Why Stella Creasy was disappointing at Limmud, plus my new year Labour wish
LISTENING TO Stella Creasy at the Limmud Festival was an odd experience.
It was, in part, enormously uplifting. The Labour MP for Walthamstow reeled off catchy phrases about people being a “change-maker” in their community and spoke of a “politics of hope” as if she were auditioning to play pre-presidency Barack Obama.
Repeatedly she railed against the “fudge” taking over our politics and urged greater collaboration. She is hot on social media, taking down Twitter trolls everywhere in the face of repulsive abuse. She is a leading campaigner on the refugee crisis and women’s rights.
A bit heavy on well-rehearsed soundbites, yes, but Ms Creasy is pretty much everything you could ask for in a progressive, moderate, modern politician.
But her stump speech and subsequent question-and-answer session were also hugely disappointing. Why? Because Ms Creasy highlighted why she is essentially powerless to change anything in her party.
The session fell apart — on the Jewish issues at least — after a question from Adam Wagner, the human rights barrister, who enquired about the possibility of rebuilding Labour’s relationship with our community. Ms Creasy had already outlined her concerns about the problem, telling the packed crowd she wanted to “eradicate” antisemitism and adding: “There isn’t just an elephant in the room, there’s a zoo”.
But her response to Mr Wagner was exactly the sort of fudge she had vehemently criticised early. A half-baked pledge to raise the community’s concerns at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party was lucky to avoid being met by laughter. Mr Corbyn will not suddenly start listening to his PLP colleagues and abandon his stance of the past two years or more.
Her answer appeared to switch off swathes of the audience, undoing much of her earlier good work. Some people simply got up and drifted away.
Under a different leadership, Ms Creasy would be flying up the ranks, preparing for a life in government and a career at various key ministries.
Instead, she is hamstrung by Mr Corbyn’s poor leadership on a series of vital issues. She is doing her best to make things work, battling from within while others, such as former colleagues Tristram Hunt, Michael Dugher and Jamie Reed, have gone off to pursue their interests to greater effect elsewhere.
Stella Creasy would not want my sympathy, but I feel for her and many others who now sit alongside her on Labour’s talented backbenches. Their time may come again, but there is little sign of it on the horizon. Which brings me to one of my leading political desires for 2018. This will, hopefully, be the year when a credible Labour figure emerges as the individual to repair the party’s relationship with British Jews.
It is a tough task, though. The individual would need to be trusted by both the community and by Mr Corbyn’s inner circle. This will require a credible record on Jewish issues while holding a similar ideology to the leader. Few figures fit the bill. I do not, of course, suggest a “Minister for Jews”-style role, but instead an informal middleman or woman who can pick up the shattered pieces, speak to both sides in good faith and try to resolve outstanding issues.
Think you know of someone up to the job? Send me your suggestions — email@example.com.
There was much focus late last year on the Muslim Engagement and Development (Mend) group and Azad Ali, its controversial national community head, following a parliamentary event held by the organisation.
As of this week, Mr Ali has a new role as community relations director at Cage UK, which you might remember from almost three years ago when Asim Qureshi, its research director, described Jihadi John as “a beautiful young man”.
Indeed, Mr Qureshi led the welcoming committee for his new colleague, describing Mr Ali as “a close ally… bringing his principled stances” to Cage.
As one observer suggested to me this week, either Mend has encouraged Mr Ali’s departure sooner than expected in order to hasten a detoxifying of their brand, or, more worryingly, the two organisations are better aligned than previously thought.
Expect to hear a lot more from both groups in 2018.
Antisemitism: there isn’t just an elephant in the room — there’s a zoo’