Mike Katz

Keir Starmer is delivering on his promise to the Jewish community

Two years after becoming leader, Labour is transformed


DURHAM, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 23: Sir Keir Starmer, Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union speaks during the Labour Party Leadership hustings at the Radisson Blu Hotel on February 23, 2020 in Durham, England. Sir Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy are vying to replace Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who offered to step down following his party's loss in the December 2019 general election. The final ballot will open to party members and registered and affiliated supporters on February 24. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

April 08, 2022 12:04

What serendipity that Labour’s new independent complaints system officially launched on the day marking Keir Starmer’s second anniversary as Labour leader at the start of the week.

Back in April 2020, with the uncertainty of Covid lockdown weighing on the whole country’s mind, Starmer’s acceptance speech nonetheless included an apology to the Jewish community for the stain of antisemitism in the Labour Party.

He promised to “tear out this poison by its roots and judge success by the return of Jewish members and those who felt that they could no longer support us.”

Now, as we approach local elections in Barnet, Bury and dozens of councils across the country, it’s Jewish voters’ chance to judge how effectively he has tackled the antisemitism which Jeremy Corbyn had allowed to run rampant.

Of course, this doesn’t mean every Jew will suddenly want to put a cross against the Labour rose. That was never the prospectus.

But for many of us who spent time campaigning in areas like Hendon and Golders Green in the last London borough elections in 2018, we remember all too well the tearful and angry conversations with lifelong supporters who couldn’t back Corbyn’s Labour. Even though they realised that their Tory council was failing them on pretty basic things, like emptying the bins and filling in potholes.

“When will it return to normal? Can it ever?” we were asked. Normal meaning a journey back to political respectability, where Jewish voters will ask if Labour’s leader has the right policies, not whether he is a racist.

By then, Labour under Corbyn had done everything it could do to show an utter lack of respect towards Britain’s Jews.

For the Jewish Labour Movement, affiliated to Labour for more than a century, this had a catastrophic impact, as the far left targeted, bullied and gaslit our members, simply for calling out antisemitism and the Party’s unwillingness to do anything about it.

And it led to a damning verdict from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) that Labour had been guilty of breaking the law in discriminating against its Jewish members.

But Starmer has shown a steely determination and real political leadership in dealing with this dreadful inheritance.

We’ve seen a sea-change in the last two years, kicking out antisemites, changing toxic culture and implementing the EHRC’s recommendations, including bringing in the new independent system - the first in any UK political party.

As our vice-chair Ruth Smeeth wrote for the JC recently, we’ve gone from having our training rejected by Corbyn’s team to delivering it to all Labour staff, thousands of members, its governing NEC, almost all its MPs, MSPs and AMs - including Starmer himself.

For our members - who were in the eye of the storm - the difference between Labour under Starmer and Corbyn has been like night and day.

A ground-breaking survey of our Jewish members showed that 70 per cent of them now think Labour is a safe space for Jews. Only four per cent thought it was under Corbyn.

What’s more, nine of our ten think Starmer is genuinely trying to tackle antisemitism and that the Party had made positive changes to its rules and culture in this regard.

Our confidence isn’t borne simply of Labour’s response to the EHRC report, but of Starmer’s determination to return Labour to political respectability.

Bringing to heel his MPs who flirt with pro-Putin propaganda and proscribing hard-left sects that deliberately undermine Labour’s mission to tackle antisemitism. Talking about the importance of security, unashamed to be called a patriot. Praising Attlee, Wilson and Blair — the leaders who won elections and used their power to change our country for the better.

The effect of all this is clear - it sends the crank left who joined with Corbyn meshuggene and tells voters that Labour really is under new management.

Starmer is providing leadership and policies which not just underline an utter break from the dismal days of Corbyn but which offer a bright, proud future for this country and a serious alternative to Boris Johnson.

Let’s be clear: the fight against the antisemites who infected Labour still has a way to go. Three-quarters of Party Conference delegates may have voted for the new complaints system; but a quarter didn’t. So JLM will continue its vigilance. We can’t rest until every JLM member thinks Labour is a safe home.

No doubt many in the wider Jewish community will be sceptical. That’s perfectly understandable. Given the depths Labour sank to, the process of rebuilding trust with voters will take time.

But by now only the most partisan would believe the Tory attack line that Labour hasn’t changed at all under Starmer. Take it from those of us in the trenches fighting Corbyn’s Labour, it really has. Jews can have confidence that, when deciding how to vote, once more, normal rules apply.

Mike Katz is national chair of the Jewish Labour Movement

April 08, 2022 12:04

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