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Security's a tough issue for Labour

March 05, 2015 12:35

"Tough liberals win, weak liberals lose," declared the American political analyst William Schneider in November 1988 after Democrat candidate Michael Dukakis lost a presidential election campaign dominated by law and order.

The notion that elections that turn on security issues - from global terrorism to street crime - tend to favour the right has long been axiomatic.

The rule is only broken when a "tough liberal" - a Bill Clinton, Tony Blair or Yitzhak Rabin - convinces voters that he understands their fears and is resolute enough to keep them safe.

With antisemitic incidents at record levels at home and murder on the streets of Paris and Copenhagen, May 7 will have the feel of a "security election" for many British Jews.

Unsurprisingly, then, Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, has been doing the community media rounds in recent weeks. Labour's commitment to the safety of the Jewish community was, she proclaimed, "unshakeable".

The party's silence over antisemitism last summer was disturbing

Her appearances follow the party's announcement last month of measures to tackle hate crimes, including a crackdown on antisemitism.

So how fares the party's effort to burnish its tough-liberal credentials?

Ms Cooper certainly deserves credit for her efforts to fight the coalition's watering down of counter-terrorism measures, including the scrapping of control orders and the introduction of TPims to replace them.

Labour has also been right to argue that the coalition adopted a lackadaisical approach to the counter-extremism Prevent programme when it entered office.

But her attempt to convey Labour's toughness has been hampered by the Shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan - the keeper of Ed Miliband's leadership campaign promise that his party would not be as "casual" with civil liberties as New Labour had allegedly been.

And Ms Cooper's implication that the community's fears are, in part, the result of government cuts to policing exemplifies one of the problems Labour has on the issue.

No doubt a greater police presence is a part of the equation, but her response was delivered straight from her party's comfort zone. Been asked a question about security? Give an answer about spending.

More problematic was Ms Cooper's attack on some of the Twitter hashtags - #HitlerWasRight, #IfHitlerWasAlive and #killjews - that were deployed by anti-Israel protestors during Operation Protective Edge.

Her revulsion is laudable. It is, however, several months too late. While her speech to Labour's annual conference in September briefly condemned rising antisemitism, the party's silence on the issue during last summer's Gaza conflict was disturbing.

Given the strong language deployed by Mr Miliband to attack Israel, the party had an added responsibility to make clear where legitimate opposition to the war had spilled over into antisemitism. On that, it failed.

Nobody doubts that Ms Cooper finds antisemitism repellent. Opposition to racism in all its forms is one of the more attractive features of Labour's DNA. But the party's leadership let the community down last summer. Until it faces up to that fact, its fine words now will have a rather empty ring about them.

And hollow phrases do not a tough liberal make.

March 05, 2015 12:35

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