Time to change the agenda
BBC BOSSES BREATHED A SIGH OF RELIEF that the government’s long-awaited White Paper on the Corporation’s future did not compromise its political independence as much as they had feared. But perhaps it didn’t have to. Long-term pressure on the BBC has already yielded results – government ministers are interviewed four times as often as their shadow counterparts and complaints are widespread about an anti-Corbyn bias since his election as leader last year.
Over 35,000 people signed an online petition in less than a week calling for the dismissal of BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg for her blatant anti-Labour line. But due to a handful of unrepresentative sexist comments, this was portrayed as a ‘hate campaign’ mounted by Corbyn supporters and 38 Degrees took down the petition. So legitimate concerns about bias from a publicly funded broadcaster turn into a debate about left wing sexism. The same card was played when local activists‘targeted’ Stella Creasey MP for voting to bomb Syria last December: they were demonised as ‘anti-woman’.
A more pernicious extension of this toxic tactic underpins many of the allegations of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. Legitimate outrage at Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, or even discussing the history of the Zionist movement, is being portrayed as Labour having ‘a problem with Jews’. A score of mostly spurious suspensions have followed and, unsurprisingly, Jeremy Corbyn’s enemies, inside the Party and out, have missed no opportunity to lay the blame at his door – even if the vast majority of so-called incidents occurred before he was leader.
The commission to look into anti-Semitism and racism under Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti is to be welcomed. It’s unlikely that Labour’s internal investigation into the allegations will find much substance to most of them. Meanwhile left wing activists, some of them Jewish themselves, are suspended for months at a time and their names are given by party officials to the media. Yet in many cases they have no notice of why they have been banned. While they try to defend their reputations against trial by media, our movement is forced to respond to an agenda dictated by its enemies, and sustained by those within who see an opportunity to damage the Corbyn leadership, now their dire predictions about May’s election results have proved false.
A recent YouGov poll found only 5% of respondents believed Labour had a particular anti-Semitism problem, while nearly half felt the crisis had been ‘created by the press and Jeremy Corbyn’s opponents to attack him’. Labour members have a proud record of fighting racism, in contrast to the Tories who continuously stoke fears about immigrants, ran a frankly racist and Islamophobic campaign in the London mayoral race and have tried, with breathtaking hypocrisy, to make political capital out of all this.
Where does it stop? The purge is now being extended to exclude Marxists who are being informed they ‘do not support the aims and values of the Labour Party’. Some believe this is all part of a counter-attack by Labour’s apparatus to witch-hunt the left in the Party ahead of a challenge to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
We need to resist these attacks but we also need to re-set the agenda onto the issues we should be talking about. There is now an open crisis within the Tory Party, with each side in the EU referendum debate accusing the other of lying and endangering British security. The divisions are paralysing government – the Queen’s Speech was an unprecedentedly threadbare rehash of old announcements and in any case will be irrelevant if Cameron is forced out this summer. Meanwhile the government has been forced to execute a score of U-turns – on child refugees, forced academisation of schools and the hated Trade Union Bill, even amending its own Queen‘s Speech motion ahead of a threatened defeat on TTIP.
With Labour’s Bitterite tendency temporarily silenced by creditable election results and a Mirror poll showing Jeremy Corbyn still enjoys the support of two thirds of members, now is the time to set out a positive alternative to this bankrupt government. We have a unique opportunity to open an agenda for an alternative economic policy that cracks down on tax avoidance, embraces fully-funded public services, sustainable industry, job creation, truly affordable housing and a range of popular policies that can reach voters who became disaffected in the New Labour years. Do not be deterred by their attempts to divert us from this goal!