Luciana Berger: I want to give the Jewish community a new political home

The MP on the events that triggered her exit from Labour and what next for her new political group


Luciana Berger has claimed the new group she has launched alongside six other MPs who resigned from Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party will provide the Jewish community with the “political home that they, like much of the rest of the country, are now looking for.”

Speaking to the JC in the aftermath of her decision to quit Labour over the hard-left takeover that she says has left the party “institutionally antisemitic”, the Jewish MP said she wanted to invite the community to read up on the values of the new Independent Group – which she has joined along with MPs Mike Gapes, Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith and Ann Coffey.

With the telephone ringing continuously in her Westminster office as we spoke, Ms Berger said: “I’ve been struck by the emails, texts and messages coming from people within the Jewish community.

“Like so many people all across the country, they only see the main political parties being driven by the extreme of their spectrums and becoming increasingly narrowly focused and regrettably acting in party interests – rather than what is best for the country.

“We are seeking to do things differently. I would invite the Jewish community to have a look at our website and see what our values are. There is an opportunity to tell us what values you agree with and what you may disagree with.

“I am told that even as we are speaking on our launch day there have been a significant number of small donations. This is indicative of how keen people are to get involved with us.”

Ms Berger says it is too early to discuss funding of the project – which is ultimately hoped to evolve into a centrist party made up of disaffected politicians from across the political spectrum.

Responding to the concern that the situation facing French President Emmanuel Macron does not bode well for centrist politics, Ms Berger immediately counters saying: “We are not France.”

She adds: “I can only reflect on the responses we have had so far.

“I can only invite you to look at my inbox on my computer which is beeping every 10 seconds and speaks to the desire of what we know is the vast majority of this country that is currently unrepresented.

“The Liberal Democrats have not got credibility, we are seeing a Tory Party that has been taken over by the ERG and Labour which has been taken over by the far-left.

“There are vast swathes of this country which are unrepresented. We are talking about values that represent them.”

The horrendous abuse faced by Ms Berger, particularly from hard-left activists in her Liverpool Wavertree constituency, is clearly at the centre of her decision to resign from the party she has represented since being elected to Parliament in 2010.

But now heavily pregnant, expecting her and husband Alistair Goldsmith’s second child, she cites the moment she questioned the Labour leader’s message supporting the artist who painted a quite clearly antisemitic mural in Tower Hamlets as the catalyst for a series of events that made her “painful” decision to leave the party a no-brainer in the end.

“It was the Friday before the Monday of the Enough Is Enough demonstration outside Parliament,” she recalls of the moment she decided to openly question Mr Corbyn.

“I hadn’t actually seen it [the mural] before then, despite it being discussed on blogs and written about in the JC before.

“But I didn’t get a proper response [from Mr Corbyn], then there was the fight to get the party to adopt the IHRA definition in full, which even at the last moment there was an attempt to undermine.

“Then there was what became known as the ‘summer of antisemitism’ - all the connections Jeremy had made, his statements of July, August and September - it really has got worse.

“More recently, two weeks in a row at the meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party, we had a motion that was unanimously supported by party colleagues calling on the leadership  to release the information about antisemitism cases - and we were held with utter contempt.

“This has been something the leadership has sought to dismiss and turn a blind eye to every step of the way.

“That is why I have come to the conclusion the party is institutionally antisemitic.

“I said ‘Enough is Enough’ and I challenged it from within. Now I mean Enough IS Enough.”

And then, of course, there was the impact of the catalogue of personal threats made to Ms Berger as she publically challenged the Labour leadership over their failure to tackle antisemitism, and the party’s failure to protect her from the increasingly vicious slurs and attacks she has faced on a daily basis.

“The specific experience, the issue of physical threats being made against me in a party that is supposed to pride itself on values of anti-racism,” says Ms Berger about what prompted her to leave.

“This was the party that I joined as a student that stood up and fought against racism – that had equality at its core.”

Ms Berger is scathing of the decision made under general secretary Jennie Formby not to make her aware of specific threats against her which are now the subject of a police investigation.

The threats were contained in a dossier sent to radio station LBC after being ignored by Labour, including one which suggested Ms Berger deserved a “good kicking”.

“Even if we put the antisemitism aside and even if we put political differences aside in the wake of the horrific and tragic murder of my colleague Jo Cox - the idea that you wouldn't pass that [the threats] on,” she reflects, angrily.

“This was a party that was made aware of a physical threat against me and didn't tell me about it - and didn't tell the police about it.”

But as we spoke, the news emerged that Len McCluskey, the Unite union chief, had spoken to the media and once again claimed Labour’s antisemitism crisis was somehow “contrived”.

“The fact you have got Len McCluskey going on television and saying what he did is indicative that there are still people who refuse to acknowledge this is a problem,” says Ms Berger.

"The truth is one antisemite within the Labour Party's ranks is one antisemite too many. 

"For a political movement that is supposed to pride itself on tackling all forms of racism - Jew-hatred is no different from any other form of racism.

 "As we approach the anniversary of the Enough Is Enough demonstration where the Jewish community took the unprecedented step of protesting against her majesty's opposition what had become apparent is that it is now apparently okay to be antisemitic in the Labour Party.

"This just doesn't chime with an organisation that supposedly has zero tolerance to racism."

She also addressed the vicious smears made against her after she appeared at last September’s Labour Party Conference accompanied by police bodyguards.

A much repeated smear on pro-Corbyn social media sites and elsewhere was the suggestion that this was somehow all a stunt.

“The idea that people were seriously putting forward the claim that I placed myself adjacent to police officers in order to be photographed with them - or that I paid people to dress up as police officers [is ridiculous],” reflects Ms Berger.

“And the ridiculous notion that you can somehow just request police to be next to you - that doesn't happen.

“I’m not allowed to speak in detail about my security situation but it’s not a secret that I’ve seen six people convicted of antisemitic hate crimes against me.

“On that basis police make their own threat assessments and determine what is needed for individual people.”

We discuss the impact of Ms Berger’s decision to now leave the party on the army of young Jewish activists in Labour who looked up to her as their lead.

“I have not taken this decision lightly,” she says. “It has been a very painful one. Now it is up to individuals to make their own decision on whether they wish to stay or remain in the party.

“I’ve left because I don’t think I can affect any change to counter the antisemitism in today’s Labour Party.”

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