British politicians have never shied away labelling their opponents one up from the devil in a desperate bid to sway voters.
Benedict Spence, The Independent
No matter how you try to frame it, this election has degraded into a shouting match between factions calling each other out for various levels of extremity. You could say “ever was it thus”; and, in a way, you’d be right. British politicians have never shied away labelling their opponents one up from the devil in a desperate bid to sway voters.
But this election has seen a change in the way one party, in particular, has gone about their business. Labour has been particularly vociferous its denunciation of Boris Johnson, to the point that it has bordered on hysteria. And many in the party have backed Labour’s “bold, radical” new vision for the country, claiming it’s exactly what the people want.
That’s not what I’m hearing, though. The polls, and the vox pops on the street, tell another story: people aren’t necessarily voting Tory, but anything other than Labour. And that is leading to a throwing up of hands in exasperation.
Broadcaster and journalist Ayesha Hazarika implored people to “hold their noses” for this election, while comedian Mark Steel, in this very publication, made his feelings more than clear — you “don t have to go on holiday” with Jeremy Corbyn; he isn’t coming to live with you, so grow up and vote for him.
There’s problem with that attitude. For though some may pretend the problem with the Labour leader lies in his weirdness, or his love of allotments, they know the real reason for public nausea, but dare not speak its name, such is the level of shame it brings upon the party.
The leaked Jewish Labour Movement submission to the Equality and Human Rights Commission this week was another slap in the face for the Jewish community in this country, and another black mark on Labour’s name. Its documenting of so many instances of racism in the party, by known individuals who failed to have any action taken against them, should have been enough to sink the leadership, but has become de riguer. We are no longer surprised or shocked when we hear that such things have taken place, and that little has been done about it.
That Corbyn himself — so often excused by people saying they have no reason to believe he, personally, is antisemitic — has been increasingly sucked into allegations, and has personally defended many people accused, has chipped away at his credibility. When he stood on stage a few nights ago at a debate and said that, under him, the party had put in place mechanisms and procedures to deal with antisemitism no previous Labour regime had ever done, it was more a confirmation of guilt than a reprieve; no previous Labour leadership had put such things in place because they have never previously been necessary.
It is against this backdrop that many ordinary, centre left, empathetic voters, all of whom baulk at any expression of racism and for whom anti-Jewish sentiment embodies the very worst of human evils, find themselves unable to vote for Jeremy Corbyn. These are the sorts of people Labour would once have counted on to vote, and in their droves.
When Labour activists turn on the public and browbeat them, saying that they should fear the divisive social policies of the Tories above the imperfections in their own party, they fail to recognise two things. First, that asking people to “hold their noses” and vote only serves to do is highlight the failings of a party. Second, that antisemitism is too big an outrage to ignore; the Jewish community, they reason, are the experts — and where they say they identify antisemitism, we have a duty to believe them.
Many Labour activists will feel anger that voters aren’t prepared to put the NHS or the effects of austerity above their concerns about antisemitic sentiments that may be held by a minority of people in the Labour. But then the party only has itself to blame for that situation. Nobody has forced Labour into the position it currently finds itself in. If they believe the NHS, Brexit and social care are so important, the onus is on them to root out antisemitism in order to make themselves electable, rather than on voters to select them based on a perceived ranking of socials.
Labour, no one else, is the party that is letting down the people it says stand to suffer the most under Boris Johnson. If it will not change — if it is unwilling to deal with this wickedness that has infected it — then it is not a party of inclusivity, of hope, of fairness, nor of antiracism. Voters who do want those things are right not to trust it.
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