After Corbyn’s uniquely nasty and shameful premiership, Labour's next leader must act decisively

Dame Margaret Hodge writes for the JC on how to consign the party's antisemitism to the dustbin of history


LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 02: Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge speaks during the 'Jewish Labour Movement Conference' on September 2, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

April 01, 2020 18:03

This weekend the leader of the Labour Party will be announced. It will finally mark the end of four terrible years for my once great party.

I know that I speak for thousands of Jews across Britain when I say that the end of both Jeremy Corbyn and the Corbyn era will be a moment of great relief.

This year marks 120 years since the Labour Party was founded and for almost half of that period I have been a dedicated party member.

I joined because, as a refugee, immigrant Jew, Labour was my natural political home. And for the overwhelming majority of my 57-year membership the Labour Party has indeed been an inclusive party, always standing up against prejudice and racism.

In the future I am sure we will look back at Corbyn’s premiership as a uniquely nasty and shameful, yet mercifully short, period in Labour’s long and proud history.

At the Labour leadership hustings at the St John’s Wood liberal synagogue I said that the last four years had been the most miserable, challenging and lonely years to be in the Labour Party.

The vitriolic online abuse, the heartbreak of watching Jewish members and close friends leave the party and Corbyn’s barefaced refusal to confront racism and take antisemitism seriously was almost too much to bear.

That is why I stand by my belief that it was just as difficult to remain in the Labour Party as it was to leave the Labour Party.

During these past four years it has been crucial that Jewish voices across the Labour family - from those in the Jewish Labour Movement, to the courageous and resolute Ruth Smeeth with whom I worked closely - have all continued to call out the antisemitism and hold Jeremy Corbyn and his inner circle to account.

I’m proud that even when too many of my Labour colleagues were silent, we called out the anti-Jewish racism that has been allowed to poison our party.

And I am grateful to others who are not Jewish - from the whistleblowers working in the Labour Party to forthright MPs in Parliament – who were brave enough to openly challenge the leadership when it counted.

We pushed for a statutory investigation into the Labour Party by the Equality and Human Right Commission.

We stood up for the brave whistleblowers who called time on Labour antisemitism. We have campaigned for an independent complaints system, taking it out of the hands of a politically corrupt clique.

We successfully pressured the party to speed up the expulsion of antisemitic members. And we kicked the Jew-baiting and disgraced Chris Williamson out of Labour once and for all.

But it was equally devastating to see people like Louise Ellman hounded out of the Labour Party. Louise worked tirelessly to call out antisemitism, and yet she was endlessly attacked by her own local party for doing so. After campaigning with Louise for almost 40 years, I am proud to call her a close friend.

Louise’s return to the Labour Party will be a clear test for the future Labour leader, it will be a signpost as to whether they are serious about eradicating antisemitism for good.

If we are to consign the last four years to the dustbin of history then the next Labour leader needs to act decisively.

There needs to be a complete clean out at the top of the Labour Party. Many Labour Party officials were involved in and have become contaminated by the abject failure to tackle antisemitism. They need to be speedily replaced.

The new leader must initiate a complete change in culture across the Labour Party. This should involve reaching out and working closely with the Jewish Labour Movement. A fresh dialogue is needed with the broader Jewish community too. It also means making sure that at a local level antisemitism is never left unchecked within the party.

To fix Labour’s broken complaints system the new leader must speedily setup an independent complaints process. He or she must show neither fear nor favour and must take firm action against every single antisemite in our party. A truly independent process is the only way to achieve this.

Finally, we need complete transparency from the new leadership team. To start with this means making public the Labour Party’s submission to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

We still do not know just how dishonest Corbyn and his team have been and any further foul play must be exposed. If we do not know the scale of the problem how can we possibly hope to fix it?

The past four years have been incredibly difficult for British Jews. But I am now cautiously optimistic that the Labour Party can slowly rebuild its relationship with the Jewish community.

I promise you all that I shall continue to call out antisemitism whenever and wherever I find it. I will never be silent on the issue and I will not stop fighting until we have eradicated this scourge from the heart of my party.

Like with Jeremy Corbyn, the next Labour leader will be judged by their actions and not their words.

April 01, 2020 18:03

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