So, being a glutton for punishment, I actually read the EHRC report today. It was already clear that a lot of people were wanting it to say ‘Corbyn and the left are evil and must be destroyed’. It was also already clear that, in the absence of it saying that, they were just going to pretend that it did anyway. And that’s what we’ve witnessed today. The report is pretty thin gruel for those who were wedded to the idea that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour posed some existential threat. It documents a leadership taking over a dysfunctional party without an adequate complaints system, becoming bogged down in factionalism (which we’ve seen elsewhere saw Labour staff actively working against their own party, refusing to investigate complaints and dragging their feet on implementing the Chakrabti report), improving the complaints system (but not enough), pulling back into a bunker mentality and then being defeated. Corbyn very clearly made mistakes but the report explicitly acknowledges that the complaints system improved in his time. You won’t hear much about that today.
One of the main complaints is that the office of the Leader of the Opposition got involved in complaints a few times. One of these times is intervening to ask for harsher action to be taken against Ken Livingstone. Aside from ‘Corbyn demands Ken Livingstone be suspended’ not fitting the narrative, the entire criticism is grimly ironic as the last few years saw endless demands, from Tom Watson, from the Board of Deputies, from Campaign Against Antisemitism, from pretty much anyone being vocal on this, that Jeremy Corbyn intervene personally on high-profile complaints. Tom Watson even made a huge fuss about having compiled complaints into a dossier and demanding Corbyn personally review them. Now the EHRC tells us that the Leader getting involved at all is a very bad thing. You won’t hear much about that today beyond the vague implication that Jeremy Corbyn was demanding antisemites be let off, which is very firmly not in the report.
Jeremy Corbyn seems to have been suspended for saying that antisemitism is very bad and needs to be tackled, but was exaggerated and weaponised by political enemies. I honestly can’t see how anyone could deny this. Polls found that the general public believed that complaints about antisemitism had been made against at least a third of Labour members. The reality was less than 1%. The EHRC report itself is concerned with 70 complaints (remember, Labour had over 500,000 members at this time) and offers no opinion on the scale of the issue.
Antisemitism has unfortunately become a political tool for some very bad faith people. I’ve no doubt that there are sincere concerns amongst some but they get drowned out by the bullshit which pretends that mainstream politics is some bastion of anti-racism and socialists have poisoned it. If you care to look, the antisemitism of our government is evident. During the period of the ‘Labour antisemitism crisis’, our government was sitting in alliance with far-right racists in Europe and was one of the only ‘mainstream’ parties to vote against censuring the antisemitic government of Hungary. The Tories have invoked an ‘elite’ from ‘North London’ on numerous occasions. They still trot out attacks on ‘cultural Marxism’. These are all antisemitic and they are all met with tumbleweed. Pointing this out, and asking why, is not minimising a problem – it’s the exact opposite.
It’s not just the Tories, obviously. The racism of our entire politics is right there, bellowing at us, and few people involved in it will dare even identify it as real. Countless people, including children, die in the Channel trying to reach safety and our politicians suggest sending gunboats after them because they think it plays well with voters. Labour under Blair waged campaigns against ‘asylum seekers’ and Romany/Roma/traveller people for the same reason. Margaret Hodge campaigned for a ‘British first’ housing policy which garnered praise from the BNP, something Gordon Brown echoed in his ‘British jobs for British jobs’ promise. Ian Austin regularly attacked the Jewish Ed Miliband as an out-of-touch member of the ‘London elite’ while demanding he restrict immigration. We have the grotesque spectacle of the ‘Go Home’ vans and the fact that a British government waged war against its own citizens, the Windrush generation, solely to appeal to racist voters who despise immigration. And of course we have the decades-long demonisation of Muslims and policies of war, torture and terror defended on the basis that people who don’t look like white Britons are an existential threat.
The fact that many of the people not only implicated in all of this but who have been eager supporters of it now feel they can pontificate on ‘racism’ tells me everything I need to know about the sincerity of this ‘crisis’.
Keir Starmer appears to have come to the conclusion that his best chance of winning is by obsessing over the optics of opposition to deeply reactionary people whom I personally don’t believe will ever vote Labour. He hasn’t offered anything more than platitudes with regards to the people dying in the Channel. He, a human rights lawyer, is refusing to oppose government legislation which enables the military and the police to abuse their power with impunity because he thinks doing so can be portrayed as ‘not supporting our boys’. He took the knee for Black Lives Matter then, when quizzed on their substantive demands, dismissed them as ‘a nonsense’. This is not a progressive politician. I think he’s actually a very dangerous one who is aiding our country’s slide in a kleptocracy where bigotry, with racism at its centre, is used to keep much of the population on side. I think much of the hopes of the past few years, and indeed much of the hopes around Scottish independence, are for what seem like relatively easy shortcuts to a better society. I think it’s clearer than ever that there aren’t going to be any easy shortcuts. This is going to be a lifelong slog and the Labour Party isn’t going to be of any help in it for the foreseeable future.
Nothing that has happened today will have helped to address racism in the UK. Instead it has further cemented a facile, corrosive use of anti-racism which loses interest as soon as its political goals are reached. Anti-racism is all-consuming and it’s necessarily difficult and uncomfortable because we are all part of a white supremacist society. We cannot help but be steeped in racism and it’s a lifelong task to learn how to identify it, let alone dismantle it. I’m sure I have made mistakes on antisemitism but I am also sure that a sincere concern over it, and a powerful fight against it, is something that has been in short supply today. It’s disheartening to watch a politics, a society even, that so blatantly thrives on racism telling us that racism is something brought into being by the left. But it’s not. And we need to both remember that and keep our gaze firmly on speaking the truths of a politics that is profoundly sick while remembering what it’s all about: a better world, for all of us. Don’t let the bastards grind you down. Solidarity, always.