antisemitism,  Labour Party

Dispatches vs. Panorama

Although ‘Battle for the Tory Party’ (Dispatches, Channel 4, Monday 8 July) was flagged by some as an investigation of Islamophobia, its focus was in fact much broader. Its main claim was that the party was afflicted by entryism and a corresponding lurch to the right.

It wasn’t fully clear to me how far moves such as the attempt to deselect David Gauke were really evidence of a changing membership profile or simply a reflection of the way Brexit has made so many people feel far more passionately about Europe – in both directions – than was the case a few years ago. However revelations about high level support for the very right wing ‘Turning Point’ were concerning, as was footage of Boris Johnson’s gleefully facetious response to a question about the glibly offensive way in which he described veiled women.

‘One of the reasons why the public feels alienated from us now … as a breed  .. is because we are muffling and veiling our language.’

When questioned directly, some of those interviewed for the documentary expressed concerns about ‘aspects of Islam’. One would perhaps need to press further to be sure how to classify such comments – given the way some fundamentalist Muslim individuals and organisations insist that their Islam is the only true version.

However some of the views reported (from social media) and attributed to members of the party were unambiguously vile and discriminatory. One person wanted to ban Islam from the country entirely and another, offering hints on ways to spot a Muslim, said: ‘you wipe your arse with your bare hand but consider bacon unclean’.

A little while back I looked into other examples of anti-Muslim sentiment in the Conservative Party,  and tentatively concluded that the worst offenders seemed to have been dealt with reasonably swiftly, and Dispatches reported that the same was true of the more lurid examples included on the programme. However there is still plenty of evidence of a more pervasive problem which warrants a detailed independent enquiry, and a programme offering an in depth analysis of the issue.

Antisemitism was the main reason I left the Labour Party, and if anyone reading still isn’t convinced there’s a problem then I’d recommend Professor Alan Johnson’s Fathom Report as a very helpful introduction.

John Ware’s credentials have been questioned by some and, naturally, defended by others, some of whom would have been equally indignant if the presenter had been perceived to be biased in the other direction. I have sometimes felt in the past that Ware has muddied the waters by identifying a legitimate target but weakening his argument by dubious rhetoric or mixing solid criticisms with some weak arguments. So I awaited this evening’s Panorama with interest but some trepidation.

Inevitably it covered territory that most here will be fully aware of – Corbyn’s fawning over the despicable Raed Salah for example – and Dave Rich and Alan Johnson offered some excellent commentary on the forms taken by antisemitism on the left.

In addition to this more familiar material, there was some heartfelt testimony from Labour activists and from former members of Labour’s Disputes Team. We heard about the failure to deal with Ken Livingstone, about the reasons so many no longer feel the party is a safe space for Jews, and the apparent disdain with which Seumas Milne met sincere suggestions for improving Corbyn’s relationship with the Jewish community. Ben Westerman reported on the really unedifying – and racist – behaviour from some Labour activists in Louise Ellman’s Riverside constituency.

Central to the programme were allegations that Jeremy Corbyn’s inner circle attempted to interfere with the way in which the Disputes Team – and the NCC – dealt with antisemitism. The Labour Party countered that those complaining had an axe to grind and that Corbyn’s office had simply been responding to requests for advice. However the former staffers insisted that recommended disciplinary actions had been watered down.

The Times of Israel has described the programme as incendiary. Personally I saw the new material as incremental rather than revelatory. But that’s more to do with the fact I was already convinced the situation was appalling than because the fresh allegations weren’t seriously disturbing in their own right.