Ruth Smeeth for JN December 2019
The former Labour MP Ruth Smeeth, who lost her Stoke North seat to her Conservative opponent last week, has said she is “devastated” by the result, not for herself but for her constituents.
And she said: “I beg everyone in the Jewish community to join the Jewish Labour Movement in the coming days, to have a voice in the leadership election”. She said it was vital to “change the culture” of the Labour Party, and warned that if it did not change, “we will have to ask, what is the point of Labour?”
Ms Smeeth said: “We all knew this [defeat] was coming but I don’t think anyone quite anticipated the scale of it. It raises all the questions that we should have been talking about for years now. Every political experiment that the leadership has tried over the last four years has been shown to be a complete and utter failure. You reap what you sow”.
She said she did not regret her decision to stay and fight, and pointed out that the antisemitism issue “came up on every fifth doorstep during my campaign. People were aware of it, not just in the Jewish community, but nationally”.
There was even more need to stay in the party now, Ms Smeeth insisted. “I have huge respect for the people who chose to leave, but my decision was clear. I think the idea that I could walk away and leave the battlefield and allow my party, without challenge, to become a party of racists and cranks, was not an option which I felt I could explore. I will still be there, during the leadership contest and beyond, to try to fix the mess Jeremy Corbyn and his mates created in my party”.
With sadness, the former MP spoke of packing up her London office, making her staff redundant and wondering what would become of her constituents who needed help which she was no longer legally able to offer.
She said: “I haven’t decided what I’m going to do yet. I’m taking some time off at the end of the month but I will be coming back fitter and ready to fight”. She said she planned on working with one of her former colleagues if they declared themselves for the leadership, adding that “Continuity Corbyn” — in the person of Rebecca Long-Bailey — was “not acceptable for the future of the Labour Party. Rebecca has spoken out on antisemitism in the last 12 months, but she has not been in the forefront of the fight, and I need someone who is prepared to have this fight, to sack the staff that failed so miserably to deal with this internally”.
Ms Smeeth was very clear that “the scourge of antisemitism” had to be a theme in the leadership contest, saying it would be “a complete injustice for everybody, but especially for Luciana [Berger] and Louse [Ellman], if that wasn’t part of the conversation as we choose the new leader”.
Stoke North voted 80 – 20 to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum but Ms Smeeth said she was now “really scared” what a hard Brexit was likely to mean for her former constituents. She said a hard Brexit would have the worst impact on those who could afford it least, and suggested that no serious thought had been given to what people wanted Britain to become once it had left the EU. She felt that if people had been told we would leave political institutions and not sever economic links, that that would have been a soft Brexit that more people felt they could live with.
“Every political party, including the Conservatives, has got Brexit completely wrong. It should never have been about party politics, it should always have been about national interests. It should never have been a single party doing the negotiations.”
Ms Smeeth said there was “a lot of maturity” required in facing up to the internal problems faced by Labour. “If we get this wrong, and there is a danger that we do, then the Labour Party will have no right to exist. This is the biggest test of the Labour Party in our 100 year history.”
She believed that Labour was likely to be found to be institutionally antisemitic by the EHRC, which she called “an appalling indictment on my party. We have two ways of dealing with that, and that will be the first test for the new leadership. Everybody who has been named, especially in the JLM evidence, needs to be sacked or removed from post, so that there is a complete clear-out, and the adoption of an independent complaints process, guided by the JLM and the people who have been the targets of this vile racism. Zero tolerance has to mean zero tolerance — and if we don’t take it seriously we have no right to talk about how Islamophobic a lot of Conservatives are, if we can’t get our own house in order.”
What she hoped for, Ms Smeeth said, “is that the leadership of the Labour Party take advice on how to fix this complete disgrace, and then actually fix it, as opposed to talking nonsense about what they’ve supposedly done”. Such challenges, and how they were faced, she said, would determine whether there was any kind of Labour Party in five years’ time.
The Barking MP, Dame Margaret Hodge, will now become parliamentary chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, “fighting the good fight for us”. But Ms Smeeth pledged: “I’m not going away, and I’m not going to be quiet”.