Angry about Labour ‘antisemitism’? I’m furious… and here’s why

Angry about Labour ‘antisemitism’? I’m furious… and here’s why

I am angry, and I am not alone. More than half a million of my fellow Britons – good, decent people, many of them Jewish –  have been the victims of a grave and disgusting smear campaign.

I am totally opposed to antisemitism, racism, or any other form of bigotry, and always have been. That’s why I joined the Labour Party and not the Conservatives. As has been pointed out many times, if Jewish people, or any other religious or ethnic minority, came under attack, it would be socialists you would expect to come to their aid. Has there been a documented case in history of the Tories turning up to fight oppression?

That’s why it made me angry to read former Labour MP Joan Ryan’s resignation statement, in which she described the Labour Party as “institutionally antisemitic” and made the frankly hysterical point that “it is an oft-stated truism that what starts with Jews never ends with Jews”. Is she actually comparing a future Labour government to the Nazis?

I was less surprised but even angrier to see Labour described as “…an antisemitic party, led by an antisemite… the most powerfully vicious racist party Britain has ever known” in the right-wing Jewish Chronicle.

What the hell is going on?

I first wrote about the accusations of antisemitism against the Labour Party 18 months ago and it seemed likely then that this was just another smear against Corbyn and his party that would fade away. Not a bit of it. His enemies reckoned this one had legs, so they have stuck doggedly with it.

Let’s be absolutely clear: there is no room in modern society for ANY antisemitism, racism or bigotry. This shouldn’t need to be said, but ANY Labour member responsible for that should be expelled, if found guilty after due process.

Jeremy Corbyn has made plain on many occasions that nobody who is guilty of any those crimes speaks for him or is welcome in the Labour Party.

He ensured that the new general secretary of the party, Jennie Formby, put into place more rigorous systems to root out anyone guilty. Antisemitism is clearly NOT “institutional” in a party that is doing so much to tackle it. But it seems nothing is going to put an end to a smear campaign that has taken off in a way that all the others didn’t.

Have you noticed how quickly this smear developed?

Bear in mind that Corbyn fought two leadership elections, in 2015 and 2016, and a general election in 2017. If he is so soft on antisemitism, or even an antisemite himself, how come no one thought to mention it then? It’s not like they held back on all the other smears.

Only a year ago, the line was that, although Corbyn obviously wasn’t antisemitic (even Margaret Hodge said so), there were some antisemitic attitudes in the party.

This rapidly escalated into “Corbyn is soft on antisemitism”.

Then, in the blink of an eye, Corbyn was an antisemite himself. Suddenly it was acceptable to label him on TV, unchallenged, as antisemitic. To a lifelong anti-racist like Corbyn, an MP who has probably done more than any other non-Jewish MP to fight for Jewish rights, this must be horrendously painful.

As it is for the rest of us in the party, who stand equally accused of being part of an “institutionally antisemitic” organisation which, even worse and more ridiculously, poses an “existential threat” to Jewish people.

What makes it especially frustrating for those of us who utterly oppose racism yet are apparently guilty by association is that this has the feel of a medieval witchcraft trial. “You are part of the problem” is the stock accusation, which translates as: “So, you deny being antisemitic? That means you must BE antisemitic.”

And this in a party which, less than four years ago, was so antisemitic that it had a Jewish leader.

Of course, any group that is more than half a million-strong is likely to contain some people with unacceptable beliefs. Corbyn has acknowledged this – and has condemned those responsible, repeatedly, and called for their expulsion.

But how much antisemitism is there really in the Labour Party?

The Campaign Against Antisemitism, a Jewish organisation, commissions an annual YouGov survey to measure antisemitism.

Not only did the last survey, in 2107, find that there was more antisemitism in the Conservative Party than in Labour, but Labour antisemitism had gone DOWN since 2015, the year Corbyn became leader.

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That might be regarded as cause for celebration, but no, because nothing Corbyn does can ever be enough.

Labour MPs opposed to Corbyn’s leadership recently demanded figures on antisemitism disciplinary procedures from Ms Formby. She provided them, apparently to their surprise – and it almost sounded as if some of those MPs were disappointed the numbers were lower than they had hoped.

Margaret Hodge revealed that she alone had forwarded 200 complaints. The trouble was that before they were investigated as to whether or not they were antisemitic, all but 20 of those complaints were thrown out as the people responsible weren’t even party members.

It seems that Corbyn is being held responsible now for every bit of antisemitic abuse, even from people who aren’t Labour members.

Of course, anyone who uses Twitter knows how easy it is to set up an account, and only the social media-naïve would take everything they see on Twitter at face value.

A year ago, Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis boasted in the Daily Telegraph that the Tories were hiring “an army of paid tweeters” to challenge Labour on social media. Who knows what dirty tricks they have been getting up to? Just because someone gives the impression of being a Labour supporter on Twitter does NOT mean they are.

Meanwhile, the Tories continue to totally ignore Islamophobia – arguably the modern equivalent of 1930s antisemitism – despite allegations from senior members. Baroness Warsi (not an eccentric fringe figure, but a former Tory chairman) said last year that the “poison” of Islamophobia has infected every level of the party “all the way up to the top”.

She has called for an independent inquiry but has been constantly ignored. So while Labour is making every effort to remove racism from its ranks, and getting nothing but abuse for its efforts, the Tories are turning a blind eye to their own racism.

Serious and violent antisemitism across Europe is on the rise – across the Channel in France, Jewish cemeteries are being defaced and shots have been fired at synagogues. Here in Britain the only interest in antisemitism seems to be as a way to smear Labour and keep the Tories in power.

No wonder I and so many others are furious right now.


People’s vote… an empty gesture?

People’s vote… an empty gesture?

Sadiq Khan added to the pressure on Theresa May to call a second EU referendum when he called today for “a public vote on any Brexit deal”. Except that is not how it was interpreted by the Corbyn-hating press.

The Observer/Guardian, never one to miss an opportunity to have a go at the Labour leader, carried the subhead on its website: “Mayor of London’s call for people’s vote adds to pressure on Jeremy Corbyn.” Which is odd, as it’s not up to Corbyn to call a referendum.

That is the prime minister’s job. And that’s the problem with this whole campaign.

Why would Theresa May EVER call a second referendum on Brexit?

Think about it for a minute: last year she scraped back into Downing Street, humiliated, thanks only to the votes of former UKIP supporters.

They voted Tory because they believed her “Brexit means Brexit” nonsense.

Would they vote for her again if she decided to call a second referendum? Of course they wouldn’t. Already there are signs of UKIP making a weak recovery in the opinion polls. So don’t make the mistake of thinking UKIP is dead and buried… it could rapidly be brought back to life if May made the wrong call on Brexit.

That would kill off any hopes the Tories might have had of winning the next election.

That fact alone should be enough to end any hopes of a “people’s vote”, but there are plenty of other reasons why it’s a non-starter – unless we have a general election first.

The first is obviously the practical one: you can’t organise a national referendum overnight. We need a deal, or confirmation of no deal, before we can even set one in motion, and it will be almost the end of the year when we are in that position. We are due to leave at the end of March, so that gives only a few weeks to conduct campaigns and get a result in time for it to have any meaning at all.

The Observer’s story talked of Labour activists wanting a commitment to a vote in the next election manifesto. Many of us would love a general election before the end of March, but it might not be until 2022.

By then, not only will the horse have bolted, but it will probably be dead.

Then there’s the question of whether a second referendum would be any less stupid than the first. David Cameron carelessly called that one in the mistaken belief that he would win easily – as the polls suggested – without even any need to specify, for example, a two-thirds majority threshold or make clear that the referendum was simply advisory. He complacently assumed the referendum would see off the tenaciously eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party labelled “the bastards” by John Major in the 1990s. Maybe he should have had a word with Major before making such a career-destroying error.

So the first referendum was stupid… why would another one be any less so? The fanatical remainers have convinced themselves that they would win easily next time, but they are being as complacent as Cameron.

They point to opinion polls showing a slight lead for Remain – but forget that polls before the referendum showed leads of up to 20%.

There are all sorts of reasons why the Leave vote might firm up in the event of a new referendum campaign, so the result might easily be the same again. But even if Remain won by another narrow margin, where would that leave the country? Civil unrest could not be ruled out as millions would feel their victory had been stolen from them by the very people they were voting against in 2016.

Khan makes some excellent points in his Observer column about the disaster that Brexit will probably turn out to be. I can’t argue with him about that – and I’m not even opposed in theory to a second vote.

The idea is clearly attractive to those who are frustrated with the way Brexit is going and who want to do something – anything – about it.

But the Labour position is right: not ruling out that vote, but not calling for it yet.

Why should they? 

The clear Labour stance is that MPs will vote against a bad deal or no deal, which are probably the only options. And that’s if May gives them a “meaningful vote” in the Commons. She’s reluctant to do that, so who really believes she will give the public a vote?

May won’t call a second referendum unless the pressure becomes irresistible. That doesn’t mean opposition supporters marching in the streets, and it doesn’t mean Labour mayors writing in the papers.

it means every Tory chairman in the country hammering on her door demanding it. And there is little chance of that – right now, most of them are doing the complete opposite, angry that she is going too soft on Brexit with the Chequers “agreement”.

So was Khan’s demand for a second vote really “a dramatic call”, as the Observer had it? Or was it just an empty gesture in the full and safe knowledge that there is no hope of that vote ever happening?

Then again, if anyone out there has any plausible reason to believe that the “people’s vote” MIGHT ever happen, I’d be interested to hear it.

Corbyn’s enemies shoot themselves in the foot

Corbyn’s enemies shoot themselves in the foot

It seems no time at all since Jeremy Corbyn’s opponents were saying that obviously HE wasn’t anti-semitic, but there was some anti-semitism in his Labour Party.

That’s because it IS no time at all – yet now those same people feel able to call him a “vile anti-semite and racist”, as if this is a matter of accepted and undeniable fact.

In just a few weeks Corbyn has gone from “not anti-semitic” to a man who is apparently determined to bring about a new Holocaust – “an existential threat” – if you believe some of his enemies.

It’s been an odd summer.

Some commentators have referred to the “silly season” – that no-news period in the summer months when the media have to focus on something daft to fill their pages and their broadcasts – but this goes way beyond silly.

So what has emboldened these people to throw their libellous smears at someone who has spent his whole life fighting racism and bigotry?

Of course, as ever, we don’t have to look too far. When Margaret Hodge – the Labour MP, don’t forget, who led the ill-fated 2016 coup against Corbyn – yelled at him that he was “a fucking racist and anti-semite”, it was no accident. All her allies rushed to her aid, saying she was simply “passionate” about anti-semitism, but it wasn’t as simple as that.

She knew she would be subject to a disciplinary proceeding (who wouldn’t be if they yelled a disgusting slander like that at a colleague in the workplace?), but she wasn’t going to back down.

It wasn’t passionate – it was cold and calculated. If it had been said in the heat of the moment, she could just have apologised and everyone would have moved on. Instead, she brought in expensive lawyers Mishcon de Reya to quibble about procedures.

Hodge knew that if SHE got away with such name-calling, then that would change the narrative. And it worked. From that point on, it became “acceptable” to call Corbyn a racist and anti-semite – and his opponents have taken full advantage.

Hodge’s own words became the splash headline in the Jewish Chronicle, a paper whose editor Stephen Pollard has said in the past that “the Left, in any recognisable form, is now the enemy”.

And it wasn’t just Corbyn. Now it is pretty much impossible to comment on this issue on social media without quickly being labelled anti-semitic or “part of the problem”. Pollard himself, knowing nothing of me, accused me on Twitter of not giving a damn about the Jews.

It’s open season.

And why? Simple. Theresa May’s government is in serious trouble, so obviously a smokescreen is needed to hide her difficulties. But it goes way beyond that.

It’s not impossible that we could be fighting another general election campaign before too long, and that could very easily lead to a Corbyn-led Labour government. That is a major fear for Israel, given Corbyn’s well-known support for the Palestinians. But it goes a lot further even than that.

There are many vested interests that are desperate to avoid a Corbyn-led government. The privately-owned media in this country, obviously – and they are doing their very best to prevent it. Any business that fears that it might be subjected to fairer employment or taxation legislation. The money men who are terrified that the era of uncontrolled exploitation of capital is in danger of coming to an end.

So many people hold profitable stakes in the status quo that the odds are clearly stacked against Labour. And we’ve seen that in recent weeks with smear after smear.

Jeremy Hunt, plagiarising a Daily Mail re-run non-story, told the BBC that Corbyn was present at the funeral of terrorists in Tunisia. Never mind that it wasn’t a funeral, or that the terrorists aren’t even buried in Tunisia, or that it was actually a peace conference also attended by a Tory peer, or that the wreath-laying was to commemorate an Israeli massacre of civilians that was even condemned by Margaret Thatcher at the time. Don’t let the facts spoil a good story, eh?

Any reader of the Mail, the Sun, the Telegraph, or any other Tory-supporting newspaper could be forgiven for thinking that anti-semitism is rife in the Labour Party and that it began only when Corbyn became leader.

Except it isn’t and it didn’t.

The annual survey of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, a Jewish organisation, reveals that there is more anti-semitism among Tories than among Labour supporters – and that levels of anti-semitism have FALLEN in Labour since Corbyn became leader. Facts… who needs ‘em?

Of course, what is really worrying about all of this for those of us who believe anti-semitism is an issue to be taken seriously and not just used as a playground taunt is the “boy who cried wolf” effect.

Last year the Institute for Jewish Policy Research conducted a major survey of attitudes towards Jews and found that levels of anti-semitism in the UK were among the lowest in the world. The fear is that the gratuitous throwing around of anti-semitism accusations will devalue their impact, so that genuine accusations will be taken less seriously in the future.

There are already signs that Corbyn’s opponents have pushed this too far. In my training to become a therapist, I was taught that therapeutic suggestions don’t have to be true – they only need to be credible. And this is where the Corbyn-haters have gone wrong.

You only have to look at Corbyn’s record to know that he has never been “a vile racist”, so it doesn’t matter how many times that is repeated on social media, it won’t make it any more credible.

Look at the speech Corbyn made at the 80th anniversary of the Cable Street anti-fascist demonstration, and how emotional he became when talking of how his mother lined up to protect the Jews of the East End against Oswald Mosley’s blackshirts.

The allegations against him are simply not credible.

And this hasn’t gone unnoticed.

At the beginning of this week, Corbyn’s enemies were probably congratulating themselves on another great job of undermining him. I doubt they are laughing so much now.

First, one opinion poll showed that Labour had taken a two percentage-point lead over the Tories, reversing a similar deficit. Then another had Labour coming from five points behind to lead the Tories by two.

It seems the British public is not as easy to fool as some of Corbyn’s enemies believed. Perhaps, in their own excitement over the anti-semitism row they manufactured, they have pushed credibility that little bit too far.

Or maybe quite a big bit too far.

Stop this abusive Brexit madness

Stop this abusive Brexit madness

Nearly two years after the referendum and only a year before we leave the EU, the most passionate Leavers and Remainers are settling into a war of attrition. The trouble is, we haven’t got years. On this occasion it COULD be all over by Christmas.

I’ve written before about how the Remainers need to play a longish game, but it’s all relative. It’s still all to play for and we do have maybe nine months, but the time has come for winning hearts and minds. If Brexit is to be averted, it will require a massive conversion of those who either voted to leave or who have accepted that Brexit is going to happen now anyway.

But is this happening? Not as far as I can see. All I can see are heels being dug in.

All over Twitter Remainers are sporting their FBPE (Follow Back Pro-EU) hashtags. It seemed like a good idea: build a movement to persuade others to fight Brexit. Instead it seems to have been commandeered by political opponents who are using it to undermine the Labour Party.

One of the major tactics of the #FBPE gang is to persuade other Twitter users not to vote Labour – so this has been hijacked by Lib Dems desperately hoping to boost their flagging electoral support. Not to mention by undercover Tories who believe they can use Brexit to turn young voters away from Labour.

Some #FBPE campaigners genuinely believe that undermining Labour’s vote at the May local elections will somehow magically bring Brexit to a halt. Their naive argument goes that Labour will be so alarmed at the loss of votes to Lib Dems and Greens that the party will suddenly switch from its democratic respecting of the referendum result to adopt a Remain position.

Of course, the local authority election results WILL be closely watched – but only to see how the Tories fare compared to Labour. If Labour’s vote is cut, the message taken from the elections will be that the Tories have done better than expected. And that will be interpreted as an endorsement of Theresa May’s Brexit plans. All systems go.

We’ve heard a lot recently about “Brexit madness” but a lot of this madness is being displayed by those who think a politically naive tactic such as this can be combined with personal abuse to produce a positive outcome.

I’ve tried engaging with #FBPE Twitter users and all I get is abuse. One began by calling me a “prat”, patronised me by calling me “sweet pea” and “petal”, then went on to accuse me of being “thick as two short planks” – and he’s supposed to be on the same side as me!

He also suggested I might be “happier with the #brexitloons”.

I’ve got a question for this comrade, and for his fellow #FBPE campaigners: how are you going to win over enough waverers to stop Brexit when you think it is a good tactic to abuse even those who want the same as you? And here’s another one: how many Leavers are going to be persuaded to switch sides by being called “loons”?

Brexit can still be stopped – but not by abuse. John Major and Michael Heseltine have spelt out what a disaster Brexit is likely to be, but they did it politely and effectively without resorting to abuse. They have provided a template for those of us on the left who want to avert Brexit.

Over the coming months there will be plenty of hard evidence that Brexit will be a disaster – economic slowdown, employers migrating, lack of progress in negotiations – so let’s use that to win the argument. Let’s try to convince as many people as possible that the referendum result was a mistake.

But let’s stop the Brexit madness.

Stop being abusive, because that results only in more entrenched positions.

Stop accusing all Leavers of being racists. Stop telling Leavers that they are stupid.

Stop throwing tantrums and stamping our feet.

Stop sticking our fingers in our ears and hoping this will all go away.

It won’t. Brexit WILL happen unless we can turn the tide of public opinion. If enough people are convinced by the end of the year that the government is on course for disaster, Brexit can be stopped.

It can be stopped by the opposition voting together (and Labour has said it will oppose any deal that fails to meet its own six tests) and winning over enough Tory MPs who are prepared to put their country above their party.

THEN we can stop Brexit. But it won’t happen if we keep fighting among ourselves.

That’s just madness.

Conservatives – still the same old nasty party

Conservatives – still the same old nasty party

It was Theresa May who first called Conservatives the “Nasty Party”. Now her supporters are working hard to pin that label on Labour.

The Tories are terrified of the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn and they can’t do anything to match the appeal of Labour’s policies.

They have done their damnedest to smear Corbyn, to little avail, and have now run out of mud to fling at him. Instead they are trying to smear the whole Labour Party.

I’ve written before about the way that antisemitism has been weaponised by the party’s opponents, and we saw that again after Holocaust Memorial Day. Corbyn wrote a dignified message in the Holocaust Educational Trust memorial book at Westminster which would have passed unnoticed if his enemies hadn’t highlighted his failure to mention Jews in it.

Attempts to kick up a storm on social media were just gathering pace when it was pointed out that his message in the booklet for the memorial service not only mentioned Jewish people by name – including Anne Frank – but referred to “our Jewish brothers and sisters”.

Then it emerged that May and Vince Cable hadn’t mentioned Jews in the memorial book either. And neither had the chief rabbi – yet nobody was accusing HIM of being antisemitic.

At least the editor of the Jewish Chronicle had the decency to apologise. The trouble is that, as Jonathan Swift wrote in 1710, “falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it”.

Tory election guru Lynton Crosby built a career out of spreading falsehoods and innuendo, understanding only too well that people remember the original smear but not the denial.

National newspaper editors are familiar with that technique too: nobody notices apologies or corrections columns. An original falsehood has become “fact” by the time it is corrected.


Sexism and misogyny are also used to mark out Labour as the “nasty party”.

We’ve been hearing a lot recently about “sexist and misogynistic” bullying of Claire Kober, who has been “hounded out” of her role as council leader in Haringey, north London.

The Tory media have been lapping it up, making Kober out to be some sort of victim, rather than the prime mover behind a massively unpopular plan for her council to go into partnership with private company Lendlease.

Clearly, sexist bullying is nasty – so, therefore, the Labour Party is nasty. Except that it seems much of the bullying has been done by Kober and her supporters. Those in the know talk of threats and intimidation to push through the controversial “Haringey Development Vehicle” (HDV) that would have demolished large parts of the borough – including the homes of thousands of residents.

Veteran councillor Stuart McNamara resigned last November in a damning letter (read it here), which accused Kober of incompetence, among many other things. Oddly, Kober claimed that calling her incompetent was sexist on the grounds that a man wouldn’t be accused of it – which would probably surprise Corbyn, whose enemies have accused him many times of just that.

Naturally, Kober – despite being a party member – has become the poster girl for the “Labour is the nasty party” campaign.

Of course, you would expect that in the Daily Mail, but the BBC has been an enthusiastic participant: Kober has appeared on TV so many times that one Twitter joker suggested that she should get her own show.

Who would have thought municipal politics would ever get so much national coverage?

But, of course, the media are interested because it feeds into the “new nasty party” narrative.

BBC presenter Jo Coburn even asked on the Daily Politics show if Labour was “the new nasty party”, further cementing that thought in viewers’ minds.

Meanwhile, George Osborne’s London Evening Standard said in a leader: “Ms Kober is the successful and moderate leader of Haringey council who has been on the receiving end of a campaign by far-Left activist group Momentum that she rightly described as ‘sexist’, ‘bullying’ and ‘undemocratic’.”

Ah yes, Momentum. Or “Momentum thugs”, as it is now apparently compulsory to call them.

But Guardian journalist Aditya Chakrabortty, who grew up in Haringey, said the story was not about Momentum. He wrote: “The death of the HDV is a victory for local people over multinational business, for democracy over machine politics. Most of all, it is an inflection point in one of the great battles of our times: Big Finance versus the rest of us.”

He went on: “The Tory press and the Labour right, however, are already painting Kober as a martyr to the Trotskyites – a band that apparently includes David Lammy MP and the local Lib Dems. They claim her exit is an affront to democracy, when Kober and her enforcers ignored two council scrutiny reports calling for an immediate halt; arranged secret meetings with Lendlease, and disciplined Labour councillors who challenged them in public.”

But what about the “Momentum thugs” who attacked Jacob Rees-Mogg at UWE, Bristol? Surely that is irrefutable evidence of the “nasty” Labour Party?


Except that it isn’t.

Video evidence clearly shows that Rees-Mogg (who, incidentally, was being followed by a Breitbart camera crew) went to talk to a crowd of protesters – an anti-fascist group, rather than Labour members – who were making a lot of noise but not being violent. Suddenly, a man in a white shirt waded in and hit a woman in the face. The resulting scuffle was to prevent further violence.

The man in the white shirt? A Rees-Mogg supporter and martial arts instructor called Paul Townsley.

Corbyn’s enemies – from all parties – have been trying to demonise Momentum since its formation, making out that its members are violent thugs.

I can’t speak for every other Momentum member, but I joined recently. I am certainly not a young thug. I am a 64-year-old therapist and retired journalist (yes, mainstream media).

The secretary of my local Momentum branch is a retired consultant eye surgeon (though I don’t know him well enough to swear that he is not a thuggish retired consultant eye surgeon).

Most pictures I have seen of Momentum meetings could be confused with get-togethers of retired librarians – and I know one when I see one, as I am married to a retired librarian.

Are Momentum members passionate? Sure. Are they violent thugs? Only in the imaginations of those who fear the popularity of their cause.

Now we have May calling for a law to crack down on the abuse of politicians and other public figures on social media. She says that online “bullying” has become a growing “threat to democracy”.

It all sounds perfectly reasonable until you realise that she is really just blowing hard on the dog whistle. She isn’t so much concerned about the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox or the appalling abuse of Diane Abbott as she is about maintaining the myth of the “Momentum thugs”.

Did you notice the outrage when it was revealed that the Finsbury Park murderer was hoping to kill Corbyn (and Sadiq Khan as a bonus)? No, because there wasn’t any.

It was barely commented on – because it didn’t fit the narrative of lefties bullying “moderates”.

In case you are wondering when the Tories stopped being the Nasty Party, the answer is that they haven’t.

But they and their friends are working hard to deflect attention from their nastiness by painting Labour supporters as thuggish.

Don’t let them bully you into believing it.

The principle reason why Brexit might not happen? Politics

The principle reason why Brexit might not happen? Politics

Something didn’t seem quite right when a friend complained on Facebook about Jeremy Corbyn’s lack of “principles” because he wasn’t taking a stronger stand against Brexit. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was – until it suddenly struck me.

It’s very simple, really: Brexit is not about principles.

Opposing hanging is about principles. Refusing to support war on another country is about principles. But belonging to the EU?


Whether or not the UK should be a member of the EU is not about principles, ethics or morals. It is purely a political calculation.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that sentiment doesn’t come into it. Nearly everyone – in the absence of genuine evidence – voted in the referendum on the basis of sentiment. That goes for leavers AND remainers.

But ultimately this is a purely political calculation.

I was, and am, a keen remainer, but that doesn’t mean I’m unaware of good political arguments for leaving. Many good people, including Tony Benn, have always opposed EU membership.

It’s no secret that Corbyn was an acolyte of Benn’s – or that he has been against the EU in the past.

During the referendum campaign, of course, he campaigned for Remain. Some people were offended at the time when he told a TV interviewer that the strength of his pro-EU feeling stood at about 7.5 out of 10. It was a youth programme and Corbyn was half-joking – but he was being honest.

Quite right too. Even the most ardent supporter of the EU wouldn’t claim it was an institution that was 100% perfect.

A myth has since grown up that Corbyn did nothing during the campaign, but do a Google search for “Corbyn campaigning EU referendum” and click on Images. Now do the same for that great Remain campaigner Theresa May. You won’t find much more than this less-than-enthusiastic endorsement…


The fact is, Brexit is a mess – and there is only one person responsible. David Cameron called the referendum to see off the Tory MPs once described by John Major as “the bastards”. He complacently believed he would win the referendum and did nothing to set the bar higher than a simple majority or to plan for a possible Leave victory.

Cameron has since vanished. He has left politicians on all sides struggling to deal with his mess – and they are all working on the basis of politics and not “principle”.

May chose to adopt a hardline “Brexit means Brexit” position, presumably calculating that Leavers make more noise than Remainers.

Corbyn and Labour have taken up a more flexible position, which they can do as they are not in government. Many have criticised them for this, believing it would drive away the party’s younger supporters.

It seems to have done the opposite.

The Lib Dems made opposition to Brexit their USP at this year’s general election and many predicted a strong recovery. Instead, Labour’s vote went up by 3.5 million, while the Lib Dems lost votes.

Labour were criticised by many Remainers for not opposing the triggering of Article 50, but at the time they were politically obliged to support what was widely (if erroneously) regarded as the “will of the people”.

At the time, I argued that it was important to play a long game. There seemed little point in Labour digging in their heels and voting against – and losing – every vote on every minor amendment.

In the year after the referendum there was no widespread sign of a change of heart, let alone a desire for yet another referendum. But things can change – and there are signs that they are now changing.

The last few months have shown us how utterly unprepared the Leave fanatics were for the realities of uncoupling from an institution with which we have 44 years of shared experience.

They have shown us how little those hardliners understood about the complexities of unravelling such a close political relationship.

And they have shown us how empty was the boast that Brexit negotiations “should be one of the easiest in human history”, as David Davis once said.

Who knows how things might look in a year’s time when that claim has been revealed to be one of the political howlers of our age?

Maybe by then public opinion will have changed decisively as the people of the UK come to understand the bleakness of our future.

Michael Heseltine seems to share my view.

He suggested this week that Labour might ultimately gain politically by following public opinion and moving to a position of opposing Brexit.

He said in an interview: “If you look at the polls, there is probably a bigger majority against Brexit than the referendum secured but that, I think, will continue to happen and it will become more and more unpopular as people realise what it’s all about.

“When that happens, the Labour Party will move, and the present government will be left holding the baby.”

Heseltine knows a thing or two about practical politics – and he understands that this is what it’s all about. Politics.

Otto von Bismarck, another cunning old politician, once said: “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable – the art of the next best.”

Outright opposition to Brexit was impossible in the aftermath of the referendum. In a year’s time, the situation could look very different indeed.

And if that turns out to be the case, we might not even have to settle for “the next best”.

Labour’s lead matches 1997 – but the fight must go on

Labour’s lead matches 1997 – but the fight must go on

Did you know that the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn is now as popular as it was when Tony Blair won the 1997 landslide election? Probably not.

The Observer’s Opinium poll has Labour two points ahead of the Tories, by 42% to 40%. YouGov earlier this month had Labour three points clear, 43% to 40% (remember that number: 43%).

It is not enough for Blair, who told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I still say come on, guys, we should be 15, 20 points ahead at this stage.”

This from the man who predicted electoral oblivion for Labour under Jeremy Corbyn. If Blair’s crystal ball had told the truth, Labour would have been wiped out after the June election. Instead of that, he complains that Labour is only three points ahead of the Tories!

I challenged someone on Twitter whose response to the YouGov poll was: “Not good news for Labour. In any normal parliamentary cycle they should be further ahead.”

I asked him which “normal parliamentary cycle” he was referring to. I don’t remember the Tories taking a lead after their defeats in 1997, 2001 or 2005. Labour barely got above a three-point lead during the entire coalition government of 2010 (and even then its lead turned out to be exaggerated by pollsters). When WAS this mythical “normal parliamentary cycle”? I got no response.

Corbyn’s opponents from both sides of the parliamentary divide are keen to talk down his achievements by belittling them. But let’s look at some figures.

Remember that one I quoted above – 43%?

Blair might have forgotten this, but that is the share of the vote that he won as Labour leader in 1997 – the vote that led to a massive 179 majority. That is where Labour now stands in the polls.

Put like that, 43% doesn’t sound too bad, does it?

So why doesn’t Labour now hold a commanding lead? The answer is simple.

Britain has moved back towards a two-party state in recent years, largely as a result of the coalition and then the collapse of Ukip. Whether you think this loss of diversity is good or bad, it has had one major result: it has propped up the Tories.

Theresa May’s party – despite the scandals, crises and incompetence  –  is consistently polling around 40%.

Not only has she gained the votes of disenchanted Ukip supporters, but she has benefited from the collapse of the Lib Dems. In 1997 the Lib Dems won 17% of the vote, rising with each election to 23% in 2010.

Now the Lib Dems are polling at just six per cent – a disastrous collapse, but great news for May.

Some believed that “progressive” Lib Dem voters would desert to Labour after the coalition, but that didn’t happen. In my Calder Valley constituency, for example, they moved pretty much en bloc to the Tories.

So what next?

I was asked in June if I thought the general election had been a “high water mark” for Labour under Corbyn. At the time I wasn’t sure but I’m now convinced that Corbyn’s Labour CAN go higher. Higher, that is, than the party ever did under Blair.

The irony is that Labour’s chances will to some extent depend on a comeback by the Lib Dems (and Ukip, though that seems unlikely).

There is a large section of the public that will never, ever vote Labour. It’s in Labour’s interests that those people are turned off by May.

In the meantime, there is much work to be done as the battle isn’t over yet. Labour supporters must not become complacent and think the next election – whenever it comes – is a foregone conclusion. The Tories haven’t got where they are today by giving up easily or without a (dirty) fight.

Things can change, and they can change fast. Earlier this year I was still saying that Corbyn was unlikely to win the next election which, at that time, was expected in 2020. Not because of him, but because ANY leader of ANY opposition party is unlikely these days to overturn a majority in just one parliament. That’s what modern political history has taught us. But I did add a caveat: that applies unless something extraordinary happens.

Happily, something extraordinary did happen. One morning, the Prime Minister looked into her mirror – provided by her right-wing media friends – and it told her she was the fairest, and the strongest, and the most stable of all. So she called an election – and we all know what happened. That mirror had lied to her.

When will the next election be? Shadow chancellor John McDonnell believes it will be soon, and the Labour Party is much better prepared this time.

A poll lead of two or three points might not seem that impressive, but think back to when the election was called in April. Some polls had Labour 20 points behind at the start of that campaign. I’ll settle for three points ahead at this stage of the game – but I’ll be fighting to increase it.