What if Ken Loach was not a leftist but a far-right bigot?

His defenders seem very keen to celebrate his work, but would they feel the same if he was right-wing


British film director Ken Loach gestures during a photocall for the film "Sorry We Missed You" at the 72nd edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 17, 2019. (Photo by LOIC VENANCE / AFP) (Photo by LOIC VENANCE/AFP via Getty Images)

June 29, 2023 12:00

In March of this year, the Labour mayor of North Tyne, Jamie Driscoll, took part in a discussion about films with an award-winning director whose last three movies had been made in the area. This auteur was described by Driscoll as “possibly our greatest living film director”. The discussion may well have cost Driscoll his job, since a few weeks later he was informed by the Labour Party (by email) that he was not included on the shortlist of candidates to stand in the next set of elections for the mayoral position.

The Labour decision has caused a storm. Several local Labour parties have condemned it, as have broadly pro-Starmer, centre-left commentators. Driscoll is seen as having been an effective mayor and the suggestion has been widely made that his defenestration was an act of centrist over-reach, or outright “factionalism” on the part of party centre.

So why is all this happening? The director was, of course, Ken Loach, twice winner of the Palme D’Or, the highest prize given by the annual Cannes film festival. The Ken Loach who was expelled from Labour in 2021, almost certainly because of his association with those denying that Labour under Jeremy Corbyn had suffered from an antisemitism problem.
In the most recent edition of the journal Fathom, the academic Alan Johnson has contributed a lengthy and well-argued article urging the Labour Party to rethink.

For those who don’t know Alan, his credentials as both an analyst of antisemitism and a campaigner against it are unimpeachable. Johnson reminds his readers that Driscoll has no record of antisemitism whatsoever, accepts the IHRA definition, and has in the past stated that “a lot of people have been offensive in the way that they have conflated criticism of the State of Israel with wilfully provocative language blaming Jewish people in general, which is antisemitism. Let’s not say there is no antisemitism here.” Furthermore, the discussion with Loach was purely about film-making; other senior Labour figures, including David Lammy, have praised Loach’s movies in recent times; and in any case, one must separate the art from the views — or even the behaviour — of the artist.

Finally, writes Johnson, “The danger of this decision is that it may discredit the fight against left antisemitism. It may make people more sympathetic to Loach who, as one of the worst deniers of left antisemitism in Labour, deserves no sympathy.”

There’s your problem, right there, in that final half-sentence. Because it immediately raises what we might call the Baddiel Question: is this what we would say if the minority involved was not the Jews, but some other group?

Loach is not just any headstrong celebrity with a penchant for running his mouth on political issues, or for putting his name to round robins that he has only cursorily read before signing. He isn’t Mark Rylance, with a series of daffy views that occasionally emerge when an interviewer is unkind enough to ask about them.

Loach’s animus towards Israel’s existence and establishment, and his toleration of those who express these grievances in terms of all-powerful “lobbies” is not some minor bolt-on to his personality. It is a central part of his existence as a political activist, and has been for 50 years.

When, in 1987, he was about to direct the Trotskyist Jim Allen’s anti-Zionist and revisionist play Perdition at the Royal Court, it was not (as some Corbynists would have people believe) an act in defence of free speech but because he agreed with Allen’s politics. As Dave Rich points out: “The play argues that there was a deliberate and knowing strategy by the Zionist movement to sacrifice European Jews in return for getting a state of Israel. Morally, in this argument, the people who created the state of Israel were no better than the Nazis.” Tracy-Ann Oberman recalled in the Telegraph that she discussed it on her student drama course, including the line “the road to Golgotha runs along Park Avenue, where rich American Jews hurl tax-deductible donations [to Israel] from their fur-lined dugouts”. That’s what Loach wanted to bring to the stage.

In 2009, after Operation Cast Lead, when asked about anti-Jewish feeling in Europe, Loach infamously replied: “If there has been a rise, I’m not surprised. In fact, it is perfectly understandable because Israel feeds feelings of antisemitism.” That’s Ken Loach. The Respect party of George Galloway. That’s Ken Loach. Israel is a settler-colonialist entity. That’s Ken Loach.

Now imagine there’s a splendid film director called Len Koach. Koach has won two Oscars. He is taught in all the film schools. Fabulous technique. Great cinematography. The trouble is that Koach has unfortunate views on immigration and asylum. He believes that small boat migrants to Britain are “settler colonialists” who are “invading” the country.

He has argued that anti-black racism was down to how African rulers have been behaving in countries like Uganda.

He has been, in his time, a supporter of Ukip, the Brexit Party, Reform, Reclaim, the Monday Club; in fact, myriad fringe parties and organisations on the right margins of the Conservative Party. And he loses few public opportunities to express his views.

Would Jamie Driscoll sit down for a friendly chin-wag about movies with Len Koach? Answers on a postcard.

David Aaronovitch writes at

June 29, 2023 12:00

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