Mark Steel: Labour should take lead from Tories on racial sensitivity

May 8, 2016
Jeremy Corbyn with Sadiq Khan.

With an organisation as important as the Labour Party accused of something as serious as antisemitism, it's a relief that everyone has managed to stay calm and measured, and not exaggerate things in any way.

Rivals gently suggest Labour is “rife with antisemitism” and “riddled with hatred from top to bottom” and Jewish people can't feel safe in Labour, and soon a columnist will declare: “Labour is now more terrifying for Jews than Russia in the 1880s. Jews are regularly forced to flee from district council meetings about rubbish collection, abandoning their homes as the Dorchester branch treasurer chases them across the border on horseback. One man, who didn't wish to be named, told me 'I had to hide from the Spanish Inquisition, but that was easy compared to the way I was treated at a Labour Party jumble sale in Exeter'.”

Clearly there is a problem, as exposed by the Labour MP John Mann, who revealed he knew of many cases where antisemitism had happened over the years, and was now ready to “publish the crap I have – lots.”

This is indeed shocking, as it means a Labour MP who has encountered antisemitism many times, never said anything about it. Surely if Labour is to demonstrate it takes this issue seriously, it must suspend John Mann immediately, until he learns that antisemitism should be confronted when it happens, rather than years later.

Some people suggested he's only promised to publish the crap now to cause maximum trouble for Corbyn. But there is another possible explanation, which is his investigations are being run by Sir John Chilcot, and these things take time.

Other critics of Corbyn insisted it's typical of his rotten leadership, that a Labour MP such as Naz Shah could make an appalling comment that “The Jews are rallying”. You can see their point, because she made that remark only one year before Corbyn became leader, and leaders must start taking responsibility for the year before they took over.

This is why Claudio Ranieri should be sacked immediately, for doing nothing when Leicester were at the bottom of the league only one year before he arrived in Leicester.

Where it gets complicated is that – whatever the motives of those condemning Ken Livingstone – his comments about Hitler and Zionism were a perfect combination of ridiculous, baffling and dreadful.

He insists it's “historical fact” that Hitler agreed with “Zionism” because they both agreed all Jews should move to Israel. This could be true, in the same way a bank robber supported the same ideas as the bank clerk, if they came to a gentleman's agreement that if she filled his sack with money he wouldn't blast her through the head with a shotgun.

So he was suspended, but some say this isn't enough, and if he was expelled, they'd say “Expelled? Is that it? Corbyn needs to take control by forcing him to eat his own newts in a live party political broadcast and tasering him every time he coughs on a tail.”

The Conservative Party have been amongst those shocked at the leniency shown towards Livingstone. You can understand this, because when their MP Aidan Burley was found to have organised the costume hire for a party at which guests dressed as Nazis and chanted Nazi slogans, he was suspended within six days, and announced he was stepping down as MP a mere three years later.

That's the sort of decisive action, in which an MP stands down in only half the time it took to defeat the real Hitler, that shows how committed they are to opposing anti-Semitism.

Because the Tories are vigilant about anyone who judges people according to their racial group. That's why they were careful to be extremely sensitive in the campaign for London mayor, claiming a vote for Sadiq Khan was “Handing London to a friend of terrorists.”

David Cameron even pointed out in parliament that Khan had spoken on a platform with Suliman Gani, who he described as a “supporter of Islamic State”, which he isn't in any way. This is a liberating development in democracy, if politicians are no longer restricted to saying their opponents are supporters of an organisation unless they actually support that organisation.

Instead of these dull local election campaigns we've just endured, it will be so much livelier when we can say “Don't vote for Mrs Whittaker to be a member of the Crewkerne parish council. She supports the Somerset Devil Worship Collective, and wants Yeovil to be the capital of Almighty Lucifer's Satanic Caliphate'.

But Cameron's claim was more spectacular than that, because it turned out Suliman Gani was a political activist, but as a supporter of the Conservative Party who's met David Cameron. So now Cameron must insist “No one should ever vote Conservative, as you'll be handing the country to friends of terrorists.”

Sadiq Khan is so much under the control of Jihadists, that he received death threats from them when he supported gay marriage. So at the next election the Tories will issue leaflets that say “See, he even gets letters from them. How can we trust someone who corresponds with these madmen?”

Zac Goldsmith wrote an article in the Mail on Sunday calling Sadiq Khan a “friend of terrorism”, and the Mail helped anyone who didn't follow this line of thought, by placing it under a picture of the London bus blown up on 7/7. The subtle point was that with him as mayor, transport policy would be for all drivers to blow themselves up, and you can't see the unions agreeing to that.

You can't help wondering, if you're a bit cynical, whether people who scream and yell about antisemitism only when it suits them as a stick to beat their opponents, might be the most insulting towards Jews of all.

[First published at The Independent.]

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