Chris Williamson's response to Labour antisemitism is hurting our party

Charlotte Nichols, a leftwinger who attended the Jewdas seder with Jeremy Corbyn, says the MP is 'defending the indefensible'

December 04, 2018 13:18

Many of my Jewish friends in the Labour Party support the broad aims of the Corbyn project whether or not they support the man himself.

But one of the things we all seem to agree on is concern about the recent conduct of Chris Williamson MP and his most vocal supporters.

When Labour should be focusing on proving we're capable of being a responsible party of government, at a time when the country looks like it's hurtling towards a catastrophic no-deal Brexit and millions of families across the UK are struggling after eight years of punishing austerity, one of our MPs has bafflingly decided that defending the indefensible is his cause célèbre.

Whether it is sharing platforms with the likes of Jackie Walker, Tony Greenstein or Marc Wadsworth, promoting the conspiratorial Skwawkbox blog, or making excuses for members expelled for particularly egregious cases of antisemitism - his behaviour is increasingly becoming a cause for deep concern.

It has gotten so bad that as far back as August, the Jewish Labour Movement called for the whip to be removed, and this was before his decision on the day of the Pittsburgh terrorist attack to post a message not of solidarity with its victims, but attacking the Board of Deputies.

In recent weeks, a number of Labour clubs have refused to campaign in constituencies where he has been invited as a speaker, leading him to denounce them in Labour Briefing as "haters" and "opponents of common sense socialism".

The most charitable reading of this is that he has displayed a level of thoughtlessness unbecoming an MP for a party making genuine attempts to tackle the issue of antisemitism within our ranks, but it has gone on so long that any good-faith interpretation of his actions seems like the least logical or rational explanation.

There is only so long you can continue to give the benefit of the doubt, and I think that moment has long passed.

Wherever antisemitism comes from, it cannot be ignored. Past mistakes need not be an irredeemable blot on your character- Naz Shah, for example, shows that a heartfelt apology, a willingness to listen and engage with those affected by your actions, and a commitment to doing better, mean you can be forgiven.

While Jeremy Corbyn's own history of problematic comments and associations have been pored over, he does appear to be trying to make amends with varying degrees of success: from the controversial Jewdas Seder and Shabbat dinner with Liberal Judaism's Danny Rich, to thoughtful messages posted on Jewish festivals, and a video making clear that those in our party who perpetuate or deny antisemitism do not do so in his name.

He still has a long way to go to rebuild trust but there is cause for optimism.

The same cannot be said for Williamson's behaviour which only looks to be getting worse.

Far too many on the left fringes of the party have become adherents to what one friend coined "the Williamson doctrine of denial and doubling down". Whether his supporters see justified criticism of him as a proxy attack on Mr Corbyn is unclear, but I cannot see that Mr Williamson's record justifies this sort of blind loyalty.

Indeed, it's been well documented that, as leader of Derby Council, he oversaw massive privatisation and at one point even went into a coalition arrangement with the Conservatives- neither of which can be argued to be the actions of a stalwart of the left who should be defended at all costs.

Mr Williamson's actions have not only hurt the left of the party, they hurt our whole party. Our activists up and down the country who work tirelessly for a Labour government deserve representatives who try and thoughtfully navigate the party though crisis, not pour petrol on the fire.

I don't know what the answer is, but whatever action the party takes in his case, I hope Mr Williamson will take some time to sincerely reflect on the damage he is doing and make some long overdue steps to start repairing it.

Charlotte Nichols is Young Labour's Women's Officer and a member of Manchester Reform Synagogue

December 04, 2018 13:18

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