by Sam Stopp, Labour Councillor for Wembley Central
Tony Benn once memorably quipped that, “Labour has never been a Socialist party, although there have always been socialists in it – a bit like Christians in the Church of England.”
Some 30 or so years later, Labour’s broad church is thought by some – not me – to be on the verge of a schism. Rather than uniting to focus on fighting the Tories, a damaging conflict is being fought between zealots from both the left and right of the Labour flock.
In the midst of this depressing spectacle is the growing and disturbing sense that Labour is being targeted for entry – in a few alarming cases successfully – by anti-Semites.
Last week Gerry Downing, whose insidious online presence repeatedly makes reference to ‘The Jewish Question’ – was expelled from the Labour Party. The worrying question, is why Labour’s National Executive Council had granted Mr Downing entry into the party in the first place?
For a brief period after joining the party, Mr Downing had been a member of the same Constituency Labour Party as me – Brent Central.
Fast forward a week to today and we arrive at the suspension of Vicki Kirby. She was a parliamentary candidate when she was put under investigation by the party in 2014 after a series of posts on Twitter in which she apparently suggested Adolf Hitler might be a “Zionist God” and that Jews had “big noses”.
The question I find myself asking myself again is why was Ms Kirby readmitted in the first place? All you need to do is take a casual glance at Twitter, type the words, ‘Jew’ or ‘Zionism’, and an unholy legion of anti-Semitic tweets from people purporting to be on the left of British politics appear.
How can the party I love, the Labour Party, which in my view is the greatest force for social justice in the history of the UK, even come close to attracting people with anti-Semitic views?
In May I will be visiting Israel to try to gain a deeper understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict. I know that the solutions to this conflict are not simple or one-sided, and neither are the causes. That probably makes me a Red Tory, or a Zionist, or a lizard. Take your pick. It shouldn’t be a concern at the top of a Brent councillor’s list, but somehow, with things as they are right now, it seems like it is.
With anti-Semitism on the rise across the country, I feel honour-bond to better understand the nuances of the history of the Jewish people and why they have spent so long being persecuted by so many.
As I sit at my laptop – a Catholic who has a difficult relationship with God (like all good Catholics) – with the Jewish Labour joining page open in a tab, there’s an option to become an affiliate, and I think I might have to take it up.
I feel like our Jewish comrades could do with some solidarity.