A new start for Labour? A new low more like

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS -

JEWS AT­TACK­ING Jews. Is­rael hated at ev­ery turn. Age-old tropes spewed from the podium. How the an­ti­semites must have loved the Labour con­fer­ence.

What an ab­so­lute shower. If ever there was an ex­am­ple of farce com­bined with de­spi­ca­ble an­ti­semitism, this was it.

Tues­day morn­ing’s row on the con­fer­ence floor over how Labour will chal­lenge and pun­ish Jew-ha­tred was in equal parts sham­bolic and fright­en­ing.

It is now be­yond doubt who is truly run­ning Labour. The main­stream has been blown away and the hard-left is tight­en­ing its grip on the party’s soul.

The ab­sence of mod­er­ate MPs was no­tice­able in Brighton. Those who came were largely silent in pub­lic. This is a dif­fer­ent party now and all dis­cus­sion of lead­er­ship chal­lenges or postCor­byn ref­or­ma­tion is re­dun­dant.

All the old boys were back — Ken Liv­ing­stone and Ken Loach all over the air­waves of­fer­ing their un­wanted views on Jews and the Holo­caust; and amid it all, there was Mr Cor­byn, on the dais, watch­ing silently. Oh, Jeremy Cor­byn.

The at­mos­phere around the main con­fer­ence cen­tre was hor­ri­ble. I watched a group of del­e­gates scream “f*** off” as Tom Wat­son, deputy leader, spoke, be­fore be­moan­ing miss­ing the op­por­tu­nity to “body­check” Laura Kuenss­berg, the BBC po­lit­i­cal edi­tor, as she ran by. Then they asked John McDon­nell, Shadow Chan­cel­lor, to sign au­to­graphs — and all of this within five min­utes.

The depth of the party’s prob­lem with an­ti­semitism was all too visible and this year it came with a new level of fright­en­ing warn­ings.

“Be care­ful,” one op­po­nent of the pro­posed rule changes said from the podium, in what seemed to be a thin­lyveiled threat fol­lowed swiftly by an an­ti­semitic trope about col­lu­sion with right-wing me­dia.

There was crit­i­cism of the Jewish Labour Move­ment after it put out leaflets on the eve of the rule change vote urg­ing peo­ple to “help Jeremy Cor­byn fight an­ti­semitism”.

Mr Cor­byn, re­mem­ber, keeps telling us how much he hates abuse, but could not bring him­self to ut­ter just three words in his main speech: “Don’t be an­ti­semitic”.

It was em­bar­rass­ing to hear Emily Thorn­berry try to ex­plain that he was not at the Labour Friends of Is­rael re­cep­tion be­cause he was pre­par­ing his speech, while he was par­ty­ing his way through at least four other events.

JLM’s ef­forts in the past 18 months have been worth­while but bring­ing up the leader’s name — with all that he im­plies for Jewish vot­ers — amid days of foul rhetoric looked a mis­step.

Mean­while JLM fig­ures were at pains to point out what they had achieved by get­ting the pol­icy voted through.

The Labour Friends of Is­rael event came at the end of a long day of bit­ter­ness on Tues­day. Al­most every­one was stuck be­tween ac­knowl­edg­ing the JLM’s hard work while tear­ing their hair out at the fresh surge of ha­tred they had wit­nessed.

For me, it was best summed up at din­ner when I over­heard a group of three ran­dom, mid­dle-aged Labour sup­port­ers dis­cussing what they had seen at con­fer­ence.

One said he had been to the Jewish Voices for Labour event and while he felt some del­e­gates had “over-stepped the mark” with com­ments about Is­rael and Jews, he ad­mit­ted he had en­joyed the meet­ing and wel­comed the new group.

His friend said she liked Naomi Wim­borne-Idrissi, the veteran an­tiIs­rael ac­tivist who ap­peared to be the “star” of the hard-left anti-Zion­ist show this year. They moved on to dis­cuss how an in­flux of hard-left ac­tivists in their north Lon­don con­stituency branch had re­vi­talised their po­lit­i­cal move­ment.

Their con­clu­sion? “This is the dream, a mass pro­gres­sive move­ment.”

It was a sober­ing mo­ment. Mr Cor­byn has had ev­ery­thing thrown at him in the past two years — the ter­ror group links, the an­ti­semitism cri­sis and more — and not only sur­vived but thrived. He, and his sup­port­ers, are now eu­phoric and feel un­touch­able.

After the hor­rors of last year’s con­fer­ence this was meant to be a new start. But the sit­u­a­tion still feels des­per­ate.

A year ago I vis­ited the Mo­men­tum group’s pseudo con­fer­ence held on the side­lines. This year there was no need to go back — the hard-left fringe has be­come the main­stream. Much of the de­bate and com­ment in the main hall was in line with that world­view. Bri­tish Jews — tra­di­tional Labour vot­ers or oth­er­wise — will see what hap­pened in Brighton and make up their own minds. Many in­de­pen­dent ob­servers will re­coil in hor­ror at what has be­come of the coun­try’s of­fi­cial op­po­si­tion.

The rule changes and tougher ac­tion against an­ti­semites may bring re­sults but only in the medium to long-term. For many, that will be too late. The dam­age is done.

The hardleft is tight­en­ing its grip on the party’s soul

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