Momentum, antisemitism and the coup

Just when you think that the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn can’t get any more ludicrous writes Andy Stowe, a journalist working for Rupert Murdoch remembers something he read in The Sun a year ago and tries to land what he hopes will be the killer blow to his leadership of the Labour Party. At the time of writing the prize for hack goes to Henry Zeffman of The Times who’s unearthed the long-suspected Ku Klux Klan (KKK) / Corbyn link that had only previously been hinted at in pubs late in the evening and in that Sun article from a year ago.

Zeffman’s scoop of the year is that the Klan’s grand wizard (sic) put two and two together and made nine by conflating Corbyn’s support for Palestinians with a hatred of Jews in 2015. Zeffman didn’t point out that Duke subsequently referred to Corbyn as “Marxist filth” and an “anti-White Marxist”, something that would have revealed his story for the fiction it is. Zeffman also neglected to mention that his paper’s owner Rupert Murdoch has tweeted about the “Jewish owned press” and the Sunday Times commissioned Holocaust denier David Irving to serialise what turned out to be a bogus diary by Adolf Hitler.

As if Corbyn’s relationship with the KKK weren’t bad enough, it turned out that he’d not been present at the point in meeting in which a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust Hajo Meyer said he was “pained by the parallels I observe between my experiences in Germany prior to 1939 and those suffered by Palestinians today.” This was clear proof of his own antisemitism and Corbyn’s.

This is the theme that dominated virtually every British newspaper and the BBC’s news coverage for a week and that’s only a small sample of the torrent of fabrication.

Margaret Hodge, a Labour MP who thought the smartest way to fight the far right was to start nicking some of its ideas, called Corbyn a “fucking anti-semite and a racist”. In most jobs speaking to any colleague, never mind your boss, like that would either have you shown the door or severely sanctioned. Hodge has known Corbyn for about forty years, If she seriously believed her accusations were true she’d have been justified in trying to have him drummed out of the party a long time ago. Labour’s decision not to take any disciplinary action against an unrepentant Hodge have now set a precedent allowing any right winger complete freedom to verbally abuse and slander members on the left of the party.

The ferocity and tenacity of the attacks on the Corbyn leadership using antisemitism as a cover resemble a computer game in which attackers come at the player continuously from every angle in a staggering variety of guises. Entirely coincidentally it starts just when polls start showing a significant Labour lead over the Tories.

The NEC leak

Labour’s National Executive Committee is the body at which senior party members discuss its running. The discussions are supposed to be confidential so that people can express their views freely. Someone hostile to the Corbyn leadership recorded NEC member Pete Willsman making a ranty contribution which was leaked to the Jewish Chronicle, a paper edited by Stephen Pollard, who in 2006 said that “The mainstream Left has demonstrated clearly which side of the battle to preserve Western civilisation and freedom it is on. The Left, in any recognisable form, is now the enemy.” Pollard is a militant Tory class warrior and he is using his paper to attack Corbyn because he is ideologically hostile to the left.

In the recording, Pete Willsman said some Jewish people support Donald Trump. That’s a fact. Some social media accounts are operated by opponents of Corbynism to put it in a bad light. That’s a fact. He asked for evidence of widespread antisemitism to be presented. This was spun by every media outlet to effectively paint him as antisemitic.

My personal view, and it’s only that, is that his remarks were alarmingly lacking in nuance for someone seeking to be re-elected to a leadership position.  Damian Enticott, a Labour councillor has been suspended for allegedly posting comments about blood drinking Jews.  It’s absurd to believe that there is no antisemitism in a party of half a million members and Willsman should have made that clear.

And the manner in which Momentum’s support was abruptly withdrawn from Willsman was a problematic as the way in which members were told to support his candidacy and that of others in the ongoing NEC election.

Some lessons

This has caught most Corbyn supporters unawares. The percentage of them who give any credibility to antisemitic conspiracy theories is vanishingly small and for many of them their politics are defined by their opposition to all forms of racism and discrimination. As many have pointed out, including Roland Rance on this site, what’s really happening is another coup attempt against the Corbyn leadership.

Not one of his critics has pointed out that the Conservatives have no explicit clause in their rulebook against antisemitism. That’s irrelevant. Boris Johnson can make flagrantly Islamophobic comments in his newspaper column. That just Boris having a laugh. The supporters of the Labour right clustered around Progress, the journalists, editors and proprietors are all part of a small milieu who know each other socially and professionally. Farage, Murdoch, Fox, Sarah Sands, editor of the Today programme can happily lunch together and affluent Guardian journalists go to the same dinner parties as MPs before writing “ironic” Waco comparisons. This is how they conduct class war.

There are some lessons in all this for the left.

Antisemitism, and indeed any form of racism always and everywhere, must be called out whether it’s on social media, Whatsapp groups, pub conversations or hints in meetings.

Lazily expressed ideas will be used by the opposition. Every mobile phone now is a voice recorder, camera and transmitter. If you say something daft or poorly thought through you can expect it to be used against you.

Momentum’s utter lack of democracy is no longer sustainable. Jon Lansman is not an infallible strategist, and even if he were, that would not justify his one-man rule of a very effective pro-Corbyn campaign network. An organisation of around 40 000 paying members should be offering an annual delegate based conference at which decisions and policy can be made. As for putting slates together, it’s now common practice for organisations to run online ballots which allow candidates to circulate personal statement and win votes from the membership on the basis of their politics.

The current system is a socialist version of “I know this chap at the golf club who would be perfect for the job”. You can put yourself forward – but only a few people get to decide whether you will proceed. That can’t go on. Momentum needs to be developing a new left leadership based on people in their teens, twenties and thirties rather than striking secret deals.



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