Sat, 25 March 2023

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Conference is an opportunity to prove to Jewish members Labour has changed

Conference is an opportunity to prove to Jewish members Labour has changed
3 min read

The Labour Party has not been an easy place to be a Jewish member since 2015. I’ve lost track of the amount of anti-Semitism I’ve seen from Labour Party members online and in person. I’ve been abused online, gaslit and mocked for raising my concerns. The first Labour Party Conference I attended had me tearfully calling my mum as a result of an anti-Semitic incident.

Keir Starmer, Angela Rayner and Labour’s general secretary, David Evans, have promised to make this a thing of the past. They have shown a willingness to tackle and understand the issue that their predecessors never showed. They have taken many welcome steps, from removing the whip from Jeremy Corbyn following his reaction to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report, to working with the Jewish Labour Movement to deliver anti-Semitism education awareness to the Parliamentary Labour Party, staff and members and pledging to deliver a new complaints process.

But as always seems to be the way with the Labour Party, there appears to be significant resistance in some quarters to these positive changes and decisions that demonstrate there is still work to be done to reform the culture within our party. The recent exclusion of Ken Loach – who was automatically excluded for being a sponsor of the NEC-proscribed Labour Against the Witchhunt (LAW) – has been a clear example of this. LAW was set up to defend those accused of anti-Semitism, such as Jackie Walker, Ken Livingstone, and Chris Williamson. As soon as Loach announced his expulsion, Twitter was filled with #IStandWithKenLoach hashtags and other messages of solidarity. His support didn’t just come from anonymous Twitter accounts and the odd individual Labour member. Labour MPs, trade union officials and Momentum have publicly opposed his expulsion – none of these people bothered to mention the accusations of his engagement with anti-Semitism, accusations he denies.

Labour Party Conference will be a good barometer of the internal culture of Starmer’s party. This year, Conference will see rule changes to the disciplinary processes being debated and voted on. The test for Starmer isn’t if they pass – they almost certainly will as the changes have been mandated by the EHRC’s report meaning the Labour Party will be sanctioned if they are voted down. What really matters is the manner in which they pass. The size of the opposition vote, and the content and reception of speeches against, will say a lot about the state of the Party. Previous Conferences have been a deeply unpleasant experience for me. I’ve seen anti-Semitism unchallenged on conference floor, Labour MPs and trade union officials speaking at events where anti-Semitism was denied, and anti-Semitic posters and literature featuring prominently outside the venue. This Conference is Starmer’s chance to prove to Jewish members like me that Labour’s culture has changed, and to set out how to chart a new way forward.

A final note is that it is not enough for Labour to be a safe place for Jews. The Labour Party needs to be a safe space for all minorities, and there are many examples where it has failed. Starmer and Evans need to create a robust disciplinary process that tackles all forms of hatred, and to create a culture where everyone feels safe and welcome.

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