Labour's tasteless joke policy

By Nick Cohen, June 3, 2011

I hear that at a recent meeting with Jewish leaders, Ed Miliband ran into a problem that may destroy his ambitions to become Prime Minister.

Everyone was getting along famously until the Livingstone question came up.

Labour has to win the London mayoral race of 2012 if it is to build the momentum to win a general election. If the normal rules of politics applied, it ought to cruise to victory. By next year, public spending cuts, tax rises and inflation will have bitten deep. The coalition should be very unpopular. But when Miliband urged Jews to support the Livingstone candidacy, he was met with icy stares.

Ever the politician, Miliband tried to cut a deal. "What can I do for you? What can I give you?" The atmosphere became tenser as it became embarrassingly evident that, in the opinion of many of those present, the leader of the Labour Party was asking Jews to endorse a politician some of them considered to be an antisemite. There was nothing he could say, nothing he could offer, that would persuade them to accept such a debased bargain. Miliband dropped the subject. He was not going to change anyone's mind.

I do not know what subterranean currents swirl in the Livingstone's psyche, and have no particular desire to find out. But ever since he embraced Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the grim theologian who advises the Muslim Brotherhood, he has provided on the record evidence of his political predilections. Livingstone is a candidate for public office who is happy to engage with a men who are not only antisemites, but support wife beating, the execution of gays and the murder of Muslims who exercise their right to change their faith or abandon religion completely.

British Muslims are the first to suffer from the success of religious ideologues

A disastrous and hypocritical ideology motivates him and many others in the Labour Party. It holds that ultra-reactionary religious rightists are the true tribunes of the oppressed.

If our comedians and journalists had stronger backbones, they would make it the butt of satire and polemic. Sharp observers would notice that the Livingstone type of leftist, who is forever telling voters that they cannot support sexist and racist Tories - even though, and for all its faults, the modern Conservative Party does not support discrimination against, let alone the execution of, homosexuals and apostates on theocratic grounds.

As you might have predicted, low electoral considerations are not far from Labour minds either. The best people in the Labour Party have fought a hard and honourable campaign in the East End of London against George Galloway and Islamic Forum Europe. They understood that the first people who suffer when religious ideologues succeed are British Muslims who just want to get on with their lives without unelected "community leaders" claiming the right to speak for them.

They have been opposed not just by Livingstone, whose contacts with Islamic Forum Europe candidates running against Labour should have persuaded Miliband to expel him from the party, but by the "Blue Labour" tendency which wishes to find what it calls "common ground" with religious extremists. An unusually slow child could understand the political calculation in an instant.

"Here are people who say they can deliver Muslim votes. Now obviously we don't agree with sharia law, and prejudices against homosexuals and Jews, for we are men and women of the British centre-left, who puff out our chests when we tell the world that we oppose prejudice in all its forms. But let us not be too hasty here. For we don't want to be Islamophobes either. These people come from inner-cities. They share many of our concerns. If we can find common ground with them, we can consolidate our base in London's ghettos. And if Jews object, who cares? There aren't enough of them to bother us."

If one leaves all consideration of political morality and the best interests of British Muslims to one side - and, trust me, many in Labour can - the argument has a seductive appeal.

Miliband would still be a fool if he fell for it. Just because mainstream commentators are paying no attention to his party's manoeuvres, does not mean that they will do so forever. Journalists are pack animals. They disregard stories that seem to cry to high heaven for coverage for years, and then turn as one and savage their prey. All of sudden, and for no reason that a spin doctor can predict, yesterday's ignored ideas become today's conventional wisdom.

Labour is in an acute danger of becoming a party of grubby charlatans. If for all its anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic postures, it goes down the Livingstone road, it risks becoming something worse than a laughing stock.

Last updated: 11:08am, June 3 2011