Why I'm voting tactically for Labour

'I don’t fear the antisemitism of the left nearly as much as I do the antisemitism of the right.'

December 03, 2019 09:49

I usually vote Labour. Except in European elections where there’s proportional representation. Then I vote Green.

My parents were active in the Labour Party. Growing up in Hendon, I was stuffing leaflets in letter-boxes while still in short trousers. My parents believed in social justice, the welfare state, public ownership of basic utilities and internationalism: the common good.

I was suckled on those values.  They never felt in conflict with my Jewishness. Indeed as I got older it seemed to me that it’s what Judaism was all about: kindness to the stranger; treating one’s neighbour as one would like to be treated oneself; siding with the underdog. With our history of persecution it was natural to identify with least powerful, the most vulnerable. And wasn’t it the Labour movement – the dockers and the building workers – who defended the Jewish East End against the fascists at the battle of Cable Street?

I was drawn to Socialist Zionism and the great experiment of the kibbutzim which were the primary building block of the new nation. I hero-worshipped Ben Gurion and his vision of a strong Israel at peace with its neighbours, as a democratic state of all of its citizens.

While the new Jewish historians raised uncomfortable questions about the expulsion of the Arab majority during the war of independence, post-Holocaust the necessity of Israel’s survival was for me axiomatic. I signed up to volunteer during the six-day war.

In a trice it was over and I never went. On the news I saw images of trouser-less Arab soldiers fleeing jeering Israeli troops in the Sinai desert, and felt both jubilant and ashamed. I smelt hubris, and with it, the trouble to come.

That was my Labour heritage. I was not alone. The large majority of British Jews voted Labour.

Flash forward fifty years.

This January I gave up my membership of the Labour Party. I resigned not over anti-Semitism, which hadn’t yet reached peak uproar, but over Brexit. I wrote to Jeremy Corbyn threatening my departure after forty years if he didn’t follow the lead of his members who were (and I think still are) overwhelmingly pro-remain. Needless to say, he took no notice, and I was obliged to follow through on my threat. He is the most stubborn man.

At the same time I resisted the furore that was building around antisemitism.

I wanted to believe that the extent of antisemitism was exaggerated; that the anti-Corbyn bandwagon, whipped up by the right-wing press, was too easy to step onto; that the Labour party was educable about where legitimate anti-Zionism morphed into antisemitism. With a Netanyahu government imposing ever-greater humiliations on the Palestinians some on the left found an easy target for self-righteous condemnation. They began to question Israel’s right to exist as a homeland for Jews. They didn’t begin to understand our sensitivity to any threat to the survival of the one Jewish nation state.

Corbyn did himself no favours. Slow to respond and slow to act. I found the Panorama programme detailing interference from the leadership in the internal body set up to investigate complaints of antisemitism heartbreaking. Young, good-willed activists driven into despair by feeling their work undervalued and without autonomy. I can sort of understand the Labour leadership’s reluctance to expel people they regarded as experienced campaigners who had spoken out of turn. But they sorely misjudged the tenor of the times.

Like Lord Dubs, who is much closer to what’s actually going on than I am, I still think the Labour Party is redeemable. Its underlying social democratic values will stand it in good stead long-term. Its plan for a Green New Deal, for example, is a breath of fresh air.

I don’t fear the antisemitism of the left nearly as much as I do the antisemitism of the right.

The big spike in antisemitism in recent years happened after the Brexit vote. That vote legitimised the bitter and small-minded to speak out. I fear it will happen again, and the hatred will be worse. Don’t be fooled by the election sweet-talking. We stand to elect the most ideologically extreme right-wing government this country has ever seen. The Conservative Party has become the Brexit Party in all but name. It’s a xenophobic populist party which has expelled all the one-Nation Tories of substance. It has limited respect for democracy. Leaving Europe will continue to be fraught and painful for years to come. It will not be good for the Jews.

These nine years of Conservative government has brought rising wealth for a few, and a huge rise in poverty for many, who have been made to pay for the banking crash of 2008. It has brought record NHS waiting lists, and lower spends per school pupil than ten years ago. This is not the Jewish way.

The received wisdom at the moment in the Jewish press is to vote for anyone but Labour. I beg to differ.  I appeal to fellow Jews to vote tactically, for any candidate who will support a second referendum. There are any number of tactical voting sites online. If I lived in Finchley and Golders Green I’d be voting for Lib Dem Luciana Berger. In my own constituency of Chipping Barnet I’ll be voting for Labour’s Emma Whysall.

Paul Morrison is a film-maker. His Oscar-nominated feature Solomon & Gaenor is currently celebrating its 20th Anniversary tour of the UK with the Jewish Film Festival. His latest film 23 Walks will be released next year.

December 03, 2019 09:49

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