by Wes Streeting, Labour MP for Ilford North
On 17th November, the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party voted to boycott G4S, which has provided the security for the Labour Party conference for many years, because of its contracts with the Israeli government. This boycott threatens to undermine Labour’s long-established foreign policy and the way in which it was proposed merits scrutiny and derision.
This unprecedented move was made at the end of a long meeting after more than half of the NEC had left, including Labour’s Leader and Deputy Leader.
As a result, barely more than a third of Labour’s NEC members voted for the motion.
The first I heard of this decision was via Twitter and it was subsequently confirmed by those who were there and in the media.
A routine report from the General Secretary of the Labour Party about conference operations was hijacked by an unannounced proposal from Unite the Union that the conference security provider, G4S, should be sacked as a result of their work for the Israeli government.
The decision has since been rejected and referred back to the NEC by Labour’s Conference Arrangements Committee, on the basis that only one contactor would be able to bid for the contract.
It seems that the NEC’s decision would not only put G4S jobs at risk, including members of the GMB union, it would also leave the Labour Party beholden to a monopoly provider and out of pocket as a result.
Regardless of the practical issues for the Labour Party, a decision of this magnitude, which will have repercussions far beyond Labour’s contract with G4S, should never have been proposed in this way.
Labour does not have BDS policy – indeed the Labour Party has consistency opposed BDS because of the way it singles out Israel and undermines effective efforts to bring about a peaceful two-state solution.
G4S operates in around 125 countries, but it is telling that only its contract with Israel has been cited as a reason for the boycott.
On the day that a small rump of Labour’s NEC was engaging in tactics I thought I’d left behind in student politics, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, Hilary Benn, was giving a thoughtful speech to Labour Friends of Israel.
He argued passionately against attempts to delegitimise Israel and for political leaders on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides to step up to the task of engaging in ‘acts of courageous political leadership’ to bring about the two-state solution that so many of us desperately want to see.
‘All of us should be concerned that there is no peace process at all at the moment. For the Palestinians, who rightly want their own state, this is a time when hope is absent. And a lack of hope breeds despair and worse. Despair that can only be changed by acts of courageous political leadership.’
It was the speech of a serious political leader offering a roadmap to the only realistic path for peace.
The Labour Party needs to decide whether it wants to be a party of government that uses its diplomatic muscle to play a role in resolving one of the world’s most intractable conflicts, or a protest group on the fringe – without credibility or the power to make a difference.
Many of my Jewish constituents in Ilford North are losing confidence in the Labour Party and the policy passed by Labour’s NEC will only make things worse.
I recently held an open forum at Redbridge Jewish Community Centre, where residents expressed worries about Labour’s stance on the Middle East and even our commitment to tackling anti-Semitism.
Many of these residents have been lifelong Labour voters and are in despair, feeling that the Labour Party can no longer be an honest broker for Middle East peace.
These concerns were echoed over the weekend when I attended shul with Redbridge United Synagogue.
Over Kiddush it was clear that more people had heard of Labour’s NEC policy on G4S than had read the words of our Shadow Foreign Secretary.
When I visited Wohl Ilford Jewish Primary School a few weeks ago I asked pupils what issues they’d like me to raise in Parliament.
One boy urged me to raise Britain’s role in the world, because he felt that co-operation with other countries was the best way to resolve global conflict. I was in awe at the wisdom of an eleven year old boy.
It is his philosophy that will make the world a better place, which is why Labour must overturn the NEC’s boycott of G4S.