Herculean effort needed to change party’s culture

Keir Starmer (Photo credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire)

Keir Starmer (Photo credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire)


The meeting between the Jewish Labour Movement and newly elected Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer was remarkable. The last meeting of its kind took place way back in 2014, with Ed Miliband. Three leadership elections, and three general elections later, JLM finally achieved a formal sit down in this our centenary year of affiliation to the Labour Party.

The intervening years have been catastrophic, both for the fortunes of the Labour Party as well as the Jewish community’s relationship with it. Oddly, for JLM it has breathed new life into an organisation first established at the turn of the last century. From a movement of a few hundred just a few years ago, we now stand at 4,000 strong, with a clear mandate to continue our core missions of representing Jewish members within the Party, and advocating for the Party within the community.

That second task has been near impossible for some time. Despite some notable exceptions, one of the hallmarks of Labour’s antisemitism crisis was the notable absence of friends and allies outside the community. Too many found the culture of bullying, harassment and antisemitism so unbearable as to raise their heads and suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous behaviour.

Whilst Covid19 has given some respite to that toxic atmosphere within the Party by keeping us all distant, the leaks and the recriminations that have followed Keir Starmer’s election as leader may well be a sign of the fights and fractious behaviour yet to come. Splits so intense and deep, even leading members of Momentum, the rump of the Corbyn supporting left, have thrown in the towel. That culture has not disappeared. Perhaps it may take years to refocus the Party to a universal form of anti-racism, that treats discrimination against Jews in the same way that it should treat discrimination against anyone, of any race, religion, gender or protected characteristic.

With the Equalities and Human Rights Commission investigation into the Labour Party expected to report imminently; the departure of Jennie Formby as General Secretary; an Information Commissioners Office investigation alongside further independent investigation into the leaking of a document that has seen young Jewish names feature on American Neo-Nazi websites; outstanding cases of defamation being brought by whistleblowers; all soon to follow, it’d be hard to see Labour Party antisemitism as being over.

Because it isn’t. There are those in the Community who seemingly wish to draw an artificial line in the sand, reverting relationships with the Labour Party to that which came before Corbyn. A return to the old status quo of parlour meetings and parlour games in the mistaken belief that asking for things to happen will make it so. The world has moved on from this model, and so has the Labour Party.

Perhaps the most powerful moment of the years saga was the community’s protest in Parliament Square. Finally, the organised Jewish community had rediscovered the language of protest and direct action. For the Corbyn left, we finally spoke in tones that they could understand. It is no surprise they doubled down and from this point JLM’s relationship with the Labour leadership disintegrated beyond repair.

There is so much more left to do. It will require herculean strength of the new Leader to see the change in culture that is required. This week’s meeting at least gave members of JLM’s NEC the opportunity to see face-to-face that Starmer meant it. But just as action never followed words under his predecessor, so too must this new leadership be judged by their actions and not by the false sense of security that comes from proximity to power. The true judge of leadership is measured when those with power use it to repair, in this case, the Labour Party.

JLM will not shirk our responsibility to hold those with power accountable. We have been the community’s last line of defence against the hard-left antisemitism that entered the Labour Party, and continues to remain. There are many more fights ahead and we will continue to hold the line.

Our hope this time is that we will have bolder friends and allies supporting us as we continue to lead the charge, who allow us to finish a fight that we didn’t start, with our Community behind us every step along the way.