Jeremy Corbyn lights up JLM's Chanukah party - well, almost

Despite the presence of both doughnuts and Chanukah candles, the occasion was not entirely sweetness and light.

December 14, 2017 12:40

The Jewish Labour Movement’s Chanukah party was intended to be an opportunity for activists to come together, in the welcoming bosom of Labour’s central London HQ, and be congratulated for their hard work at the 2017 general election.

But despite the presence of both doughnuts and Chanukah candles, the occasion was not entirely sweetness and light.

One interesting conversation I had was with a Labour activist who spoke, matter-of-factly, about how there were some people around Jeremy Corbyn who would not engage productively with JLM under any circumstances.

The suggestion was, however, that there were others in the inner circle who would be open to “making deals”, with John McDonnell being singled out as one of Mr Corbyn’s more pragmatic colleagues.

I had been told by others in the room that Mr Corbyn “had a 95 per cent chance of showing up”, so naturally I assumed he wouldn’t. But I was wrong, and just before the ceremony started, in swept the leader himself.

A number of excellent speeches were given, including from Ella Rose, JLM’s national director, who is clearly a rising star within the Labour movement, and from Jeremy Newmark, JLM’s chair.

Mr Newmark managed to find the connections between Labour’s current state and the Chanukah story, raising laughs with his theory that “the Maccabee mantra of the few taking on the many really wasn’t a reversal of Labour’s most compelling strapline. It was actually an early precursor to John McDonnell’s economic plans."

Mr Newmark told guests: “The Maccabees were actually a poor family, from a small, isolated village. They were a family of priests, but they felt disconnected from the establishment. Their leadership actually reached and resonated with the masses, representing unheard voices, peasants and small landowners abused by the Greek government, who’d raised taxes to crippling levels to fund military expansion and to pay off the Romans. Sound familiar?”

He went on to describe JLM as “occupying the space where Labour values and Jewish values come together. We’re the people who want to see a Labour government because we know Labour is the party which will deliver for the vulnerable and the needy. We’re the people who campaign tirelessly for Labour, because values like community, social justice, equality of opportunity and equal access to hope all sit at the heart of our collective politics.”

However, his charge that the JLM are “pilloried and attacked as traitors… within our communal media” raised eyebrows – although whether there were other eyebrows raised besides my own, I cannot say.

And then it was time for Mr Corbyn’s speech, which was… underwhelming. It wasn’t a terrible speech - it just didn’t say much that was new. Racism is bad – check. Antisemitism is very bad – check. The Chakrabarti report – check (the Baroness herself was in the room, having slipped in during the earlier speeches). Reference to Mr Corbyn’s family being at Cable Street – check. All the classics were there. The only time his voice actually became impassioned, as is often the case, was when he was talking about the poverty and injustice suffered in Britain today.

It would not be accurate to say that Mr Corbyn’s attendance prompted little enthusiasm. There were plenty of people keen on taking selfies with him. But it would be fair to say that he was not greeted with the full-throated acclaim he is by now accustomed to receive from Labour crowds. An attempt by one or two people to start a chant of “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” during an earlier speech was shushed by others in the vicinity. And then there was the heckling during his speech, when he was called a liar and asked, in response to his line about antisemitism not being tolerated in the Labour party, “what about Ken [Livingstone]?”

After the Chanukah candles were lit and Maoz Tzur sung, Mr Corbyn departed, followed by Baroness Chakrabarti and a few others.

Jon Lansman, chief of the Momentum group within Labour, was spotted at the back of the room, sporting a new long, white beard. It’s unclear whether he was auditioning for the role of Santa Claus at Labour HQ; certainly a number of branches of his Momentum group have recently seemed rather keen on giving Labour centrist councillors the sack.

The one thing I didn't see at the party, however, were any dreidels. Perhaps it had been wisely decided that, when mixing Chanukah with current politics, the last thing needed is any further spin.

December 14, 2017 12:40

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