Extreme disquiet in Labour’s ranks

FORUM: Tom Selwyn finds a clear picture emerging of ‘extreme disquiet’ among many ordinary members of the Labour Party

Thursday, 27th January

Tom Selwyn_new


WHEN Richard Osley’s account of the recent selection meeting in Swiss Cottage (Labour members walk out of selection meeting in protest at party’s treatment of blocked councillor, CNJ, January 12) is placed beside the exchange of views (Mike Katz: ‘Jewish members no longer feel unwanted in the Labour Party’, Forum online, October 14) and Richard Kuper (The Labour conference message to the Palestinians is clear, Letters online, October 28) a picture emerges of extreme disquiet among sizeable numbers of ordinary Labour Party members.

This concern arises from two seemingly separate but actually closely connected selection / deselection processes: one concerning prospective councillors for the next local election, the other manifesting itself in the exclusion of 40 or so Jewish members from the party nationally and locally.

Like Martin Plaut (Labour selection was fair, Letters, December 30) I have recently taken part in councillor selection.

Mr Plaut felt able to “assure any of CNJ’s readers of the fairness of the process”. I am not.

As a prospective councillor’s “witness”, I witnessed one selection process from start to finish. The appeal was, in my view, conducted in a rude, procedurally questionable and frankly demeaning way.

The Letters pages of the CNJ January 6 edition (On current form Labour deserves a bloody nose in next May’s elections) by Paul Braithwaite, for example, suggest that many readers share comparable views about unfairness.

All those I have talked to, councillors and constituents alike, have spoken, like John Mason (No grounds for ousting these two, Letters, January 20), of Leo Cassarani and Paul Tomlinson as among the very best and most hard-working members of Camden Council.

In his letter Mr Plaut tells us that the priority for selected councillors is “to ensure that Labour policies get implemented after they have been discussed”.

However there are rare but significant times (such as in the Camley Street case) when, in order properly to represent their constituents’ interests and declared wishes, councillors need to question policies composed (ultimately) by the leadership.

This was so in the case of the party’s decision in 1999 to close and sell some of the borough’s libraries. This led 13 brave councillors to vote against the party whip, thus saving the libraries.

Recently Phil Turner, council leader at the time of the campaign, graciously acknowledged that the defiance of recently departed Cllr Aileen Hammond and her 12 colleagues was correct and that he and the council were wrong.

It looks like the new policy of councillor selection is designed to eliminate any such possibility in future. It is a sad attenuation of democracy. We may expect library budgets to be sliced or worse this coming round.

How is all this related to the expulsion / suspension / warnings of and to Jewish members of the party?

There are two groups with valid claims to speak for Jewish members of the Labour Party: Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) and the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM).

They possess divergent currents of thought in the party – placing different emphases, for example, on the nature of anti-Semitism and the occupation of Palestine by Israel.

It turns out that all Jewish LP members who have been reproached or suspended have been supportive of the aims and objectives of JVL.

This includes 12 members of JVL’s board who have been “warned” or worse. Not a single member of the Jewish Labour Movement has suffered in a similar way.

Under the guise of “fighting anti-Semitism” a purge would appear to be going on.

We have reached a point when senior members of the Labour Party and their officials are presently not only identifying the “right kind of councillor” from the “wrong kind” but also distinguishing between “the right kind of Jew” and “the wrong kind of Jew”.

Sometimes the two coalesce, the argument seeming to be that the “wrong kind of Jew” cannot possibly be the “right kind of councillor”.

Such a view will send shivers down the spines of many ordinary Jewish and non-Jewish citizens.

• Tom Selwyn is Professorial Research Associate at SOAS and founder and former chair of Camden Library Users’ Group.

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