At a time when the Labour Party has been in a crisis about antisemitism for so long it feels like the new normal, it shouldn’t take such gross cases as this to shock people out of their stuporby Emma Burnell / February 28, 2019 / Leave a comment
“Bringing the Party into disrepute” is a complex, catch-all phrase. Hard to truly define, butyou know it when you see it. And in Chris Williamson MP we have seen it for quite some time.
This week matters came to a head. In the space of 48 hours we have seen Williamson attempt to host an event in Parliament with a woman who has been suspended from the Labour Party under investigation for antisemitism before telling an event in Sheffield that the Party has been“too apologetic” about the same topic.
These two things in one week alone should have been enough to warrant disciplinary action even if they had come from nowhere. But Williamson has a well-established history of upsetting the Jewish community and following this up with either wide-eyed innocence (he claimed not to know that notorious anti-Semite Gilad Atzmon was known for anything other than jazz) or, as on this occasion, a mealy-mouthed apology not for the sentiment but for how he chose to express it.
It’s not even the first time he’s been caught trying to play down Labour’s antisemitism crisis, so it’s not even as if he has any right to the claim of not knowing the pain doing so would cause.
These are not the actions of a person who should represent anyone in Parliament. They are beneath what’s left of the dignity of our democracy. And if actions like these don’t bring the Labour Party into disrepute, I’d like to see the NEC’s definition of what does.
So it was a relief when finally, after initially dithering, Labour on Thursday night suspended Williamson pending an investigation.
There are now processes to be gone through and some of these have begun. But let’s not forget, the NEC who will investigate this case in the first instance contains the same Pete Willsman who Williamson stood by when the former was dropped from the Momentum slate for going on a rant about Jewish “Trump fanatics,” which was recorded and later leaked. Willsman was not suspended for bringing the Party into disrepute.
A process that many have already lost faith in has been yet further corroded by inconsistency, apparent favouritism and the triumph of blind factionalism over principle, dignity and doing what is right. While the Party has been forced to act, it has rightly received little credit for doing so, given its clear reluctance.
Must it always be like this? Politics should be about battles of ideas, organisation and will. True, it will always have factionalism and tribalism, because these are part of human nature.
But this should be countered by systems and rules that make this a fair and reasonable fight. One in which the rules are transparent and apply equally to everyone. Rules that adhere to the basic principles that the majority of Labour members believe in—like being against racism.
Rule should not be applied haphazardly, in a factional manner. Williamson should be punished because, despite his avowed support of the Party’s leader, he is clearly determined to do everything he can to embarrass him and everyone in Labour. And worse—far, far worse—he seems determined to do it by hurting the Jewish community.
Labour exists to form a government and use the power of the state and collective action to transform the lives of the many. Anything and anyone who works against that is hurting not just the Party but those who need there to be a strong, electable party of social justice to provide that transformation.
At a time when the Labour Party has been in a crisis about antisemitism for so long it feels like the new normal, it shouldn’t take such gross cases as this to shock people out of their stupor.
Enough now of the half-hearted apologies. Enough now of the regular incidents, just one of which should have been enough for a warning. Enough now of the trolling and the pain.
When Williamson had a complaint made about him last summer he was spoken to by the whip. This week he has had it withdrawn. As soon as possible he should be expelled. If this doesn’t happen Labour, will continue to inflict harm on itself until it bleeds members, trust and votes.