Tuesday 3 December 2019

There are no Jewish Labour candidates. Er...actually there are. Vote for Margaret Hodge!

One of the curious features of the run-in to election day has been the strange invisibility of Labour's Jewish candidates. Obviously, there have been strenuous efforts to give the impression that the Labour Party as a whole has persecuted its Jewish MPs and Jewish members so that there are none left. Or: OK there are a few left but the only ones still hanging in there are, as Melanie Phillips described them as "bad, treacherous, disloyal, ignorant, malevolent and often psychologically damaged Jews". (Excuse me, Melanie! 'Treacherous Jews'? 'Malevolent Jews'? 'Disloyal Jews?' Hmmm sounds like a bit of classic Jew-baiting to me from the good Melanie.)

So, to talk of Labour hollowing out its Jewish membership and candidates gives a kind of whiff of what the Nazis tried to do: create 'Jewish-free' areas and ultimately a 'Jewish-free' Europe. Labour = Nazi. Gettit? 

This can be amplified by suggesting that hardly any Jews will vote Labour. Or indeed, thanks to the Chief Rabbi, we must think that Jews (or anyone who likes or supports Jews) should not vote Labour. Why this act of communalist politics wasn't greeted with horror by the commentariat is a mystery. Or not. I may be wrong, but even in the face of repeated, persistent and deliberate Islamophobia in the Tory Party, the bodies that represent Muslims don't seem to have said, 'Don't vote Tory!'. Wasn't Peston, Freedland, Cohen just a teeny bit uncomfortable that a religious leader was so politically partisan? It was certainly a concern of Howard Cooper, a Reform Rabbi in Finchley, North London when Rabbi Romain had issued a few weeks earlier, the same kind of politico-religious warning as the Chief Rabbi had. Cooper was concerned that further down the road this kind of intervention by a religious leader can invite hostility.  Oh well, no matter. I guess the gloves are off now. If any Muslim, Methodist, Buddhist, Sikh, Zoroastrian, Hindu, Catholic leader says, 'Don't vote for X', we should think that'd be OK. No one will say, 'How dare that religious person tell their congregation how to vote!' Hmmm. Interfaith wars, anyone? 

We shall see.

Of course, the Chief Rabbi didn't say, 'Vote Tory!' Good man. But then he didn't need to. With a first past the post election system, it's a two-horse race. Don't vote Labour = victory to the Tories. He knows that. The media know that. We know that. But, hey, let's kid ourselves and pretend that his intervention was merely a warning about rising antisemitism, where he sees it. As I've said before, this kind of conjuring asks of us to believe that it really isn't necessary for the Chief Rabbi or the Antisemitism Tsar or the commentariat to 'notice' the persistent antisemitic sneers of Rees-Mogg, the jibes of Patel, Toby Young, Crispin Blunt and the more sinister frothing of Dominic Cummings. 

But something else: the Chief Rabbi chose not to mention Islamophobia, Windrush or the 'hostile environment' or indeed how austerity has impacted disproportionately hard on people of colour and recent migrants. These are the policies of the Conservatives. So, in saying, 'Don't vote Labour' (which in effect means - let the Tories in) and in not mentioning Islamophobia, the hostile environment and the persistent discrimination against people of colour and migrants all caused by the Tories, the Chief Rabbi was in effect passing on the appalling message: 'Hey fellow-Jews,  discrimination against Muslims, people of colour and migrants doesn't matter as much as antisemitism.' 

Of course, he didn't say that. Of course he wouldn't. However, if he had wanted to eliminate even half a sniff of such a thing, he could easily have given a speech in which he made all his warnings about antisemitism in the Labour Party - which is what he believes - alongside condemnation of Islamophobia, racism against people of colour and xenophobia. That way, he would have eliminated any suggestion that he was doing something dangerous: suggesting that one kind of racism matters more than another. 

This is all based on the fact that we are in a two-horse race and that there are of course Jews in the Labour Party, there are Jewish voters and there are of course of course of course (!), Jewish Labour candidates.

How interesting that the media have been so silent about this. There's Margaret Hodge who only a few months ago was often on TV and radio railing against Corbyn and the antisemites. She frequently made the point that she was on the verge of leaving the Labour Party. I made bad jokes about it. But she has chosen to stay, even as Ellman and Berger have left. 

Repeat: it's a two-horse race. I don't know, but let's take it at face-value, Margaret Hodge has weighed things up and decided that of the two, Labour is better than Tory. The very opposite of what the Chief Rabbi said. The very opposite of what, according to the oft-cited survey says, 87% of Jews say. 

Isn't this news? That the high-profile Margaret Hodge hasn't gone with what they claim is the flow? 

Clearly not. What Margaret Hodge has done is what we call in the biz, 'counter-factual'. It doesn't 'fit the narrative'. So, one moment, Margaret Hodge can be front page news and the next - when she's counter-factual - she isn't. Amazing, isn't it? And the media assume we don't notice. 

But for those of us supporting Labour it means something a bit different. It means that we support Margaret Hodge. For Labour-supporting people under the lash of Margaret's tongue - and of course that includes Corbyn himself - this might seem a bitter pill to swallow. To which, I say, so be it. We are down to the moment of the binary choice - whatever we think of that. Whatever we say and do, should be ruthlessly narrowed down to asking of ourselves, - just as, I suspect the Chief Rabbi did, - 'who does this help?' Or 'Does this thing I am saying, undermine Labour? In which case the racist class-warrior Tories will be helped.'

This is how 'unity in action' works. It's not to ask of us to agree with everything that everybody in the Labour Party says or does. (I'm not even in the Labour Party!). It's to accept that this is the political moment we are in. 

I back Margaret Hodge! Vote for Margaret!