2018 09 – Diary of a Corbyn foot soldier

Diary of a Corbyn foot soldier

By Michael Murray

Facebook:  Michael Murray London- a commentary/digest of political and general interest news for busy people.

Dictionary definition of foot soldier: “…a dedicated low-level follower.”

In this issue:

(1)  Thought for the game-changing month ahead:

(2)   Silk purses and sows’ ears: Labour’s Code of Practice on anti-Semitism

(1) Thought for the month

“The truth becomes almost impossible to communicate because total frankness, relayed in the shorthand of the mass media becomes simply a weapon in the hands of opponents.” (Tony Blair, The Times, 24/11/1987)

“Our job is to create the truth.” (Peter Mandelson, n/a)

–     Both quoted in “The Rise of Political Lying,” Peter Oborne, The Free Press, 2006)

(2) Silk purses and sows’ ears: Labour’s Code of Practice on anti-Semitism

There is an anti-Semitism issue in the Labour Party – but not where the contrived “wrath” of the mass media and the anti-Corbynist backbench MPs say it is.  Jonathan Cook explains: “. .this anti-Semitism crisis is not chiefly about respecting Jewish sensitivities or even about Jewish identity. It is about protecting the sensitivities of some Jews on Israel, A STATE OPPRESSING AND DISPOSSESSING THE PALESTINIAN PEOPLE.” (my emphasis, MJM)  The hopes engendered in the rise of Corbynism for a British Labour foreign policy based on peace and justice are what’s at stake here.“ (Jonathan Cook Blog 19/08/’18)

The official Labour Party position on its draft Code of Practice on anti-Semitism is: “These are the most detailed and comprehensive guidelines on anti-Semitism adopted by any political party in the country. They adopt the IHRA definition and contextualise and add to the working examples to produce a practical code of conduct that a political party can apply in disciplinary cases.” (Guardian, 11/08/’18)  But not all the Party leadership and MPs agree with this, ready now to accede to the vociferous demand that the Labour Party abandons its own Code of Practice and adopts the IHRA definition.

But Cook (- and others) warn: “The full adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism will be a major victory both for Israel and its apologists in Britain, who have been seeking to silence all meaningful criticism of Israel, and for the British corporate media, which would dearly love to see the back of an old-school socialist Labour leader whose programme threatens to loosen the 40-year stranglehold of neoliberalism on British society.” That’s the opinion of the respected Nazareth-based prize-winning journalist, Jonathan Cook, on the anti-Semitism row that has proved so paralysing to the Labour Party over the past two years.

“Corbyn’s been abandoned,” Cook writes, “his allies … have largely lost the stomach for battle.” (Jonathan Cook Blog, 19/08/’18)

That seems to be true of the backers and heavy financers of the Party, the trade unions. But it is not the whole truth, as shall be argued in this Diary entry.  Three of the heaviest hitters, Dave Prentis of Unison, Tim Roache of the GMB and Len McCluskey of Unite have weighed in to push for of the full adoption of the IHRA definition in place of Labour’s draft Code of Practice briefly summarized above.

McCluskey, a staunch supporter of Corbyn from day one, has said, for once publicly disagreeing with Corbyn:

“It would be for the best if all 11 (examples) were now agreed, so the party can move on.”(Express, 17/08/’18)

Prentis, while expressing wholesome support for Corbyn as Leader of the Party, and for the Labour 2017 Manifesto, said he was not buying the claim that following the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism would prevent criticism of Israel. (Huff Post 09/08/’18)

Roache takes the same line.

“It is abundantly clear, he said that Labour has to accept IHRA examples of anti-Semitism in full, while agreeing that criticizing the Israeli government and supporting our Palestinian brothers and sisters is not being anti-Semitic.” (Huff Post, 09/08/’18)

But, this issue has become so ‘weaponised’ it is not an option to argue, as the spokespersons for the Unions urging support for the IHRA definition are doing, that one can “work around” the ambiguities of some of the 11 “examples” in “good faith.”

That’s something that Union negotiators have to do from time to time. For example when negotiating a grievance and disciplinary procedure, or other substantive agreements in the local branch of a multinational that has a corporate template which may contain clauses that are ambivalent or contrary to local culture, custom and practice, or even trade union policy positions.

Acceptance of an unfavourable draft agreement might be successfully argued for with the members in a high trust environment, to get on with the rest of the substantive agenda, taking a calculated risk that management would never selectively invoke hostile clauses in an otherwise acceptable collective agreement. (In the case of the Labour Party the parallel would be its wider social and political agenda, which all three these union leaders fully support, and towards which they want to move).

But we are not in a high trust situation – in the UK’s febrile politics in general and certainly not in the disunited Labour Party with its Kafkaesque dog’s dinner of disciplinary rules, procedures and structures. The latter are themselves the vestigial remains of previous internal party power struggles, to which, experienced, senior trade union negotiators contributed within the Labour Party leadership, by commission – and omission.

Yes, I have a bee in my bonnet about union leaders letting the Labour Party disciplinary rule changes past them that were subsequently used in a low trust environment to disenfranchise 100s and 1,000s of members over the last two to three years. They of all people involved should know that it’s not the text of an agreement or a rule, per se, that causes strife, it’s the subsequent interpretation, usually, in a changed objective situation, whether due to product or service change in the business environment, technological change – or, personnel change in what used to be called in the pre-HRM “industrial relations” era, the “actors”: that is, the managers on one side and/or the workers’ representatives on the other.    .

A well published article on Labour and anti-Semitism nicely illustrates the point. It was published simultaneously, on the front pages, by three, rival, Jewish papers: the Jewish Chronicle, Jewish Telegraph and Jewish News on July 25th2018. This was talked about across the media as being unprecedented and irrefutable evidence that Corbyn’s Labour had got it all wrong and were out of touch. And selectively quoted.

It talked about the “existential threat” to Jewish life in this country that would be posed by a Jeremy Corbyn-led government. Continuing in the same vein: “The stain and shame of anti-Semitism has coursed through Her Majesty’s Opposition since Jeremy Corbyn became leader in 2015. Last week’s stubborn refusal to adopt the full IHRA definition …. was the most sinister yet.”

And here we come to the crux of the article: its interpretation of Labour’s draft Code of Practice. And it’s an eye-opener for those who want to see – and that seems to exclude most of the journalists in the country’s media. Because none of them mentioned it.

“Labour has diluted the IHRA definition,” said the Jewish Chronicle, “…deleting and amending four key examples of anti-Semitism all relating to Israel …. In so doing Labour makes a distinction between racial anti-Semitism (unacceptable) and political anti-Semitism targeting Israel (acceptable).” (Jewish Chronicle, 25/07/’18)

Len McCluskey, in the press statement cited above said:  “The problem of anti-Semitism in Labour had been ‘wildly exaggerated.”  He went on to say, “he could not understand the motives of Jewish groups.” (Express, 17/08/’18)  Well, here they are, Len, at least, the motives of the Jewish groups associated with the Chronicle.

As they see it, with the full IHRA definition – IHRA examples relating to Israel included: “HUNDREDS, IF NOT THOUSANDS OF LABOUR AND MOMENTUM MEMBERS WOULD NEED TO BE EXPELLED.”  Note well, not “need to be investigated” but “need to be expelled.” The end-game isn’t bringing people to a clearer understanding of anti-Semitism, or investigation according to the principles of natural justice. The wholesale expulsion of pro-Corbyn activists is the end-game. The interested parties are the defenders of Israel and the opponents of Corbynism.

Dave Prentice, cited above, said:

“If you’re not capable of criticizing Israel without being anti-Semitic, then you’re an anti-Semite – and we should make no special exceptions for you.” (Huff Post, 09/08/’18)

Clearly, Dave hadn’t read all of the Jewish Chronicle front-page on 25thJuly, or seen the Al-Jazeera award-winning documentary “The Lobby” (catch it on YouTube Al-Jazeera: “The Lobby”– 4 X 30mins episodes). It is an investigation of alleged Israeli interference in British party politics mostly concentrated on the Labour Party and the Labour Friends of Israel.

Amongst a lot of revealing stuff about what’s going on in the Labour Party, there is a full coverage of London Labour MP Joan Ryan’s argument with a Labour member at the 2016 Annual Conference in Liverpool. The member is asking about Labour Friends of Israel’s current line on the Palestine/Israel “Two State Solution,” given the continued occupation (I’d call it an annexation, at this stage), the ongoing settlements, etc.  She ends up getting shopped for anti-Semitism on the basis of a lying misrepresentation by Ryan of what the member actually said.

I mention it here as a timely “example” how the existing IHRA definition of anti-Semitism can be used to rid the Party of “hundreds if not thousands” of Corbyn supporters.  By the way, complaints were made to Ofcom by 5 individuals exposed and named in the documentary.  Their complaints were not upheld.  Joan Fitzpatrick, the only named “anti-Semite” was, subsequently, exonerated by the Labour Party, I believe. But I don’t know if she continued her interest in “Democratic Socialism” thereafter.  And I don’t know if Joan Ryan, MP, has been spoken to for bringing the Labour Party into disrepute – or wasting its officers’ time with a vexatious and injurious complaint against a fellow Labour Party member.

Within the parliamentary Labour Party also there have been dissenting voices. Many are the usual suspects: the large, hardcore anti-Corbynists who have seized on the anti-Semitism row to put the boot into Corbyn.

Chuka Amunna is one such: he recently has become more emboldened in his opposition to Corbyn, seizing the opportunity, with the anti-Semitism row, to hype that up. He recently accused the Labour Party of “institutional racism, something which should shame every member of our Party.”

But, less than two years ago, he was saying the opposite. On Facebook he wrote: “Some have suggested that there is institutional anti-Semitism across the whole of the Labour Party – that is not a view I share, not least because I have not seen one incident of anti-Semitism in almost 20 years of activism.” (Facebook 16/10/’16, reprinted in Squawkbox 19/08/’18)

Deputy Leader Tom Watson’s role in all this comes as no surprise, or Margaret Hodge’s – or, indeed, a veritable litany of names that come to the fore when there’s an opportunity for weakening the leadership of twice elected, by the party membership, Jeremy Corbyn.

Keir Starmer has been a personal disappointment. He played a blinder in Westminster, forensically stripping bare the Tory’s approach to the Withdrawal Bill from the EU. I had the privilege of conversations with him at the Liverpool 2016 Annual Conference, and, earlier this year, while canvassing in Barnet, where he came across as personable, committed – and approachable: an important character trait in the Labour movement, and, sadly, often lacking in individuals with a fraction of his learning and achievement. But. The Labour Party’s – indeed, Westminster’s legal brain – has now joined the chorus of uncritical endorsement of the IHRA definition.  But that should come as no surprise, I suppose, after his joining the “rush to judgement” of the Russian State’s still unproven involvement in the Salisbury nonsense earlier this year.

Jon Lansman, head of Momentum and NEC member called it “the gold standard” of a political party’s Code of Practice on anti-Semitism. But a change in his position seems to have taken place. Don’t ask how, why or by whom this was decided – or whether, indeed, it was decided at all to change the policy.  I’m only a member. All I know for sure is an emergency meeting was called by Camden Momentum on 20thAugust, 2018, to reject the adoption of the full IHRA definition. According to a Statement distributed at an over-subscribed Conway Hall meeting, subsequently called by the Jewish Voice of Labour in support of Corbyn, Camden Momentum claimed that it had been agreed by 110 delegates, representing 16 Momentum groups. It condemned the fact that “the heads of Momentum and some unions, without consulting their members, have also accepted the adoption of the full IHRA definition.”

“You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” writes George Wilmers of the Jewish Voice for Labour in the magazine “The Palestinian,” 01/8/2018.  The sow’s ear is the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. The silk purse is Labour’s Code of Practice. This is in an article on Kenneth Stern, former US Attorney General, the author of the IHRA definition. Stern, himself a conservative and avowed Zionist, nevertheless, protests at the use of the definition, which was, he says, intended to be no more than a “working definition” for the limited purpose of standardizing comparative data collection on the incidence of anti-semitic hate-crime in different countries. Stern watched it being put to the wider use of limiting and controlling free speech in around anti-Semitism, particularly in Third Level education and research, including the UK, and strongly protests.

Wilmers continues:

“Despite a general belief to the contrary and its “adoption” by the `UK government, the IRHA definition has no legal status in the UK, and for very good reason…not only is it not a proper definition for legal purposes, but its legal adoption by any public authority would conflict with existing protected rights of free expression for legal purposes.  Its legal adoption by any public authority would conflict with existing protected rights of free expression guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Wilmer’s main legal sources for this are Hugh Tomlinson, Q C. and Sir Stephen Sedley.  (Can I say I found the former’s legal explication more accessible to a non-legally-trained mind? It’s the one I would recommend to people who want to see beyond the disingenuous way the IHRA has been presented: as written on a tablet of stone and unalterable.)

On September 4th the Labour Party NEC meets to decide on the anti-Semitism definitions to adopt. On Sept 5ththe Parliamentary Labour Party meets to put down a motion on the same issue, conveniently, for MPs accountability to their constituents and local parties, via a secret ballot.  Then, as I understand the rules, the ball is back in the NEC’s court.

But, these two meetings are merely a prelude to the Labour Party Annual Conference – where the issue of anti-Semitism will be joined by the equally divisive issue of Brexit. There is also a whisper going around of the threat of a possible high-profile resignation, or multiple resignations, during the Liverpool Conference as a final heave against Corbyn’s leadership.

Here, I can agree with the Jewish Chronicle:

“September is finally make or break.”

At least that’s the way it seems to be shaping up.

This is an expanded version of the article that appeared in the magazine, with additions that were too late to be included there.
The NEC did in fact agree to the Full Definition.  What this will mean in practice remains to be seen..