Marcus Dysch

The fringe has the momentum as farce and hatred go hand in hand at the Labour conference

Tuesday morning's row on the conference floor over how Labour will challenge and punish Jew-hatred was in equal parts shambolic and frightening.

September 26, 2017 14:10

Jews attacking Jews. Israel hated at every turn. Age-old tropes spewed from the podium. How the antisemites must have loved the Labour conference.

What an absolute shower. If ever there was an example of farce combined with despicable antisemitism, this was it.

Tuesday morning’s row on the conference floor over how Labour will challenge and punish Jew-hatred was in equal parts shambolic and frightening.

It is now beyond doubt who is truly running Labour. The mainstream has been blown away and the hard-left is tightening its grip on the party’s soul. 

The absence of moderate MPs was noticeable in Brighton. Those who came were largely silent in public. This is a different party now and all discussion of leadership challenges or post-Corbyn reformation is redundant.

All the old boys were back — Ken Livingstone and Ken Loach all over the airwaves offering their unwanted views on Jews and the Holocaust; and amid it all, there was Mr Corbyn, on the dais, watching silently. Oh, Jeremy Corbyn.

The atmosphere around the main conference centre was horrible. I watched a group of delegates scream “f*** off” as Tom Watson, deputy leader, spoke, before bemoaning missing the opportunity to “bodycheck” Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC political editor, as she ran by. Then they asked John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor, to sign autographs — and all of this within five minutes.

The depth of the party’s problem with antisemitism was all too visible - and this year it came with a new level of frightening warnings.

“Be careful,” one opponent of the proposed rule changes said from the podium, in what seemed to be a thinly-veiled threat followed swiftly by an antisemitic trope about collusion with right-wing media.

There was criticism of the Jewish Labour Movement after it put out leaflets on the eve of the rule change vote urging people to “help Jeremy Corbyn fight antisemitism”.

Mr Corbyn, remember, keeps telling us how much he hates abuse, but could not bring himself to utter just three words in his main speech: “Don’t be antisemitic”.

It was embarrassing to hear Emily Thornberry try to explain that he was not at the Labour Friends of Israel reception because he was preparing his speech, while he was partying his way through at least four other events.

JLM’s efforts in the past 18 months have been worthwhile but bringing up the leader’s name — with all that he implies for Jewish voters — amid days of foul rhetoric looked a misstep.

Meanwhile JLM figures were at pains to point out what they had achieved by getting the policy voted through.

The Labour Friends of Israel event came at the end of a long day of bitterness on Tuesday. Almost everyone was stuck between acknowledging the JLM’s hard work while tearing their hair out at the fresh surge of hatred they had witnessed.

For me, it was best summed up at dinner when I overheard a group of three random, middle-aged Labour supporters discussing what they had seen at conference.

One said he had been to the Jewish Voices for Labour event and while he felt some delegates had “over-stepped the mark” with comments about Israel and Jews, he admitted he had enjoyed the meeting and welcomed the new group. 

His friend said she liked Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, the veteran anti-Israel activist who appeared to be the “star” of the hard-left anti-Zionist show this year. They moved on to discuss how an influx of hard-left activists in their north London constituency branch had revitalised their political movement. 

Their conclusion? “This is the dream, a mass progressive movement.”

It was a sobering moment. Mr Corbyn has had everything thrown at him in the past two years — the terror group links, the antisemitism crisis and more — and not only survived but thrived. He, and his supporters, are now euphoric and feel untouchable.

After the horrors of last year’s conference this was meant to be a new start. But the situation still feels desperate.

A year ago I visited the Momentum group’s pseudo conference held on the sidelines. This year there was no need to go back — the hard-left fringe has become the mainstream. Much of the debate and comment in the main hall was in line with that worldview.British Jews — traditional Labour voters or otherwise — will see what happened in Brighton and make up their own minds. Many independent observers will recoil in horror at what has become of the country’s official opposition.

The rule changes and tougher action against antisemites may bring results but only in the medium to long-term. For many, that will be too late. The damage is done.

This article was updated on September 28th to reflect refinements made for the print edition of the JC

September 26, 2017 14:10

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