Sunday morning. Returned to write this after delivering Labour party leaflets to my neighbours through garden gates, down steps to basement flats, admiring front door colours and early lilac in the gardens and noting how many houses are divided into multiple dwellings reflecting house prices in the area.
The leaflet is pretty good. It updates residents on local campaigns and issues — school funding and traffic calming, and reminds readers in a 75 per cent Remain-voting area, of our Labour MP’s defiance of the three-line whip to vote against Article 50.
I’ve delivered leaflets many times, always wondering what percentage would go straight in the recycling bin unread because, until I joined the Labour Party in May 2010, that’s where mine went. The first five years of my time as a party member were highly productive and even enjoyable. I helped a 20-something Israeli climate-change researcher and a former MP who had lost her seat up north to rebuild the moribund branch of Crouch End in the north London constituency of Hornsey and Wood Green.
I inadvertently became secretary of the branch, perhaps the most time-consuming post in local politics, and rebuilt the membership database. I sat on the selection panel for our parliamentary candidate, Catherine West, who was hoping to unseat the Liberal Democrat incumbent, Lynne Featherstone. I ran the selection of our council candidates, I delivered thousands more leaflets and, in May 2014, we got two of our candidates elected to Haringey council. A year later, on a night when the 10pm exit poll smashed any hopes of forming even a Labour-led coalition government, Catherine West was elected with an 11,000 majority.
And then of course it all changed. I was never under any illusions about Jeremy Corbyn’s ability to lead the Labour Party. Policies and baggage aside, someone who has spent 30 years on the backbenchers defying the whips cannot impose his will on others. His communications strategy has been disastrous, a product of appointing as his head of communications, Seumas Milne, a former comment editor of the Guardian who had no experience of fire-fighting the tabloid press and broadcast media.
What was insinuated into the party by its massive rise in membership was an easy tolerance for the blurring of the lines, never easy to police at the best of times, between criticism of Israeli government policy and antisemitism.
I did not cast a vote for Ken Livingstone in the last two mayoral elections he ran in. Jonathan Freedland gave a forensic account in 2012 of Livingstone’s problem with Jews. Corbyn’s lukewarm disavowal of antisemitism (always made conditional by having to share the available space with every form of racism) leads me to believe not that he’s antisemitic, but that antisemitism doesn’t much matter to him.
If I was a few streets away , in Islington North, Corbyn’s constituency, I can’t say how I would vote. Probably not Labour. But I will have no difficulty voting for Catherine West and delivering even more leaflets on her behalf.
I wrote to her on the day Livingstone went mad on a series of radio programmes and started ranting about Hitler. She was unequivocal that if the charges against him were proved he would have to be expelled not suspended. This was reiterated in a statement on her own website last month when his suspension was merely extended. We met for coffee last week and I was satisfied she understood what this affair means to Jewish voters.
Friends tell me that such is their dislike of Corbyn, their exasperation at his half-hearted campaigning to remain in the EU, they cannot bring themselves to vote Labour, whoever their current MP is. I have no such difficulties. On the issues that matter to me, what the Americans call wedge issues, Brexit and antisemitism, Catherine West and I are on the same side.
I want her to still be in parliament in the weeks and months that follow the general election, when, I hope, the party begins to rebuild itself after a catastrophic flirtation with unelectability. Excellent MPs with tiny majorities are threatened with losing their seats. I can see no value to the Labour Party, to Hornsey and Wood Green and British political life if Catherine West is one of them.
Linda’s Grant’s latest novel ‘The Dark Circle’ has been shortlisted for the 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction