Back to the future: why Jamie Susskind has rejoined Labour

Two years after leaving the party over antisemitism, the young barrister is back because of Keir Starmer's efforts to turn a new leaf


For Jamie Susskind, the exile is over.

In April 2018, the young barrister resigned from the Labour Party, appalled at the anti-Jewish hatred flourishing in its ranks. In his resignation letter, he wrote that Labour had become “the foremost platform for antisemitism in British public life”.

Now, two and half years later, he has become a member again. It is a move of deep personal significance — Susskind joined the party in his late teens (he is 30 now), fired by a belief that Labour reflected the Jewish values that inform his political outlook.

His return could be an important moment for Labour, too. Susskind is no ordinary party member. As an Oxford undergraduate he contributed material to speeches by then leader Ed Miliband. And although a lawyer by profession, he is making a name for himself as a political thinker. His book, Future Politics, which came out in paperback earlier this year, focuses on how technology will transform the political world and, in turn, wider society.

The work has won rave reviews and awards. One newspaper described its author as an “intellectual rockstar”.

So, Labour has regained a smart Jewish activist with a growing profile and Susskind has returned to his political home. But what prompted this change of heart?

“I never wanted to be outside the party,” he says. “Although I took the decision to leave, I always thought that decision had been in effect taken for me by the party leadership and the people within the party to whom they were giving cover.”

The arrival of Keir Starmer as a leader committed to getting rid of the antisemites has made the difference.

“Although there are still serious problems, I now feel that I can be a member of the party in good faith and contribute from the inside to its efforts to tackle antisemitism,” he says. “I’m quite clear in my mind that is the right thing to do.”

He felt his membership while Jeremy Corbyn was leader made it impossible to “hold my head up high in the Jewish community”.

“I don’t feel that way anymore,” he says. “I think even my Jewish friends who are reluctant to have anything to do with Labour will understand the need for Jewish Labour activists to make their voices heard.”

Plenty of politicians have a background in the law — not least Starmer himself — but Susskind insists he is “genuinely ambivalent” about a career in politics. He does, however, feel “the tug of public service”.

“Honestly, I don’t see it happening anytime soon but it’s definitely something I wouldn’t rule out,” he says.

All that lies in the future, which, according to his book, could be a scary place.

In Future Politics, he set out the profound dangers we will face in what he calls the “digital lifeworld”. He believes we are not ready for the changes that “relentless advances in science and technology” will bring.

One major issue is the power tech corporations such as Google, Apple and Microsoft will exert.

“In the future, those who control and own the most powerful technologies will increasingly have a great deal of control over the rest of us. The quality of our democracy, the extent and nature of our freedom, and the amount of justice in society will be increasingly be determined not just in the traditional places of politics but in digital technology and what we do with it,” he says.

Susskind’s mission, as he sees it, is to raise public awareness of the issues facing us and encourage “a great mindset shift”, in the same way the public has become attuned to the threat of climate change.

“We should stop looking at technology just as consumers and instead look at it as citizens as well,” he says. “We have to start as a society asking what these systems, are doing to us and the way we live.”

The coronavirus pandemic could accelerate the dawn of the digital lifeworld, he believes, as we acclimatise to a world where human contact is perilous and reliance on technology increases as a result.

It is not surprising that Susskind is fascinated by this area. As he says, “writing about the future has become a weird family business”.

His father is Richard Susskind, a lawyer who is a leading expert on technology in the legal profession and IT adviser to the Lord Chief Justice.

Older brother Daniel is an economist specialising in the consequences of technological advance for the labour market.

“I grew up in a household that took technology seriously,” says Susskind.

It must have made for some rarefied conversations around the Shabbat table in the family home in Radlett? Actually, no.

“We’re in many ways a quite normal, mildly chaotic north London Jewish family,” he says.

No pressure was exerted on Susskind, or Daniel and younger sister Alexandra, to follow in “the weird family business”. His parents — Richard and mother Michelle, a former nurse who is now a cognitive behavioural therapist — emphasised the importance of “finding our passion and having fun”. As it happens, he laughs, “we did turn out on the nerdier side”.

After attending Haberdashers’ school and Oxford, where he studied politics and history, Susskind was called to the Bar in 2013 and now works at Littleton Chambers in the Inner Temple, specialising in employment and discrimination law.

One particular case caused ripples in the Jewish community when, in 2017, he acted pro bono for the Campaign Against Antisemitism in challenging a decision by the Crown Prosecution Service not to prosecute a neo-Nazi hate speaker. The Director for Public Prosecutions reversed the decision.

For now, Susskind’s future holds another book — a follow-up to Future Politics — and a wedding. Earlier in the year he announced his engagement to his partner Joanna Hardy, a criminal barrister.

The couple live in north London with their miniature sausage dog, Mr Pickle.

Rejoining Labour may be an important move for Susskind, but his engagement… “ that’s by far the biggest news in my life,” he says.

‘Future Politics – Living Together in a World Transformed by Tech’ is published by Oxford University Press

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