Jews of all political stripes should celebrate Labour's rule change

It is good for democracy that Labour provides a genuine choice at the ballot box, writes the Co CEO of the Jewish Leadership Council


Margaret Hodge - UK Parliament official portraits 2017

September 27, 2021 14:52

Last night at Labour Party conference, there was delight as Keir Starmer won the vote on a new independent complaints process for antisemitism cases, as ordered by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

As the results were announced at the Jewish Labour Movement’s (JLM) evening fringe – 74% for vs 26% against – the sense of elation was palpable. There were jumps for joy, toasts, and lots of tears. It was impossible not to feel a pang as former and current office holders spoke of their own experiences and the sense that this result – like the EHRC ruling before it ­– vindicated them and their experience of racism in the Labour Party. I was particularly moved by Margaret Hodge MP’s speech. She spoke about her pride of being active as a Jew and not forgetting the plight of her family, in whose name she fights.

It is sobering to think that this was the reaction to the adoption of mandatory rule changes owing to the party’s discrimination against its Jewish members. This was not optional and a sizeable minority voted against. The fact that this was still worthy of joyous celebration is a stark reminder of just how bad things had got. So while this is indeed a low bar, the reaction is understandable for it signals a new way forward, in the right direction.

Yes it sticks in the throat that those who were at best silent or at worse defenders of Corbyn are now riding this wave. It all feels very convenient. But if we are to rely on the few people who were unwavering allies, we will be forever fighting this battle. This is not about forgetting those who stood shoulder to shoulder with us or forgiving and forgetting the actions of those who contributed to our feeling of being gaslit. It is about pragmatism and finding a new way forward for our community.

I am encouraged by the extensive consultation we have had with the new leadership and the party over this period. None of this would have happened without the tireless efforts of JLM and brave whistleblowers who risked so much.

This whole sorry episode should be a stark reminder that we must always be vigilant. Progress – as Jews and as citizens of wider society –  is not always inevitable and our hard fought for freedoms are perilous.  Indeed, it is perhaps a tad optimistic for Keir Starmer to say “we have closed the door on antisemitism and it will never be opened again”. Rewind a few hours and delegates had to be repeatedly warned against booing and heckling speakers speaking in favour of the motion. The rule changes were opposed by Momentum who claimed that it had concerns about the power of the general secretary over an independent process.

The image I will choose to take away with me is the standing ovation given to former Labour MP Ruth Smeeth as she spoke in favour of the motion and the fear she still has about attending Party conference.

Jews of all political stripes should celebrate this change for it is only right that as citizens of British society, we have a genuine choice at the ballot box. This is not just good for the Jews, or specifically Labour supporting Jews, but it is good for democracy.



September 27, 2021 14:52

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