A threatening legal letter over antisemitism just makes me wonder what the Labour Party has got to hide

On about 20 per cent in the polls, behind even the leaderless Tories and the Brexit Party fruitcakes, Labour’s position is dire

Sean O'Grady
Monday 08 July 2019 13:48
Wes Streeting suggests Jeremy Corbyn should consider whether someone else should lead Labour

Carter-Ruck is not a name you readily associate with the Labour movement. This fancy firm of solicitors is, rather, the letterhead of choice for the rich and famous who wish to protect themselves and their reputation from the likes of Private Eye. For whatever reason.

A letter from Carter-Ruck usually has a chilling effect on the recipient. With a fierce reputation nurtured over many decades, a strongly worded missive from Carter-Ruck, replete with legalese and dire warnings is a signal of intent that their client is bigger than you are. So shut your trap.

(I would love to know, by the way, how much of its members’ money the Labour Party has spaffed on Carter-Ruck fees. An obscene amount, perhaps?).

As Tom Watson says, "using expensive media lawyers in [an] attempt to silence staff members is as futile as it is stupid”. And yet it is exactly what is being done by the Labour Party in enforcing non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) with its ex-staff.

Some would call them whistle-blowers, and their stories are being told by BBC Panorama. NDAs are, in reality, barely enforceable in many cases, and are easily trumped by the various clauses in the Human Rights Act 1998 (a New Labour achievement) about freedom of speech. Plus there is a public interest defence in publication. Carter-Ruck will have advised its unusual client accordingly about the upsides and downsides of threatening litigation. They are excellent lawyers, to be fair. The decision to press on will be Labour’s alone.

So you do wonder what Labour is so concerned about that it would take such an extreme action as firing off letters from Carter-Ruck.

Well, the allegations touch on the most sensitive issue of all in today’s Labour Party: the extraordinary rise of antisemitism, the party’s failure to deal with it, the integrity of its internal procedures, and its growing and unwelcome reputation as a institutionally antisemitic, and therefore racist, organisation. The most damning and comprehensive indictment is given by the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, Stephen Pollard, who puts it like this:

“Labour’s antisemitism is not some unfortunate issue that has taken it by surprise, and which it will deal with if pushed a bit harder. It is a fundamental part of the political DNA of those who now run the party and many of its members. They know exactly what they are doing”.

Pollard is, broadly, right, though I think, probably, that he fails to take account of how feeble-minded of some of those who decide to put their incoherent views on Twitter actually are – more to be pitied than anything.

Still, if the Labour Party can’t educate them in their errors of their perceptions, or doesn’t wish to, then it should be rid of them. It should be rid of officials who use their influence to intervene in disciplinary procedures. It should be rid of MPs and activists who refuse to accept Labour’s own adoption of the internationally agreed definition of antisemitism in full. It really is as simple as that. They wouldn’t tolerate people who were Islamophobic; they barely tolerate people who think a second referendum on Brexit is good idea. So why go easy on the antisemites?

The failure, to be generous, may be just the usual bureaucratic impulse to behave like a hedgehog when under attack, and hope that the critics, politically motivated in some cases, will just go away. (They won’t, and the damage is now all the greater).

Less generously, it is a mutation and perversion of Labour’s long standing solidarity with the Palestinian people, and antipathy to the policies of various Israeli governments – symbolised in the mass appearance of Palestinian flags at Labour conferences and at rallies.

Far too often this compassionate impulse shades into a hostility to the existence of Israel itself, and then on to the belief that the wider Jewish community is complicit in this, because they support (many of them – not all) the existence of Israel. (So do many non-Jewish people, of course).

That is then melded into some ancient conspiracy theories about the power of international Jewry and its supposed control of banks and the media – like that absurd mural in the East End Jeremy Corbyn stood in front of, with its round table of hook-nosed Wall Street baddies making dollars literally on the backs of the world’s poor.

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A surprising number of people, consciously or not, in the Labour movement are prone to such fantasies, and it is they who have no place in party that does believe, as Labour says it does, in the right of Israel to exist. I sometimes doubt whether Corbyn, for example, believes in this IHRA example of antisemitism: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.” I’d like to hear Corbyn endorse that example in those terms. It would set an example. It would help.

Anyway, the BBC is telling us some more about the culture of antisemitism in the Labour party, and the official investigation by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission will tell us even more, and Carter-Ruck will not be able to stop them. The truth will out.

On antisemitism, on Europe and its political strategy generally, things are coming to a head. On about 20 per cent in the polls, even behind the leaderless Tories and the Brexit Party fruitcakes, Labour’s position is dire. And yet it would be so easy to get it right, in three easy steps:

1. Chuck out the antisemites, after swift due process;

2. Back a People’s Vote on Brexit, with a party policy in favour of Remain but allowing the few dissident MPs (e.g .Kate Hoey) and members to campaign for Leave if they want;

3. Clear out those unelected senior officials who have defied the Labour constitution to obstruct the first two steps.

The frustrating thing is that a determined leader could do all three by the end of this month. A determined leader is what Labour doesn’t have. Therefore it needs a new leader, who will sort the thing out.

Not that I’d enjoy living under it much, but that’s their best chance of securing a Labour government. Otherwise they can look forward to futile protests against a ruling Boris Johnson-Nigel-Farage-Arlene Foster coalition that will last until about 2030.

Labour belongs to its members. It’s their choice; the rest of the country, evidently, won’t regret the demise of the Labour Party as much as its members will. Do the right thing now. “Do or die”, you might say.

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