Time For Action, Not Just Words, From Labour MPs On Anti-Semitism

The longer good Labour people stand by a party riddled with anti-Semitism, the more their reputation corrodes. This is the moment when their personal legacy and integrity is at stake, writes Chris Leslie
Stefan Rousseau - PA Images via Getty Images

All eyes are on the Conservative Party leadership race, but equal attention should be paid to the increasing strains and dysfunctions ripping through the Labour Party. Corbyn loyalists say they are “chuffed” that Derby MP Chris Williamson has been let back into Labour despite his persistent defence of the institutionalised anti-Semitism riddling the organisation. Other more moderate Labour MPs are trying their best to maintain a ‘stay and fight’ narrative, justifying the unjustifiable conflict between opposing what Jeremy Corbyn is doing while simultaneously urging the public to vote and make him prime minister.

I know personally many good MPs who privately accept that Labour has a deeply engrained culture of anti-Semitism and intolerance – and that it is complicit in the Tory Brexit project that will do so much harm to the communities they are supposed to represent. But too many former colleagues of mine persist in hoping that the best way they can tackle this problem is to lay down ‘red line’ demands of the leadership, vocalise their disagreement within PLP meetings, while on weekends donning a red rosette and advocating the election of this Labour leadership into government.

Sadly, by allowing the leadership to constantly skip across those red lines with impunity, the credibility of the remaining good Labour MPs is corroded day by day. It’s no longer viable to pretend they wield more influence inside than from without, because this is palpably untrue. Staying in the Labour Party merely lends what remaining credibility they have to a leadership who will use it to pretend they still govern a ‘broad church’, when the opposite is the case. A few solemn tweets cannot absolve the fact that they are standing shoulder by shoulder with a leadership from a completely alien tradition to the historically social democratic centre left values that were once mainstream Labour.

Like many former Labour MPs who found this conflict impossible to justify and who left the party in February, I have held back from challenging those still holding to the forlorn hope that the party is just going through a ‘phase’, because I know things are difficult for them and I know the turmoil they are experiencing. But it is now time to wake up and accept the fact that Jeremy Corbyn and his clique have a grip on the party that is so complete that resistance is now futile.

If a general election comes this autumn, as some expect, are these Labour MPs really going to travel around the country telling the public and their constituents that Labour should be in government with Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister?

Leaving the Labour Party as I did after 32 years was not easy, but each instance of gross immorality and public betrayal confirms for me that this was the right thing to do, whatever the personal cost to me that may arise.

So when for the umpteenth time a statement is issued by sensible Labour MPs demanding of the Chris Williamson case he must have the whip removed “if we are to stand any hope of persuading anyone that the Labour Party is taking antisemitism seriously”, I dearly hope that these words will be followed up with deeds.

It was no coincidence that Williamson was first suspended the week after eight of us collectively resigned from the party. Our actions were the only thing that drove any change at all. That week was also the closest Labour has come to voicing vaguely promising support for a People’s Vote. If the Labour leadership assess there is no prospect of resignations, they’ll carry on regardless. ‘Stay and fight’ isn’t heard by them as something to be concerned about. It is dismissed with blithe disdain.

This week my former colleagues were asked to decide whether they want to stand for Labour at the next general election. It should be a moment for them to take stock and weigh up the balance between integrity and self-interest. Being an MP can be rewarding and self-fulfilling – but there is a real danger that the integrity of Labour MPs will be compromised by the perception that their personal desire to remain in office comes before doing the right thing not just for their conscience but for the country.

Turning a blind eye to the decrepit state of the Labour Party under its new ownership is not acceptable. Each Labour MP must not only look their constituents in the face, but look at themselves in the mirror, and have the courage to stand up and be counted. This is the moment when their personal legacy and integrity is at stake.

Chris Leslie is Independent Group for Change MP for Nottingham East


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