Winner of the New Statesman SPERI Prize in Political Economy 2016

Friday 19 July 2019

Reaction to “There is only one alternative to Prime Minister Boris Johnson”

I anticipated that my last post would not be popular in many circles. I want to respond to some of the common themes from the responses in this post, but there was one reaction I was not expecting. First some background. Since the beginning of the year I have had an arrangement with the online edition of the New Statesman (NS) that my Tuesday post should be simultaneously published on my blog and in the NS. The arrangement was working well.

My last post was published by the New Statesman as usual. And then sometime later it was unpublished. The line my post took was not one the NS wanted to carry. I do not know the details of what happened but I can guess. The post was hardly extolling the virtues of Corbyn as Labour leader, but it suggested any attempt to get rid of him was both futile and would increase the chances of Johnson winning the next election. I don’t think that message was welcome.

Of course any publication has a right to chose what it publishes, and I have no quarrel with that. What was unfortunate was the implicit confirmation of the main concern in the post, which was that the non-partisan and even left leaning media with the support of the Labour centre really believes they can depose Corbyn using the issue of antisemitism. I gave in the post the reasons why I think Corbyn is unlikely to depart as a result of this pressure and any challenge is unlikely to succeed, and none of the responses to my post questioned this logic.

Among comments on twitter, the most offensive was to suggest my post was itself a product of antisemitism, along the lines that I didn’t care about Jews. By implication anyone voting Labour in the future is also antisemetic. The most moderate remark I can make about this kind of comment is that it gives the drive to remove antisemitism a bad name. The implication that you are antisemitic if you support a party accused of badly handling internal cases of antisemitism is an extension of a far more frequent argument: the idea that it was not virtuous to vote for Labour.

A common response was that it was morally wrong to support a racist party or party leadership. Of course Labour is not a racist party and I doubt very much that its leadership are antisemitic, but lets put that to one side until later. The problem with this argument is that you can make lots of other similar arguments. Is it morally right for someone to support a party that was part of a government that caused untold misery through austerity, and where neither of the possible future leaders have apologised for supporting austerity? Is it morally right to support politicians that voted for the hostile environment policy?

Voting should be about weighing the pros and cons of each party’s stance on different issues, and in a FPTP system it means also thinking about whether voting for some parties in your constituency is a wasted vote. It is very hard to rationalise voting or not voting on the basis of I couldn't possibly vote for a party that showed any sign of racism. Would you really not vote if a party that failed to deal with antisemitism adequately even if it meant that another party whose leader actually uses racist speech and has voted for racist policies would stay in power? This is not a trolley problem: it is part of being a good citizen to make this choice.

Another comment I received is that there are no degrees of racism. I think this is nonsense. Once again it is useful to compare the two main parties. Both leaders are accused of being racist. With Corbyn the evidence amounts to things like not recognising antisemitic tropes in a painting, not mentioning someones antisemitism in an introduction to a book, or being associated with antisemitic people as part of his support for statehood for Palestine. With Johnson we have someone who has compared Muslim women in a certain dress to letterboxes (and those are not his only racist slurs), and who has supported a racist policy: a hostile environment that saw the deportation of members of the Windrush generation. Are these really equivalent?

Or let us look at the two parties. The Labour party has been accused at operating an inefficient disciplinary process for antisemitism or worse, of leadership interference in this process. The Conservative party routinely lets those exposed of making racist comments back in after a few months of ‘re-education’, and has just voted for a leader who makes racist remarks because most members show racist tendencies (to put it too mildly). Are these really equivalent?

Going beyond the UK, is telling non-white Congresswomen born in America to go back home to the crime infested countries they came from the same as anything Corbyn has done? The thing about the antisemitism in the Labour party is it involves no policy against Jewish people and it involves no language by members of the Labour leadership team against Jewish people. Some Labour party members are antisemitic, but there is no evidence that this number is unusually high compared to the population at large. When people try to equate antisemitism within the Labour party to racism in the Tory party they ignore these points.

The most depressing aspect in comments on my post was the number of people who just talked about antisemitism within Labour as if it was the same as racism within the Conservative party. This lacks the key ingredient that is also lacking in the media’s response, and that is a sense of perspective. One of the cheap remarks made in comments was that I was equating antisemitism within Labour to Clinton's email server. This was obvious nonsense, as I was clearly using the Clinton case to show how the media as a whole can lack a sense of perspective, and when it does that it can have terrible consequences.

Perhaps the most common response in comments was that a choice between Labour and the Tories could be avoided by voting Liberal Democratic. Despite the arguments in my post, I was told that the era of two party politics was over. Let me make one final point. The disastrous events that we have recently seen in the UK started in 2010, with in particular an austerity government during the worst recession since WWII. For more than half of the 9 years since 2010 the Liberal Democrats were in power, and the two candidates for leader were both ministers in the Coalition government. Their actions and voting records speak for themselves. As I have said in the past, I think the UK needs radical change to ensure nothing like the disaster of the last 9 years happens again. Only Labour at present provides that. Simply returning things to how they were before 2010 allows what happened from 2010 to happen all over again.


  1. The problem with the original post, and the reason why the New Statesman removed it, was the attempted analogy between the trivial Clinton emails affair, and the scandal of anti-semitism and the Labour leadership. You presented this far too crudely. If you had qualified your words with, for example, "although obviously trivial by comparison" it would have been ok. But you didn't. An unfortunate lapse in judgement given the seriousness of the issue, and the moral barrier to agreeing with your crude instrumental reasoning.

  2. Don't forget for all this talk about processes and NCC and IHRA and whistleblowers etc., the moment Jeremy Corbyn and his team step down, even if nothing else in the party structures change, we all never hear about Labour antisemitism again.

  3. Eloquently put. I think you've covered all the key bases here on the AS media storm.

    It breaks my heart that the liberal media would whip up hysteria like this to bring down what I see as one of the most decent and principled man in politics who could bring around real, positive change.

    The media establishment and the Labour right are really playing with fire here. They risk driving a schism so deep that Johnson will gain a workable majority. I can only speculate but perhaps deep down the editors of the Guardian, New Statesmen etc. would prefer Johnson?

    Anyway, it is so refreshing to see someone who has not always been supportive of Corbyn giving such a well measured and honest response to this. Thank you.

  4. Entirely agree with this - you may also be interested to know that Mandela's grandson now considers Israel an apartheid state, As I think should we all.

  5. Thankyou for trying to communicate this important reality.
    Failing to address the pressing problems of precarity and increasing social and existential insecurity can only fuel increasingly ugly political responses.
    In the same way, being seen to stymie the chances of a political project that seeks to redress the societal damage and division -created by the financial crisis and austerity policy-signals a lack of consideration and care for those most affected. This reinforces feelings of despair, rejection and resentment.

    Some of those who fail to understand your message here are perhaps too busy worrying about their perceived loss of status and this is clouding their judgement on the political future of this country.
    This highlights the cleavage between the growing membership of the Labour Party, many of whom joined in recognition of its offer of potential solutions to their fears for the future, and those less affected by austerity but more anxious at the loss of their natural affinity group (others like themselves across the European Union).

    There is a serious schism here, based on very divergent needs: while some feel a serious need for change, others are literally frightened by it- even in the moderate form of a Nordic-style social democratic party.
    Inter-class solidarity does seem to have been the loser in the European project, replaced by weaker affective and material bonds across nations.
    'If you don't like it, you can just leave' is after all the modern panacea.One of the 'freedoms'. :-/

    Maybe OT but I think this could be an interesting direction for any Brexit arrangement: UK funding towards-and continued active participation in-this project:
    We send Blair (as ex-Quartet) and Corbyn (on a tandem) on an investment mission, borrowing from the practical Chinese tactics?!
    (the stress is obviously getting to me!)

  6. The surging support for liberal democrats should tell you that there is a growing support for socially liberal and economically conservative (small state) policies. These people will not vote for Labour because they're against austerity, but because Labour is socially liberal. Seen in this light, anti-semitism is a big problem. If Labour is perceived as not socially liberal, many will readily choose LibDems over Labour because they were never really against austerity (or maybe even secretly approved of it and felt Labour should be more pro-austerity). In a first past the post system, these LibDem votes could end up going to Conservative if they manage stay clear of overt racism and continue their small state policies.

    You have to square with the fact that as much as you don't like it, many supporters of fiscal stimulus / big state, especially Muslims, harbor antisemitic views. Hence, Labour's "struggles" with antisemitism are a calculated position to get Muslim votes, just as Conservative's "issues" with racism are designed to attract socially conservative voters.

  7. Where else is there anyone talking with such a clear perspective on this issue? But the response to Corbyn is visceral and highly emotional. So many beliefs nowadays seem to be predicated on the belief that issues are existential that rationality goes out the window. I wish you luck Simon, but fear that you'll be met by deafness.

  8. Where are the comments you mention so that we can see for ourselves whether you have correctly interpreted what was said.

  9. With respect, I did tell you months ago that the AS 'scandal' was being blown mindlessly out of proportion, essentially by Zionist ideologues who expand the definition of 'anti-Semitism' basically to mean anything they don't like or anything they disagree with.

    Now that you have suffered the same smear that many in the Labour Party are struggling to clear themselves of, perhaps you should consider that I had a point?

  10. You again claim that 85% of British Jews are either liars or dupes. You may be many things, but 'anti-racist' isn't one of them. Indeed, you're apparently now happy to campaign for antisemites (as long as they're Socialist ones).

    I understand you're 'an intellectual'. Is this true? If so, please apply your intellect to the study of what happens to a society when a minority is disregarded and racists are permitted to take charge.

    Or alternatively, just read some Orwell.


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