The man who’s got our back

The man who’s got our back

For the Jewish News July 15 2019

One of Labour’s most outspoken MPs, Wes Streeting, has told Jewish News that he “doesn’t know how Jeremy Corbyn sleeps at night”, and that he has “given up hope that the party will tackle antisemitism while Corbyn is leader”.

Mr Streeting was speaking on the eve of a speech he is giving to the Labour First bloc on Tuesday evening, whose focus is on those who choose to stay members of the party in the face of the seemingly intractable antisemitic problem.

“You think that things can’t get worse, and yet somehow on antisemitism, they do”, the backbencher said. He did not believe, in advance of the BBC Panorama programme, that there was anything in it which could shock him, but said that he had been “completely floored” by the testimonies of the Jews who faced antisemitism, and by those of the whistleblowers.

“On a human level, how anyone could see that and not feel sickened, aggrieved, and ashamed, I don’t know. If this were any other employer where staff were whistleblowing in these terms, and people involved in the company were describing, in painful detail, their experiences of racism, the Labour Party would be outraged and calling for the directors to be sacked, the management to be held to account, and for the whistleblowers to be believed and protected”.

Instead, Mr Streeting said, “here we are, the so-called party of equality and workers’ rights, apparently not even pretending to care any longer.” All the leadership cared about, he said, was “dismissing the problem and not addressing it.”

He said: “I would have thought that seeing young Jewish members on TV describing their direct experience of racism in the Labour Party would be enough to shock Jeremy Corbyn into action. I would have thought that having former members of staff describing what they have seen and experienced in Labour HQ would wake Jeremy up. It seems nothing will make this man sit up and realise there is a problem. One of the things I am most disgusted by, in terms of the official response to Panorama, is that you would think that the victims of the antisemitism crisis in the Labour Party were Jeremy Corbyn, a bunch of senior staff, shadow ministers….[in fact] the victims of antisemitism in Labour are Jewish, and the people who have been bullied out, trying to deal with it, former staff or MPs.

“Nothing about this passes the smell test. I honestly don’t know how he sleeps at night — and this is someone who wants to be prime minister.” He described the leadership response to Panorama as “totally Orwellian, something out of the Ministry of Truth from 1984”.

Mr Streeting, whose constituency is Ilford North, said that when he was first attacked for remaining in the Labour Party, his first reaction was “to be very defensive. I thought, I’m trying to fight this and sort it out, why am I being given a hard time, what about all these people who don’t do anything?”

Now, he said, he felt it was “a perfectly legitimate and reasonable thing to say, given the state of the Labour Party — how can you stay —and they deserve a better answer than just a glib response, which is ‘stay and fight’”.

He said he believed there was a reason why Jeremy Corbyn and his inner circle of advisers would “quite like to see Labour MPs deselected. I have absolutely no intention of making that easy for them. My problem is not with the Labour whips or the vast majority of Labour MPs. It’s with the cancer that’s eating away at the heart of the party and a leadership that enables and emboldens antisemitism. So I have no intention of surrendering my position in the Labour Party to this cancer, and, frankly, one leader”.

Mr Streeting said that those people who were calling for him to leave “had to think through very carefully what the consequences would be of surrendering the party wholesale to a form of politics which, by its nature, is obsessed with conspiracy theories, and a form of crank-left [attitudes] which has enabled antisemitism to emerge in a way none of us expected in the Labour Party. I don’t think the Jewish community would be well-served by genuine anti-racists, who are fighting antisemitism, all walking out.”

He rejected the charge of “complicity” and said that would be valid only if he had remained silent and not challenged antisemitism at every level. Silence, said the MP, was complicity. But he also believed that “all of the evidence — historical precedent, polling, actual election results — do not suggest that Jeremy Corbyn is on the path to Number 10. Part of my message to party members is, you are setting yourselves up for disappointment, because this guy [Corbyn] ain’t gonna do it.”

He said he had told the Labour leader directly that he — Corbyn — was “a bigger problem on the doorstep than Brexit. Whether it’s his world view, concerns about defence, about Europe, or indeed concerns about antisemitism, Jeremy Corbyn has not persuaded the country that he is best placed to be prime minister — and I find that morally unconscionable for a Labour leader, because I can see the damage the Tories are doing”.

The main problem, he believed, was not simply the number of antisemites in Labour, but the far greater number of those who had “dismissed, downplayed, and delegitimised how to deal with the issue.”

His core belief, he said, was that people should not be bystanders. In a sideswipe at the former Labour leader, Ed Miliband, Mr Streeting said he had been “missing in action for the best part of four years. It’s up to him to decide whether to intervene”.

And responding to remarks made by union leader Len McCluskey against Labour deputy Tom Watson, Mr Streeting said: “If people like Len McCluskey had listened from the outset to those of us who warned the party’s leadership that there was a problem, and how to deal with it, this issue would have been killed, dead and buried, years ago. But these stupid people, with their factional paranoia, have persisted in deflecting, dismissing, denying, delegitimising — and disgracing themselves.”

Mr Streeting concluded: “This issue can’t just be left to Jewish Labour MPs [to fight.] If you are coming for them, you’ll have to go through me first.”

  • 16 July, 2019