Ruth Smeeth

Ruth Smeeth: No one in Labour's Shadow Cabinet deserves to be leader

The party's next leader must be one of the backbenchers who stood with us, writes JLM's parliamentary chair

December 30, 2019 16:53

I truly believe that G-d puts you where you need to be, to have the battles that need to be had, and to be a voice for those people who need it.

That’s why I got involved in politics when I was a child — to fight injustice and to fight for those who couldn’t fight for themselves. It would be fair to say that over the last four years I could have lived without some of the battles — but I wouldn’t walk away then and I won’t do so now, because we still need to win.

When I got elected in 2015 I wanted to focus on child food poverty, ceramics (I did represent the potteries after all) and national security — with a little bit of community cohesion work thrown in for good measure.

Little did any of us realise that within four months, Jeremy Corbyn would be elected as the leader of the Labour Party and that our community was about to become a pawn in a political and cultural war that would come to dominate British politics and help electorally decimate the political party which had traditionally been home to so many of us.

It has been a salutary warning about how quickly politics can change and racism can take hold — and our need to be ever-vigilant.

Only a decade ago, Gordon Brown was Prime Minister, the Labour Party was viewed as an ally and the biggest cause for spikes in British antisemitism were events in the Middle East. How much has changed since 2015?   

I don’t need to rehash the last four years — frankly they have been grim for the Jewish community and have clearly demonstrated why organisations like CST will be forever so important.

But my biggest fear after all the horror, after the abuse, the attacks, the stunts and the threats is that pandora’s box has been opened and it will take us a generation to ensure that antisemitism is no longer part of mainstream political discourse.

A generation to stop the conspiracy theories and tropes that dominate our social media and before Jews can stand for public office without receiving death threats from within their own party for the sole ‘crime’ of having the audacity to be Jewish. 

 So what do we need to do, now, to start fixing this?

The first issue is the Labour Party leadership. Like it or not, the Labour Party is Her Majesty’s Official Opposition and has an important role in our country both in terms of driving the political agenda and holding the government to account. 

The next leader of the Labour Party can either make zero tolerance of antisemitism within our own ranks an immediate priority or they can continue to empower and facilitate racists, allowing the politics of hate to drive our politics.

Which means the outcome of this election is vital for the community. You can sit back and let the horror of anti-Jewish hate continue to pervade the Labour Party or you can join the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) and get a vote for the next leader. I beg you to do the latter.

Which leads us to the second issue — who should the next leader be?

I am clear: at times the fight against antisemitism within the Labour Party has been lonely. I have been subjected to too many platitudes from other MPs who have wanted to show solidarity in private but have been silent in public.

Too many leaders-in-waiting were prepared to speak out if it was politically convenient, not because it was the right thing to do.

So unless the next leader has a record of publicly attacking racism in the party, demanding expulsions, standing by the whistleblowers and supporting JLM as the sole Jewish affiliate to the party then they will not get my vote and nor should they get your support. 

That means that no currently serving member of the Shadow Cabinet deserves our vote. 

They have been timid when we needed strength. They have allowed racism in the Labour Party to be so normalised that the party of Manny Shinwell and Leo Abse is being investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission for institutionalised antisemitism. 

They have failed us when we needed them most. They enabled Mr Corbyn and his friends to make us a target.  

Yes, they would pay lip service when the anti-Jewish hate was at its worst. Some even addressed meetings of Labour MPs and said how awful it was that committed Jewish socialists like Margaret Hodge, Luciana Berger, Louise Ellman and I were being abused — but then they sat in Shadow Cabinet meetings and nothing changed.

Their silence at a time of crisis was indifference to our pain. Their calculated gamble was that it was better to be seen to serve with Mr Corbyn that be seen to challenge Mr Corbyn.

They chose to sit by when we needed them to stand up. If they were not our allies when we needed them, we should not be their ally when they want us.

For me, therefore, expunging anti-Jewish hate from our politics must mean that the next leader of the Labour Party has to be one of the backbenchers who have stood by us, whether that’s Jess Phillips, Lisa Nandy, Dan Jarvis or Yvette Cooper. They have all shown leadership on racism when others were cowards.

What happens next in combatting anti-Jewish hate does depend on who wins the leadership election. But what I can promise you is that although I may no longer be an MP, this is not a fight I will be walking away from. But I’m going to need your help to fix it.

Ruth Smeeth is the parliamentary chair of the Jewish Labour Movement. She lost her seat in December's general election

December 30, 2019 16:53

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