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Politics: Anti-Semitism - A Labour Problem or a National One?

Guardian writer and author Owen Jones, sometimes referred to as the ‘Poster Boy for the Left’, is not universally popular, except of course among those who share his views on politics and life. He has, on occasion, been on the end of some uncalled for and unpleasant sniping from those who disagree with him, and it is something that does no credit to people who take the easy path of insult.

The spurious use of offensive remarks is usually the route of the ignorant and of those who can think of no other way to voice their alternative opinion. It is one of the more unseemly ingredients of today’s society but whatever one’s view of Owen Jones and his politics, there can surely be very few who will disagree with his condemnation of anti-Semitism. I am of course, one who is not always in agreement with him, although if one casts aside prejudice (of any kind), he does often have many things of interest to say, raising valid points on a number of issues and I will admit to being something of an admirer. Thus I would have no hesitation whatsoever in standing alongside him in his declared opposition to anti-Semitism and Labour’s problem with it.

The Labour party deputy leader Tom Watson is another who lacks being liked on a nationwide basis but once again, although I find myself disagreeing with some of the things he has said in the past, I am entirely on the same side as Watson as he also has been in the news recently for voicing the same criticism as that made by Owen Jones. In Watson’s case, he has called for the suspension of the Constituency Labour Party (CLP) for Liverpool Wavertree, accusing them of bullying their own MP, Luciana Berger.

Luciana Berger is Jewish and by all accounts has been a diligent representative of her constituents so the relevance of her faith is a mystery to me, yet she had to have a police escort into, of all places and events, the last Labour conference, when she was subject to threats. That this should happen is a sad reflection, not only on Labour and some of its followers, but of the UK itself.

Tom Watson repeated his comments on the Andrew Marr Show (Sunday February 10, 2019), calling for Labour’s general secretary Jennie Formby, to suspend the CLP. Whether Watson’s allegations are true or not, it is a tragedy for Labour, and an undeniable fact, that anti-Semitism has taken a grip on the party in recent times, and there has been a barrage of criticism from all quarters because of it. That criticism is warranted, as are the demands for Labour’s leadership to do something about it.

The majority of Labour supporters are not anti-Semites, neither are they racist or prejudiced in any other sphere of life. The same applies to most Conservatives and those who support the Liberal Democrats. Bigotry is an accusation that was levelled at UKIP, but this is not a view I share, at least not in the days when Nigel Farage was the party’s figurehead. It is true that UKIP attracted some rather dubious characters, some of whom were exposed and removed, removals that happened far quicker that Labour seem to be removing their own bigots. It may well also be true that there are some within UKIP now, today, who do not share a more enlightened, a more open-minded view. But they are not yet, in my view, a racist party. One hopes they do not become so. However, it does raise another question - is anti-Semitism only a Labour problem; is racism a UKIP problem or does it run deeper throughout British Society?

Like the majority of the political parties’ active supporters and voters, most British people are not bigots. Most people, across the UK, are open-minded, genuinely inclusive and pay no attention to anybody’s religion, faith, skin colour, sexuality or anything else. But that doesn’t mean there is no danger of those who are prejudiced gaining at best, significant influence, at worst, outright control of a political movement that might, just might, end up running the United Kingdom.

As Plato once said, ‘One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.’ To deal with a problem, one has to first recognise that it exists. A minority they may well be, but the bigot is still present in UK society today. Homophobia is still there. Racism is still there and along with other less desirable elements, so is the anti-Semite. Dealing with them are not matters of party politics; whether one is a Labour voter, a Conservative supporter or a devotee of any other party, it is time for all to stand against the bigot.

I have never met Tom Watson or Luciana Berger but for what it may be worth, they have my support. I have never met Owen Jones either – were I to do so, undoubtedly any discussion would be passionate, perhaps even involving some table-banging and possibly even a little raising of voices. But we would part on good terms and with respect for each other.

Perhaps that is what British Society needs more of.

© Kevan James 2019.

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