Luciana Berger interview: Why now enough really is enough
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Labour SplitInterview with Jewish MP

Luciana Berger interview: Why now enough really is enough

Jewish MP on the "difficult, painful and personal" decision to quit Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party

Jack Mendel is the Online Editor at the Jewish News.

Labour MP Luciana Berger speaks as she announces her resignation during a press conference at County Hall in Westminster, London, along with a group of six other Labour MPs
Labour MP Luciana Berger speaks as she announces her resignation during a press conference at County Hall in Westminster, London, along with a group of six other Labour MPs

After the landmark decision to breakaway from the Labour Party on Monday alongside six other MPs, Luciana Berger speaks to Jewish News about why she waited until now to quit, and what the future holds: 

Jack Mendel (JM): I just wanted to start off by trying to get how you’re feeling to get to the point where you felt you had to do this?

Luciana Berger MP (LB): It’s been a very very difficult decision, very painful, but a necessary one. I’ve made the decision today along with a number of my colleagues because I felt that it was the right thing to do. I could have carried on business as usual but I didn’t think the status quo was good enough and that’s why I decided to resign from the Labour Party today.

JM: What kind of toll has it taken on you personally and your family in the last couple of years?

LB: It’s been quite challenging. It’s not a secret that I’ve seen 6 people convicted of antisemitic acts towards me over the last few years and I’ve done everything I possibly can to stand up and speak up for my constituents and particularly most recently since the referendum on Brexit Liverpool’s going to be absolutely devastated by Brexit and I’ve been very involved in that and additionally on the antisemitism front. So I’ve been very active, obviously seeking to address issues of antisemitism within the Labour Party in the wake of the unprecedented event of the demonstration in Parliament square.

We’re coming up to a year since that happened and in my view we’ve only seen the situation get worse, whether that’s the fight we’ve have to had for months in order to see the IHRA definition adopted by the party in full with all of its examples, which even at the last moment there were efforts to seek to undermine it.

It was very distressing. It didn’t seem that there was a day that went past where there wasn’t another story or another front page about various activities and events that the leader of the Labour party Jeremy Corbyn had attended or spoken at. Most significantly was the comments that were captured where he said that British Jews didn’t get irony, just so offensive and indicative of the problem.

It didn’t seem that there was a day that went past where there wasn’t another story or another front page about various activities and events that the leader of the Labour party Jeremy Corbyn had attended or spoken at.

A catalogue of cases that we’ve seen and most recently on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day which resulted in individuals receiving a reminder of the rules, not even a warning having made antisemitic comments.

That doesn’t in any way shape or form chime with the commitment to being a party that takes a zero tolerance approach to antisemitism.

It’s been a very very difficult decision, very painful, but a necessary one

JM: During the press conference you said Labour was institutionally antisemitic but you didn’t go as far as saying Jeremy Corbyn is antisemitic. Would you now say that?

LB: It’s for Jeremy Corbyn to tell the country what his views are. I can only look at and hold the leadership to account for the gulf between lots of warm words – because any time the party is asked about it, we get the standard statement ‘we’re committed to contending with this issue’ – and the reality and the facts on the ground. The reality and the facts on the ground paint a very different picture. I can see that in all the information and cases I’ve been privy to. I appreciate I follow this a lot more closely than most – and from my own personal experience as well. The combination of which has led me to say that it’s not about just one individual. The party as a whole has not adequately contended with this issue even in the wake of the ‘Enough is Enough’ demonstration and that’s why I did what I did today.

JM: You said on Five Live earlier today that Jeremy Corbyn hadn’t spoken to you since late 2017. Given his lack of contact, why now?

LB: I was invited to a meeting towards the end of last week for the first time, I wasn’t able to make that meeting because I had a guest that had come to parliament, but that was the first time in well over a year.

JM: Given he hasn’t had direct contact with you in over a year … why resign now?

LB: I’ve certainly raised this issue in very public forums that have a direct link to Jeremy, the parliamentary Labour party I’ve spoken to or moved my own motions. I’ve done it in the presence of well over a hundred colleagues on a number of times. It’s not like my representations won’t have got back to him and again this is about – this is the responsibility of the entire shadow cabinet. This isn’t just that one individual. There’s different facets, there’s different organs of the party and it’s governing body. I’ve endeavoured to speak to all of those.

JM: Was there one particular event that triggered your decision?

LB: I can’t point to one thing but clearly as I’ve laid out there’s a catalogue, an extensive catalogue of events that have had happened particularly over the course of the past year that have made my membershIp of the Labour party untenable.

JM: Have ties between Labour and Jewish community been irreparably severed, or taken to the point of no return?

LB: That’s not for me as an individual to make that decision. It’s up to the communal organisations and bodies to arrive at their own conclusions. I can only make a decision on behalf of myself which is what I have done today.

JM: Should Labour members stay and fight or join you?

LB: I have taken the decision that I have taken today. These are very personal decisions, whether people do it as an MP or as a councillor or as a member or in whatever capacity they make that decision. It’s for individuals to make their own, arrive at their own conclusions and at the time that is right for them so it’s not for me to determine or dictate what they do . It’s their choice. I have made my choice today. I feel that I have done everything within my power to fight this issue.

I haven’t held back in speaking out. I’ve been outspoken at every moment, I’ve tried different avenues. Most recently with the motion… that we saw that was brought by my colleagues, members of the parliamentary committee, colleagues that I supported and was involved in just in the last few weeks to demand full disclosure of all the details of exactly what has happened; particularly in the last 11 months, and also we saw in the week of that motion which was unanimously supported – no one spoke against it; it was a polite request for information to be disclosed on a number of different issues, on a number of cases; what the party’s approach is when it comes to a duty of care.

The motion itself called for someone from leadership, it didn’t specify who, but for someone to come and to present a response to that motion and to present a written report and yet we still didn’t get a full disclosure of the details. We were told that… the cloak of the freedom of information was used. Let’s be very clear, we were not asking for any individual names. We were just looking for numbers, and now lots are disputing the numbers. In particular there is the issue of what action we have seen happen.And all these people that just got a reminder of the rules, not a warning. That in my view does not chime in any way with a party that is supposed to adopt a zero tolerance approach to antisemitism.

So that is why I made my decision now, in the wake of all of that. I feel fought very very hard. I have done that in the wake of standing outside parliament to essentially demonstrate against my own party to say enough is enough. I’ve done everything that I’ve done subsequent to that. And now enough really is enough.

Luciana Berger addressing the Enough is Enough rally against Labour antisemitism

JM: Have you had any contact with the Labour leadership, Jeremy Corbyn on John McDonnell in the last 24 hours or the aftermath of it?

I’ve done everything that I’ve done subsequent to that. And now enough is enough.

LB: No. I believe.. .. but haven’t had the chance to read it, but I believe I might have a letter. I haven’t seen it yet.

JM: Moving forward, the new party…

LB: So.. the first step is that we’ve established a new independent group of MPs.

JM: So it’s not a formal party?

LB: No, we are on a journey to listen to the country, to see what the response is, to see what people want, it’s not for us to dictate what..

I would anticipate that we do become a party but we’ll wait and see.

JM: Would you consider leadership of that?

LB: As I announced today, we haven’t announced any roles or responsibilities. We have a totally flat structure. We’re yet to have an inaugural meeting. We are not a party. We might become a party if it transpires that’s what the British people want. If I just judge by the response so far, we have a website, theindependent.group.. If I understand correctly, it’s been attached to 17 servers because it keeps crashing because there’s so much interest. There’s been so much interest, so clearly… gauging from the response of my constituents, which has been on the whole very very positive and supportive, the response I’m getting in my inbox on social media and from the country; is that there is an appetite for something, that represents the majority of this country that are currently unrepresented. We see the major parties who essentially gravitate towards the extremes of those spectrums, whether that’s the Conservatives who have been highjacked by the ERG [European Research Group], the Labour party which is attached to the hard left, or the Lib Dems who have no credibility.

We see the major parties who essentially gravitate towards the extremes of those spectrums, whether that’s the Conservatives who have been highjacked by the ERG, the Labour party which is attached to the hard left, or the Lib Dems who have no credibility.

Speaking to the values.. we set out today are the values that we hold dear. Equality for all, opportunity for all, antiracism against all, social justice. UJS (Union of Jewish Students) led me to join the Labour Party, those values that I hold dear which currently have no place in that party.

JM: When you were in Labour you were chair of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM). Would you, can you, continue that role now you’ve left?

LB: It’s unclear. I genuinely don’t know the answer to that question. We’re determining that at the moment. I am sorry I can’t give you an answer.. I genuinely don’t know the answer.

JM: What do you see as the future of JLM?

LB: The JLM is a democratic organisation, and it’s due to have an AGM in the next few weeks. I’d anticipate this might be a topic of conversation. I’m just one member of JLM so the members determine and decide amongst themselves what they believe JLM should do.

JM: Do you understand some of the anger within the Jewish community that you stayed in the party so long? Many left and urged others to leave too. Although you stuck in there and fought there was some resentment. What’s your message to them?

LB: This is a very personal decision for people to make. People will arrive at a decision for themselves when the time is right. I feel that it has been important to stay and fight, that’s why I’ve endeavoured to do.

Why am I in public office? To affect change and make a difference. I’ve stayed as long as I’ve felt able to try, and affect change and make a difference to this issue of antisemitism.

This is a very personal decision for people to make. People will arrive at a decision for themselves when the time is right. I feel that it has been important to stay and fight, that’s why I’ve endeavoured to do.

Let’s be very clear. The Jewish community historically.. this was our number one political home was the Labour Party.

For everyone, Jewish or not, to make the decision to leave something which is part and parcel of.. you know.. I never anticipated ever that in 20 years, it would ever come to this, that I would have to leave the Labour Party.

It’s not an easy decision when you’re in office and you’re there… the party is supposed to espouse the values which led you to join it in the first place, so it’s not an easy decision. It’s a very personal decision, and I don’t berate anyone that’s made the decision previously, or who might not make it now or in the future. It’s a personal decision for people to make.

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