23 October 2019

Labour’s extreme candidates show how far the party has fallen under Corbyn

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Few constituencies encapsulate the moral and intellectual disintegration of the Labour Party better than Liverpool Riverside.

Last week its MP, Louise Ellman, resigned her membership claiming anti-Semitism had “become mainstream in the Labour Party”. When Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader in 2015 he inherited four Jewish female MPs. With Ellman’s departure two of them have now quit, citing anti-Semitism, whilst another, Margaret Hodge, is fighting a deselection battle. Labour moderates have offered them every assistance, short of actual help.

The selection of Ellman’s replacement has already descended into a race row. One of those in contention is Jo Bird, a local councillor who was briefly suspended from Labour earlier this year after describing anti-Semitism investigations within the party as “Jew process”. Ruth Smeeth, one of the party’s two remaining female Jewish MPs, said selecting Bird would be “offensive” to both Ellman and Luciana Berger, the Liverpool Wavertree MP who defected from Labour to the Liberal Democrats.

Alas, this is far from an isolated occurrence. The race to succeed Stephen Pound in Ealing North would be comical were it not so serious. One councillor, Sitarah Anjum, was removed from the shortlist after a tweet was uncovered attacking gay marriage as “a mockery of sacred union of man & women”. Another candidate, councillor Aysha Raza, could follow suit after it emerged she had defended the notorious racist East London mural depicting hook-nosed bankers controlling the world, and said she was “traumatised” after spending hours inside a “Zionist shop”.

This picture has been repeated in seats across the country. Luke Cresswell was removed from Labour’s shortlist for South Suffolk after anti-racism campaign group ‘GnasherJew’ discovered one of his Facebook posts stating “Israel is evil. Long live Palestine” accompanied by an Israeli flag with blood dripping down the Star of David. Across the blue stripes of the flag reads the caption: “The genocidal murderers of innocent women and children – Moses must be proud of you”.

Meanwhile the Momentum endorsed Apsana Begum remains on the Poplar and Limehouse selection list, despite having previously accused Tony Blair of peddling “Zionist propaganda” and accusing the Saudi leadership of being “inspired by Zionist masters” (despite their country not recognising Israel as a state). In Boris Johnson’s seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip, Labour has already selected Ali Milani as its candidate. He has previously suggested he would like to go to war with Israel, argued “Israel has no right to exist” and on Twitter once posted “Nah u won’t mate it will cost you a pound #jew” – in fairness to Milani, he has at least taken steps to make amends, including visiting Auschwitz.

Among the most egregious cases of Labour’s radicalisation is the recent rehabilitation of Salma Yaqoob, formerly the leader of George Galloway’s ironically titled Respect Party. Respect, arguably the most obnoxious new party in 21st century British politics outside the neofascist far-right, combined advocates of far-left and Islamic identity politics in an alliance that was both grim and inherently temporary.

Despite having run against Labour candidates multiple times for Respect she has not only been given a party card but is now on the shortlist to become Labour’s candidate for the West Midlands mayoralty, and has the backing of Momentum boss Jon Landsman. Bradford West MP Naz Shah, who defeated Yaqoob in 2017, has responded by threatening legal action and accusing Yaqoob of running an identity focused campaign against her that “drove me to feeling suicidal”.

Yaqoob herself has a curious political background. Her activism began with the ‘Justice for the Britons in Yemen campaign’, an organisation which proclaimed the innocence of eight British men who had been arrested in Yemen on terror charges in 1998. The group, which included Abu Hamza’s son, were later convicted of plotting to bomb a number of Western targets.

She went on to write an article for a youth magazine published by Inayat Bunglawala, a man who praised Osama bin Laden as a “freedom fighter” just five months before the 9/11 attacks, imagining Britain being transformed into an “Islamic state”. This hypothetical society is portrayed glowingly, with crime falling “dramatically” after amputation is introduced as punishment for theft, while “doctors have more time to be sympathic to their patients” following an alcohol ban. The article ends with Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses, sneaking out of Britain in disguise.

More recently, in 2011 as a Respect councillor, Yaqoob remained seated during a standing ovation held to honour an injured Afghan war veteran in the Birmingham council chamber.

Is all of this surprising? After all, Jeremy Corbyn spent much of his political career defending and befriending a menagerie of terrorist groups, anti-Western dictatorships and racists. It should no longer come as a shock that those who share his obsessions now consider the Labour Party to be their home.

Whether Corbyn admits it or not, and I suspect deep down he knows, they are an integral part of his base. The only question is whether Labour can avoid being recreated in their image.

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James Bickerton is Political Editor of The Backbencher