Dear Jeremy Corbyn...

Richard Horton campaigned for Labour for years and canvassed with the party's leader. This week he resigned and wrote this letter to him.

March 05, 2019 15:11

Dear Jeremy,

As we have known each other for over a decade and as I have knocked on thousands of residents’ doors for you and with you in the various roles I had in Islington North CLP I thought I should write to you directly.

My politics has been formed by my life experience. Growing up in and around towns like Scunthorpe and Grimsby in the 1980s and 1990s, my student activism in the 2000s, being made redundant at the height of the global financial crisis and recently becoming a father have all shaped my values.

My first job after university was working for The Fabian Society. I voted for and actively campaigned for Ed Miliband in the 2010 leadership election. I was encouraged by our 2017 general election manifesto, which I found to be rooted in our social democratic traditions. Yes, I disagreed with some of the middle class freebies such as scrapping university tuition fees but I understood that you needed to build a coalition of support and drive enthusiasm among younger people to win.

I even subscribed to Tribune before it became fashionable. Some people in the Labour movement may go as far as calling me “soft left”.

The mission to improve and equalise life chances defined my values when I joined the party and it still defines my values now. However, I no longer believe that Labour as an institution – the leadership, activists and apparatus – shares my values. The party’s constitution remains social democratic but its culture is not.

When I look at my membership card and read the quote from Clause IV printed on the reverse I cannot help but think there is a mile-wide gap between those ideals – solidarity, tolerance and respect – and the reality of party membership. I feel I need to make a stand for decency in our politics and as such I have decided to leave Labour.

When I stood down as chair of Stroud Green branch in February 2018 I was overwhelmed by the kindness shown by so many members. Their words of thanks, encouragement and understanding meant so much to me. It showed me, and I still believe this, that most members are idealistic and not ideological.

I had hoped that my very public resignation would encourage the activists who had harangued me out of office to reconsider their behaviour. Unfortunately they just became more resolute. At the very next branch meeting I was described as having had a “breakdown” and that I was “mentally unstable”. This was nothing more than gaslighting.

The hostility shown to me for not appearing sufficiently loyal to you, for trying to maintain a broad church membership and for having friends who were “Blairites” (real or imagined) is just one example of the toxic culture that has consumed the Labour party locally and nationally.

In July last year I was saddened that our mutual friend Russell Smith-Becker had resigned from the party. I was appalled by the reaction to Russell’s decision from people claiming to be your supporters on Facebook. Much of it was conspiratorial and some of it was overtly antisemitic. He was told to “f*** off”, accused of resigning to prevent criticism of Israel and asked how he would spend his "thirty pieces of silver".

In May last year I attended the General Committee of Hornsey and Wood Green CLP where an activist said that tweets from the Labour Friends of Israel Twitter account are “sent by an Israeli embassy staffer or from Jerusalem".

Despite its clear conspiratorial antisemitic connotations the chair did not challenge or rebuke the activist. Likewise, we allowed candidates to stand in the recent local elections despite them defending the use of the Neo Nazi term “Zio” and sharing an article that concluded "Enough is enough. F*** you all. Chag Pesach sameach".

Instead of listening to the concerns raised by Jewish Labour Movement delegates and local rabbis, Hornsey and Wood Green CLP then voted overwhelmingly in favour of “affiliating” to Jewish Voice for Labour. It seemed a deliberately provocative act towards our local Jewish community. JVL is an organisation established for the sole purpose to obfuscate and apologise for antisemitism within the Labour party.

Over the past eighteen months, slowly but surely, all of my Jewish friends have left Labour. On the 18th February, Luciana Berger MP resigned from the party.

The examples of abuse that Luciana has spoken about are truly dreadful and your lack of action to tackle the abuse is shameful. It is beyond belief that for fourteen months you have refused to meet with her. Her bravery and dignity has shown me that the time has come for me to resign my membership.

For me, your promises to tackle antisemitism have meant nothing whilst Chris Williamson has seemingly been given free rein to troll the Jewish community over the past three years. How have we become a party where a Jewish MP leaves because of antisemitic bullying and yet another MP has licence to go around the country supporting those who deploy antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories?

The Jewish Labour Movement wrote to the Chief Whip in August 2018 raising their concerns about Chris Williamson and yet in January this year you described him as “a very good MP”. I appreciate that he has now been suspended from the party. However, The Independent has reported that you personally intervened to prevent the whip being removed.

The culture of antisemitism did not start with Chris Williamson, although his roadshows and media appearances have certainly amplified it, and it will not end with his suspension. Especially as his suspension appears to have been made under such extreme duress and because his comments in Sheffield were greeted with applause from the activists present.

Antisemitism has been normalised in Labour and in my opinion your behaviour over a number of years has legitimised it. Your friendships with conspiracy pedlars, Holocaust-deniers and revisionists as well as supporters of antisemitic terror groups like Hezbollah gives credibility to their ideas and philosophies.

I look back at the written reports you provided when I was a General Committee delegate in Islington North and see that all the meetings and interviews with these conspiracists and racists are documented. And I wonder why we took no notice of this behaviour at that time. I can only conclude that we saw you as an irrelevance and your activities anachronistic.

Unfortunately you are no longer an irrelevance. You are leader of the Labour party. You and your coterie of ideologues and aristo-Stalinists have created an institutional culture where anti-Semitism thrives. It has been brought from the fringe of the party to the forefront of the party.

I believe that you have said and done things that are clearly antisemitic. Your defence of the mural and the numerous recordings of you that have been brought to the public’s attention in recent months provide sufficient evidence.

I came close to leaving the party when the video emerged of you saying that "[British Zionists] having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don't understand English irony either."

I believe that you were using "Zionist" as a euphemism for "Jew". I find it impossible to interpret it any other way. Page 12 of the Chakrabarti Report details how "Zionist" is used abusively as a euphemism for "Jew".

This use of language is inexcusable. You were saying that Jewish people are un-British. They are the "other". These comments would not be tolerated if directed at any other minority group.

I was so upset by what you said that I wrote to the party’s Compliance Unit. I am yet to receive any acknowledgement. I stayed in the party at that time only because Cllr Richard Watts and Cllr David Poyser intervened to assure me that they did not believe you were an antisemite and that you were doing all you could to tackle antisemitism.

The lack of empathy shown by the Labour leadership and activists to Luciana Berger’s resignation has lead me to conclude that the Labour party is institutionally antisemitic. Ian Lavery’s Guardian article, the reaction from your media surrogates and acolytes in the Parliamentary Party, Young Labour’s tweets and retweets and your own belligerent video to members could not have been further from the listening exercise that was promised. Labour has become the nasty party.

The threats made by your supporters to Luciana Berger’s unborn child. The threat by one of your supporters to Joan Ryan that she should be “shoved right back in the ovens”. The motions at Hackney North CLP, Hastings and Rye CLP, Sheffield Hallam CLP, and now Alexandra branch in Hornsey and Wood Green CLP all express the belief that Jewish members of the party and the Jewish community are acting in bad faith. That Jews and their allies are lying about antisemitism.

This is not a few bad apples. This is institutional. And now The Observer reports that you and your senior staff have intervened in disciplinary cases to protect those accused of antisemitism.

As David Hirsh, the UK’s leading academic authority on antisemitism, recently wrote “Antisemitism threatens Jews but it is also always an indicator of the ascendency of an anti-democratic political culture”.

In 2014 you laid a wreath in honour of Black September and the terrorists that organised the murder of eleven Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. Less than thirty years after the horror of the Holocaust, Jews were once again being murdered on German soil. Not just murdered but tortured. Castrated. It took place on the most prominent global stage, the Olympics. It left deep scars. So to commemorate those that masterminded these killings was grossly insensitive.

In August last year you asked members and the general public to believe you when you said you had not done so. Even though you were photographed doing it. Even though you had written about laying the wreath in the Morning Star. Your response to the public outrage was truly Orwellian. We were told to reject the evidence of our eyes and ears.

This anti-democratic political culture did not exist in Labour before you were elected leader. We see it in how pluralism and debate are being minimised in the party. Any difference of opinion among local members is seen as an attack on you, the great leader.

Likewise, it can also been seen in how long it took you to listen to members and accept our conference policy on a second referendum, and yet it only took you a couple hours to decide that Hezbollah should not be proscribed in the UK.

So many of my friends were so enthused by your leadership pitch in 2015 because you said members would be more involved in policy-making. The reality is far from this.

I had the great privilege to work on the general election campaign in the West Midlands in 2010. There I saw the transformational impact that a Labour government had across Birmingham and the Black Country. It also showed me how ingrained poverty and deprivation are in some of our communities and how fragile they would be under the pressures of austerity.

I was heartbroken when Labour lost in 2010 and I am heartbroken that our communities have been subjected to the past nine years of cuts.

I walk under the bridge at Finsbury Park station twice a day on the way to and from work. Half a dozen people regularly sleep there at night. Seeing them there I feel a deep sense of shame. The Labour party, by being out of government, has failed them. Your leadership, by creating an institutional culture that prizes ideology over action, has failed them.

I want Labour to be a party that delivers the radical change needed after almost a decade of austerity. I want Labour to house the homeless and help address their complex needs. I cannot see that happening while the leadership, activists and apparatus of the party are so consumed by hate and outright crankery.

My daughter has a book called Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World. It has a chapter about Anne Frank. Every time we read it, without fail, my daughter asks me, “was Anne Frank brave?” And I always tell her that yes she was brave. I cannot read those pages and teach my daughter about what Anne Frank endured, her bravery and her legacy if I remain a member of an institutionally antisemitic political party. I would be a hypocrite if I did.

The only decent thing to do is for me to resign.

March 05, 2019 15:11

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