went. The first five years of my time as a party mem­ber were highly pro­duc­tive and even en­joy­able. I helped a 20-some­thing Is­raeli cli­mate-change re­searcher and a for­mer MP who had lost her seat up north to re­build the mori­bund branch of Crouch End in the north Lon­don con­stituency of Hornsey and Wood Green.

I in­ad­ver­tently be­came sec­re­tary of the branch, per­haps the most time­con­sum­ing post in lo­cal pol­i­tics, and re­built the mem­ber­ship data­base. I sat on the se­lec­tion panel for our par­lia­men­tary can­di­date, Cather­ine West, who was hop­ing to un­seat the Lib­eral Demo­crat in­cum­bent, Lynne Feather­stone. I ran the se­lec­tion of our coun­cil can­di­dates, I de­liv­ered thou­sands more leaflets and, in May 2014, we got two of our can­di­dates elected to Haringey coun­cil. A year later, on a night when the 10pm exit poll smashed any hopes of form­ing even a Labour-led coali­tion gov­ern­ment, Cather­ine West was elected with an 11,000 ma­jor­ity.

And then of course it all changed. I was never un­der any il­lu­sions about Jeremy Cor­byn’s abil­ity to lead the Labour Party. Poli­cies and bag­gage aside, some­one who has spent 30 years on the back­benchers de­fy­ing the whips can­not im­pose his will on oth­ers. His com­mu­ni­ca­tions strat­egy has been dis­as­trous, a prod­uct of ap­point­ing as his head of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Seu­mas Milne, a for­mer com­ment ed­i­tor of the Guardian who had no ex­pe­ri­ence of fire-fight­ing the tabloid press and broad­cast me­dia.

What was in­sin­u­ated into the party by its mas­sive rise in mem­ber­ship was an easy tol­er­ance for the blur­ring of the lines, never easy to po­lice at the best of times, be­tween crit­i­cism of Is­raeli gov­ern­ment pol­icy and an­ti­semitism. I did not cast a vote for Ken Liv­ing­stone in the last two may­oral elec­tions he ran in. Jonathan Freed­land gave a foren­sic ac­count in 2012 of Liv­ing­stone’s prob­lem with Jews. Cor­byn’s luke­warm dis­avowal of an­ti­semitism (al­ways made con­di­tional by hav­ing to share the avail­able space with ev­ery form of racism) leads me to be­lieve not that he’s an­ti­semitic, but that an­ti­semitism doesn’t much mat­ter to him.

If I was a few streets away , in Is­ling­ton North, Cor­byn’s con­stituency, I can’t say how I would vote. Prob­a­bly not Labour. But I will have no dif­fi­culty vot­ing for Cather­ine West and de­liv­er­ing even more leaflets on her be­half.

I wrote to her on the day Liv­ing­stone went mad on a se­ries of ra­dio pro­grammes and started rant­ing about Hitler. She was un­equiv­o­cal that if the charges against him were proved he would have to be ex­pelled not sus­pended. This was re­it­er­ated in a state­ment on her own web­site last month when his sus­pen­sion was merely ex­tended. We met for cof­fee last week and I was sat­is­fied she un­der­stood what this af­fair means to Jewish vot­ers.

Friends tell me that such is their dis­like of Cor­byn, their ex­as­per­a­tion at his half-hearted cam­paign­ing to re­main in the EU, they can­not bring them­selves to vote Labour, who­ever their cur­rent MP is. I have no such dif­fi­cul­ties. On the is­sues that mat­ter to me, what the Amer­i­cans call wedge is­sues, Brexit and an­ti­semitism, Cather­ine West and I are on the same side.

I want her to still be in par­lia­ment in the weeks and months that fol­low the gen­eral elec­tion, when, I hope, the party be­gins to re­build it­self after a cat­a­strophic flir­ta­tion with un­electabil­ity. Ex­cel­lent MPs with tiny ma­jori­ties are threat­ened with los­ing their seats. I can see no value to the Labour Party, to Hornsey and Wood Green and Bri­tish po­lit­i­cal life if Cather­ine West is one of them.

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