Labour's new MP must show 'genuine contrition' over antisemitism
It is no good to see Labour people demanding loyalty on the basis of being the lesser of two evils, says Wes Streeting MP.
Normally, an opposition party winning a by-election nine years into a government wouldn’t be a surprise, but these aren’t normal times and this result is remarkable.
The by-election was called in terrible circumstances that made this election the Tories’ to lose. In the end, their vote collapsed into third place, having been swallowed up by the Brexit Party and Labour denied Nigel Farage their first MP.
The result shows that Labour can win in Leave seats by addressing the issues that matter to people - and which have been drowned out by Brexit - like policing, schools and the NHS. The result is also a testament to the superb ground organisation in place led by some brilliant staff and two of our best MPs, Vernon Coaker and Louise Haigh.
Our vote share was down and it is a reminder that, in a country that remains polarised by Brexit, we cannot afford to lose Remain voters to the Lib Dems and Greens. If we had lost many more, the result would have been very different. Both anti- and pro-Brexit camps are now thoroughly dug in and with the pro-Brexit votes going to Farage and the Tories, Labour is competing with Lib Dems and Greens for the anti-Brexit vote. Labour cannot afford to equivocate - if we do, we will fall through the middle, failing to win in either camp.
I haven’t been in Peterborough this week and I want to be honest about why. I haven’t been to Peterborough since the antisemitic social media activity of our candidate and her opposition to the IHRA definition of antisemitism became clear. The words ‘zero tolerance’ may have meant little to our leadership, but they do mean something to me. When I promised the Jewish Labour Movement that I would stand in solidarity with them, I really meant it. If I had knocked on doors this week I would have been a hypocrite.
I was a candidate with Lisa Forbes in 2015 and I was honestly delighted when she was selected as our candidate. I’ve only ever known her to be a good woman who is utterly dedicated to her city. While I still have no doubt that she will work her socks off, I was shocked by what I read of her social media activity. It was serious enough to warrant disciplinary action. She has apologised, but it is not my place to accept it. She will need to work hard to persuade the Jewish Labour Movement and wider community that her apology was meaningful and that she is genuinely committed to tackling antisemitism.
I’ve agonised about this. I didn’t want to see the Brexit Party win, but it is no good to see Labour people demanding loyalty on the basis of being the lesser of two evils. There is no hierarchy of racism or prejudice. Antisemitism must never become normalised or more politically acceptable than any other form of discrimination.
Once again, the Labour Party leadership has serious questions to answer about candidate vetting and on what ‘zero tolerance’ and the ‘militant fight against antisemitism’ really means. I’d say not much. I’ve given up hope that this Labour leadership can prove me wrong, but I have not given up hope that the new MP for Peterborough can be true to her apology and show genuine contrition.
Wes Streeting is Labour MP for Ilford North.
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