Liverpool is a red city. A real Labour stronghold. Whenever Corbyn or McDonnell appear there, they attract huge enthusiastic crowds, but some of its MPs are out of kilter with that mood. Not least the right wing Labour MP Luciana Berger, parachuted into Liverpool Wavertree by Tony Blair against the local party’s wishes.
She has made no effort to accommodate to that mood. In a recent radio interview Berger was asked 10 times if she would welcome a Corbyn-led Labour Government. She kept evading the question, saying ‘well, Brexit”, finally mumbling through her political constipation that she would prefer a Labour government to a Conservative government, but without saying his dreaded name.
Before the Referendum, her opposition to him was a simple Right/Left matter. It was compounded, though, by her holding a leading position in the pro-Zionist, Blairite-dominated, Jewish Labour Movement, antagonistic to Corbyn for his known pro-Palestinian views (though some JLM members would surely have acknowledged his longstanding commitment to anti-racist causes).
Corbyn himself held out an olive branch to Berger when he was first elected leader. He offered her the significant Shadow Cabinet portfolio of Mental Health. She did it for five minutes then spat it back at him when she resigned her post to join the chicken coup plotters attempting to force Corbyn out undemocratically. The right wing of the PLP attempted to overturn a decisive vote by the membership. So Berger is no stranger to using very undemocratic ways and means.
Last week she let the Observer know that she and two other named Labour MPs and three unnamed Labour MPs were seriously considering leaving Labour to form a new “centrist” party in the near future.
She doesn’t have to be a personal fan of Corbyn to assure her local members that she will work tirelessly to return a Labour government but it seems she can’t even do that. In these circumstances what is wrong with local members putting forward a vote of no confidence. If she is right that this is simply the action of a few unhappy local members, then she has nothing to fear. But of course Berger does fear the outcome. So she and some supporters in the PLP, and compliant media, throw accusations of antisemitism into the mix.
Let me be clear. The JLM, of which Berger is chair, regularly accuse political opponents within Labour/the left of being antisemites/soft on antisemitism, “antisemitism enablers” and “antisemitism deniers”. She has been a victim of horrible antisemitic abuse, principally from far right sources, though she has made unsubstantiated claims that this has come too from left wing Labour members. (I have tweeted her in the past to enquire how many LP members she has reported for antisemitic abuse – and she has not replied).
I stand with any politician, against racist abuse including antisemitism. I recognise that antisemitism within society is growing alongside other hatreds, and that not everyone on the left is as aware as they need to be about this.
That, however, has nothing to do with the right of her local members to question her performance as a Labour Party representative, in a similar way to local members asking questions of non-Jewish Labour MPs such as Chris Leslie, John Mann, Chuka Umunna etc. who also, it seems, constantly attempt to undermine Corbyn,
Berger’s own attempts to raise concerns about antisemitism within such arguments, are compromised by her selective attitude to anti-racism and the alliances she makes with people tolerating racism and seeking to undermine Labour.
She was the leading Labour voice at the “Enough is Enough” demonstration in Parliament Square in March 2018, fronted by self-defined Jewish “leaders”, the most prominent being the then president of the Board of Deputies, the Tory, Jonathan Arkush. Many Tory politicians were present including Norman “Cricket Test” Tebbitt , DUP MPs such as Sammy Wilson and Ian Paisley Junior, and others who had not distinguished themselves in the fight against racism.
This protest took place shortly after the then Tory Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, had warmly welcomed Orban’s election in Hungary. Orban’s campaign there centred largely on attacking the Hungarian Jewish figure George Soros in unmistakably antisemitic terms. A few weeks earlier the Tories principal partner in their European Parliament group, the Polish Law and Justice Party, outlawed commentary on the Holocaust that implicated Polish individuals.
Many of the contested charges against Labour and Corbyn on antisemitism related to historical cases. The timing of this event on Parliament Square, a few weeks before local government elections, was transparently about damaging Corbyn in particular and Labour in general just weeks before those local elections.
How do you think Labour members in Wavertee felt when they witnessed their MPs most prominent contribution to Labour’s local election campaign being an attempt to sabotage it? Given the number of historical allegations involved, there was nothing to stop Berger waiting a few weeks until after these elections (and after more anti-racist Labour councillors were hopefully elected) to raise these matters, nothing except her clear desire to damage the Labour Party while Corbyn is at the helm.
Berger’s uncritical collusion with Tory racists continued the following month. The Tories had cynically called a Commons debate on antisemitism unrelated to any motion. It was aimed at piling pressure on Corbyn, even closer to local election day.
By now, though, the Tories were reeling from the Windrush Scandal. The day before the antisemitism debate, David Lammy made his powerful speech about the victims of the Tories’ hostile environment and the “national day of shame”. After that intervention, we may have expected any Labour members participating in the antisemitism debate, called by the Tories, to at least question the Tories’ double standards on racism whether it was Windrush or dodgy alliances in Europe.
Berger had ample time to make all her points. She was warmly cheered by the Tories after a speech which contained not a word about hostile Tory policies and alliances. It focused on the abuse she had suffered, and directed blame for it towards Corbyn and his supporters.
Her tunnel vision and hypocrisy on these matters is abundantly clear, and really her contempt for her local members should not be indulged by those who know better.
is a member of Islington North Labour Party, a co-founder of Jews for Jeremy Facebook page, and active in the Jewish Socialists’ Group