Paul Mason and Diane Abbott walking into a Progress event might feel like entering the lion’s den, but they were welcomed warmly. Why shouldn’t they be? Labour just enjoyed a glorious defeat, able to relish the next election. After two years of bitter, draining feuding, this was a moment for unity. Everyone could be content, optimistic and just genuinely united.
Diane Abbott supposedly delivered a good speech, warmly received by a wing of the party perhaps increasingly aware that as a black woman she does face experiences that no one else does. She sounded genuinely interested in unity. And Progress seemed committed too; after all the year before they had invited Owen Jones. This was Labour in a show of unity at last!
And then Paul Mason stood up. He didn’t so much speak as sneer. Sneer at the Remain vote, sneer at those who didn’t like Corbyn. The man who has done so little for Labour, virtually nothing, told hard-working Labourites to basically fuck off. And days before that we had Chris Williamson demanding that Corbyn’s critics within the PLP should bend a knee and pledge loyalty.
Paul Mason feels like a caricature of the classic white male left but bloody hell, he’s real all right. A progressive all the way until representation of women and BAME gets in the way of his revolutionary socialism. Even as Jeremy Corbyn called for unity, his own allies took a knife to that and have essentially called for war.
These aren’t people who are serious about unity or about the political reality we are in. Labour did not win and to win the next election, it needs to attract voters deeply disconnected from the party by our growing anti-Semitism and softness on security. And how galling to brush underneath the carpet the experiences of British Jews on the left who have experience hostility simply because of one good election.
Labour could have taken every seat in Parliament and that would not legitimise a shutdown on the issue of anti-Semitism. We are the anti-racist and anti-fascist party yet here we are betraying a minority group who have been viciously persecuted throughout history and were the victims of a genocidal fascist. We should feel ashamed that they feel unsafe within our party.
For many this is reason enough to leave the party and far be it for me to ever tell someone how they should respond to racism. I can only speak from my own experience as a Muslim. I’ve never found the Labour Party, from Momentum to Progress, to be particularly receptive to issues confronting BAME and especially Muslim women. Muslims suffered greatly under the Blair government and if I were to leave Labour today over their weak attitudes to fighting institutional racism, no one could question my judgement.
Therefore, I believe Jewish Labour members who no longer feel they can stay within the party should not be judged for leaving. It is up to the rest of us to stay, fight and make the party safe. How hypocritical of the left, usually strong supporters of safe spaces, to deny it here for Jews. We have to help empower Jewish voices and dispel this idea of Israel being inherently evil in some way. Once more I can only speak as a Muslim and how I would respond to Islamophobia. Anti-Semitism, both within party and wider society, is a far greater problem.
But I do believe those who stay and choose to support Corbyn, out of desperation for a Labour government, should not be castigated for doing so. Austerity is a sharp knife tearing through working class families and most of us are simply exhausted of suffering through Tory policies. People need a Labour government and increasingly, there is a hostility many from the Labour right towards anyone who is enjoying Corbyn’s resurgence.
Context matters here: if your discomfort with Corbyn was over his indifference to the anti-Semitism that spews from his allies then an election will not suddenly change you. Nor should it. If you have been bullied by his supporters, as many have, you are perfectly entitled to never forget that. But there are some who disliked Corbyn because he was unelectable, and now that he has dragged Labour to the cusp of being in government, still hate him. Worse, they hate those who have warmed to him.
Amongst the Labour moderates some activists are falling out because of the mixed response to Corbyn. Everyone seems to be fighting with each other and it’s very confusing at times. As one person described it to me, “If you’re a moderate you’ve got to hate everyone who loves him, but also anyone who doesn’t hate him as much as you do. Not to mention anyone who hates him more than you do.” That is the best description of what is currently happening within the Labour moderate factions, uncertain how to respond to Corbyn, and rather than focusing on the Tories they are focusing on each other.
People are being poorly treated, bullied and sneered and the childish thing about it: it’s all over Facebook. There are moderate groups descending into petty, vicious and aggressive meltdowns, blasting Corbyn for everything even where he has done well, and generally seeming unable to handle criticisms. Anyone who offers the slightest praise of Corbyn and calls for reasonable perspective is given the boot.
I want Jeremy Corbyn to do well because I would very much like a Labour government. I do not like Corbyn and never will do so. I think he’s better than John McDonnell but is also soft and gutless, and betrayed the Remain camp last year. I believe he is silent over the genocide in Syria and soft over Putin. I believe he speaks out better against Islamophobia than the Labour right and is staunchly opposed to the regressive Saudi Arabian regime, but I would like to see him extend this to all Islamists, including states like Iran.
I’m not a member of Progress or Momentum and if I had to choose a group it would be Open Labour: they understand unity because they don’t seek to occupy either wing of the party but the gigantic space in the middle. They aren’t unwelcoming or single-minded in their approach to anything. They accept the criticisms of Corbyn but also his qualities. Right now, we need to be pulling together to create a Labour government instead of pulling apart.