Gordon Brown says Labour must automatically expel antisemites
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Gordon Brown says Labour must automatically expel antisemites

Former PM delivers 17th annual Isaiah Berlin Lecture at Hampstead Synagogue, where he says an 'unqualified apology' from Labour is 'only a starting point in rebuilding trust'

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Gordon Brown addressing the  17th annual Isaiah Berlin Lecture (Credit: OfficeGSBrown on Twitter)
Gordon Brown addressing the 17th annual Isaiah Berlin Lecture (Credit: OfficeGSBrown on Twitter)

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has called for a radical overhaul of Britain’s methods of combatting racism, including the Labour Party agreeing a raft of tough new measures to tackle antisemitism.

In a barnstorming speech given on Sunday at Hampstead Synagogue, the 17th annual Isaiah Berlin Lecture, Mr Brown said that Labour needed to adopt serious changes in the way it dealt with antisemitism. Saying that “the Labour Party owes the Jewish community an unqualified apology”, Mr Brown declared: “That is only a starting point in rebuilding trust”.

He wants Labour automatically to expel antisemites and says that the next Labour government needs to create the role of a newly-designated minister and global ambassador to fight antisemitism.

His speech was even tougher than the one he made in a short film in April this year to explain why he had become a member of the Jewish Labour Movement. And it was a tacit rebuke to Labour’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and his inner circle of advisers, who are now facing an external inquiry by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission into Labour’s issues with antisemitism.

Pulling no punches, the former prime minister said: “To the Jewish community, we promised ‘never again’. We promised that the crimes of hatred, discrimination and persecution would never recur. We promised we would offer support and protection.

the Labour Party owes the Jewish community an unqualified apology

“But at a time when attacks on Jewish schools have risen 100 per cent, attacks on or near Jewish synagogues 400 per cent and attacks are carried out on social media thousands of times over, we have not lived up to that promise”.

Mr Brown was uncompromising when he said: “We have to call out antisemitism for what it is: racism, and, in this case, anti-Jewish racism. And I promise that whenever prejudice and intolerance arises, I and whoever I can persuade, are not going to remain silent or stand aside or desert the Jewish community or neglect it or forget”.

The culture of Labour politics had to change, Mr Brown said, starting at the party conference in September.

And he laid out his game plan for tackling antisemitism in the party. “First, automatic expulsion. When an offence is as counter to our core principles as antisemitism, we cannot, in all conscience, be less demanding and less immediate in our response and we should automatically expel – and not just suspend – in cases where there is irrefutable evidence of antisemitism or any kind of racism. After all, automatic expulsion is the procedure we adopt when members vote for, or support, other political parties.

“Second, independent appeals. We should ensure the right to an appeal, but from outside the party not from inside, and the appeal system has to be independent of the Labour Party’s hierarchy with members chosen for their standing and integrity among the public – and after consultation with Jewish and other communities.

When an offence is as counter to our core principles as antisemitism, we cannot, in all conscience, be less demanding and less immediate in our response and we should automatically expel – and not just suspend – in cases where there is irrefutable evidence of antisemitism or any kind of racism

“Third, racist poison is not restricted to antisemitism. It includes the efforts of Islamophobes who are using social media to condemn the entire Muslim community — demonstrating the still-widespread racism that disfigures more and more of our society. When in 2016, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission reviewed 50 years of anti-racist legislation and enforcement, they called on the Government to formulate a comprehensive anti-racism strategy fit for a new era.

“The need is more urgent now and, in preparation for the next Labour Government, we should consult on a new and broader strategy that begins with better education in our schools – and include stronger laws against racism in all its forms.

Gordon Brown at the lecture during the lecture.

“I would support an extension of the Holocaust Educational Trust programme that has been so successful in making young people aware that we should never, never forget what happened at Auschwitz and beyond and that such atrocities should never be allowed to happen again.

“And fourth, the Labour Party should announce that the next Labour government will appoint a Minister backed up by an Ambassador – and their roles should be combating antisemitism nationally and globally — by monitoring and reporting on its evil presence and pressurising governments everywhere to eradicate it. Thus we could lead the world in developing a national antisemitism and anti-racism strategy that deals with new social media and new geopolitical realities”.

The former premier told his Hampstead Synagogue audience: “We cannot go on ignoring the consequences of the upsurge in hate and hate speech, all too often in the form of sinister, anonymous and untraceable internet trolling.

“Opposing antisemitism and every manifestation of racism goes to the heart of who we are and what we stand for as Labour. It’s about the moral soul of a party, whose most basic goal is a commitment to equality for all — not just for some who suffer oppression — but everyone.

“To fail to act against the abuses we have witnessed runs counter to the very principles of the Labour Party we joined.”

We cannot go on ignoring the consequences of the upsurge in hate and hate speech, all too often in the form of sinister, anonymous and untraceable internet trolling.

In a wide-ranging address invoking the teachings of Sir Isaiah Berlin, who died in 1997, Mr Brown was scathing about Brexit, calling it “an act of self-harm”, and reminding his audience that the European project had only come about as a bid to rid the world of the evils of extreme nationalism. He called for “Citizens’ Assemblies” to be launched between now and the projected target leave date of October 31, to encourage people to quiz the political leadership about the implications of Brexit.

Mr Brown, who was accompanied at the lecture by his wife Sarah and one of his sons, Fraser, started his Hampstead appearance at a private reception. There he presented an award on behalf of the synagogue to the former Labour MP Ian Austin, who, he said, had done more than any other MP to tackle antisemitism. Mr Austin resigned the Labour whip in February and now sits as an independent.

Among those attending the lecture were Labour MPs Sir Keir Starmer and Dame Louise Ellman, together with former MP Ann Keen, who was formerly Mr Brown’s Parliamentary Private Secretary.

After a member of the audience asked Mr Brown how he could continue to solicit support for a Labour government when he acknowledged the deep problems within the Labour Party, the former prime minister said he believed the changes he recommended could be enacted within the next weeks. The central question, he said, was “Do Labour want to do justice by the Jewish community, and the country?”

And he added, giving a final pledge of support to the Jewish community: “There are thousands of us, and we will not ever walk by on the other side, I promise you that”.

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