Although a lifelong trade-unionist, I have never been wealthy enough to afford the luxury of indulging in a socialist mindset. Neither am I a member of the Labour party. But the present kerfuffle over the party leadership interests me a great deal. At the July 20 "hustings" , the four leadership contenders addressed a Jewish audience. That this should have been felt necessary is itself of some significance. Although the UK's Jewish vote is not large, it is strategically concentrated. Had a handful of "Jewish" constituencies not turned so heavily to the Tories last May, David Cameron might not now be prime minister - or (more likely) he might now be in office but not in power.
Labour lost the election for many reasons . But it's likely that its then Jewish leader, Ed Miliband, was also a liability. "How Jewish is he," one Labour stalwart asked me. "Is he a Zionist?" In 2013, Miliband insisted that he was (after a fashion) but it took him just 24 hours to back-pedal furiously, his office insisting that he had "not used the word Zionist to describe himself" - which was indeed the case. Why did he back-pedal so furiously? Because in most Labour circles Zionism is a dirty word. The only Jews now welcome within these circles are anti-Zionist Jews, willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with anti-Zionist non-Jews in demonstrations against the Jewish state.
Now, in the contest for the Labour leadership, there enters Jeremy Corbyn, who is positively brimming with socialist credentials. Grammar-school educated himself, he would deny such an opportunity to others. He supports Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army. He's a long-time member of another lost cause, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. He opposes austerity. And he supports - and is indeed a patron of - the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
Corbyn's quest for the Labour leadership is to be welcomed. For a start, it has crystallised and forced into the open a structural division within Labour ranks, between the pragmatists, (Blairites of various hues) who argue that Labour's overwhelming priority is to win back lost voters; and the idealists, who insist that the winning of votes is less important than the purification and preservation of the party's socialist credentials. An important and influential section of the Labour movement has always believed that power corrupts, and that winning power is less important than spreading an unadulterated socialist message. It is to this tradition that Corbyn belongs, as did Michael Foot and Aneurin Bevan.
More than this, however, Corbyn's candidature has brought to the fore Labour's Jewish Question. At the hustings, Corbyn was asked about the Balfour Declaration. I cannot say whether Corbyn, in his answer, declared it had been "imposed" by Jewish members of the Lloyd George Cabinet, or "opposed." But I'm going to give Corbyn the benefit of the doubt, and agree that what he said was "The Balfour Declaration was an extremely confused document which did not enjoy universal support in the cabinet of the time, and indeed was opposed by some of the Jewish members."
This fear of imagined Jewish power haunts the Labour party
The problem is that there was, at that time, only one Jewish member of the Cabinet, namely Edwin Montagu, Secretary of State for India. Montagu - in common with many members of the wealthy, assimilated Anglo-Jewish aristocracy - was most definitely an anti-Zionist; his opposition to the Balfour Declaration was without qualification. But he was, at that time, the only Jewish member of the Cabinet.
Corbyn clearly thought otherwise. He might of course have made a genuine error. But I believe his reference to "some of the Jewish members of the cabinet" was more in the nature of a Freudian slip, and that what this error really tells us is that Jeremy Corbyn sees Jews where there are none (or at least very few).
Corbyn - in other words - has a problem with Jews, whose political influence he grossly overstates. This fear - of imagined Jewish power - has haunted the Labour party from the moment of its foundation. A Corbyn victory in the leadership contest would at last bring this apparition into the open, where it desperately needs to be.