Former Labour MP Louise Ellman has revealed how she was left “traumatised” by a campaign of intimidation, harassment and dehumanisation, which forced her resignation from the party.
Ellman, who was MP for Liverpool Riverside from 1997 to 2019 left the Labour party after “antisemitism became rampant […] at the top of the Labour party and at ground level” under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
Addressing a packed room at the Limmud conference in Birmingham, she said that the antisemitism towards her from members of her local constituency party was “predominantly antisemitic anti-Zionism…I’m not talking about someone criticising the policies of the government of Israel. I’m talking about a way of thinking, when Zionism is seen as inherently racist, imperialist, conspiratorial, all-powerful and in fact, remarkably similar to [antisemitic publication] The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
She told the audience that when Corbyn became Labour leader, membership of her constituency grew quickly from around 500 to 2,700 and that the new members “were pretty clear about why they had joined. They had an explicit aim, which, they told me, was to remove me.”
Ellman recalled the abuse she had faced at constituency meetings, where she was described as “the Zionist – therefore as racist, imperialist and right-wing – when none of these things were true. My position is very middle of the road. I have always supported a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
She said she was regularly “harassed by what I can only call an aggressive mob” at meetings and continually confronted with questions about Israel. “One question was: ‘How did I reconcile being elected by a democratic UK political party, yet I represented a foreign fascist government?’ and didn’t I know that Israel funded Isis, and would I withdraw my backing for attacking Isis in Syria in case it hurt an Israeli soldier?”
Rather than leave the party at that point, Ellman said that her decision to “stand up and answer the questions [instead of leaving] got them madder than ever”.
In 2016, The Times showed Ellman documents which revealed evidence of a plot among Momentum members to oust her from her seat. “This wasn’t just random people in a meeting deciding to ask me all these things, but there was actually a real plot.
“A special committee had been set up to deal with me and they had different jobs they had to do. one person had to challenge constitutional issues, another had to try and find some kind of weak spot in something I said. As I read it, it all fitted.”
After Ellman submitted a complaint to Labour’s national executive committee, an investigation led to the suspension of Liverpool Riverside Labour party meetings for 18 months, but when they met again, the campaign for Ellman’s removal continued, she said, based this time on a process of dehumanisation. “They couldn’t do the intimidation stuff anymore, but suddenly, I’d go into a room of meetings and people would put their head down or look the other way or shut a door just as I was coming to it. …I discovered there was a campaign organised ….to dehumanise me.”
This was felt most evidently when she held on to her seat with 84 per cent of the vote at the 2017 election and went to the celebration drinks. “I had just assumed people would come up to me, and I realised I was just being ignored, absolutely studiously and deliberately ignored. All these crowds looking at the screen with the election results and walking past me or looking the other way. That did have an impact on me.”
Her decision to leave came after the Labour Party Conference in 2019, where she had spoken at the Labour Friends of Israel meeting. “I had said that Corbyn was not fit for office. Then I went to the next constituency Labour party meeting, it was absolutely packed with people and as I walked in, I could feel the hatred.”
She said that one of the members “marched up to the front and said: ‘We don’t want to talk about this antisemitism. We want to talk about the national health service and equality’ and so I said: ‘I’m very surprised. I didn’t know that socialists had to choose between combatting racism and fighting for equality in public services’.
As most people in the meeting “exploded with rage”, Ellman said she felt “absolute contempt for the people in there apart from my group of supporters in the corner and I thought: ‘I don’t want anything to do with you lot.’”
Her final decision to leave came when a vote of no confidence in her was scheduled for Kol Nidre.
The experience of harassment and dehumanisation left Ellman feeling “very traumatised…and I don’t think that’s ever left me. It was a terrible, terrible position to be in.”
Asked why she hadn’t decided to leave earlier, she said: “I was just very determined. I knew what I was up against. I knew what the hard left were like, I knew about the militant tendency, and I wasn’t going to give into it.”
Describing it as “an iconic moment” when Keir Starmer announced her return to the Labour party at the 2021 party conference, she said: “He welcomed me back from the stage… somebody shouted out something nasty and suddenly the whole conference rose and clapped [for me] and got rid of them.”
Commenting on the shift in the Labour party under Starmer, Ellman said: “Starmer is doing a very good job. It’s a very changed place,” adding: “There is still work to do and there always will be.”
On the surge of anti-Israel activity among the far left since October 7, Ellman said: “If you look at some of the posters, we see Zionism is evil by definition, imperialist and racist….It’s absolute hatred. …. It’s not particularly a Labour party problem now. It’s to do with the progressives.”
She hit out at the UN for its reluctance to condemn the sexual violence committed against Israeli women on October 7, saying: “Why is it so quiet? Why is it so mute? I can only think that it is back to the anti-Zionism.”