30 July 2018

Why does ‘moderate’ Labour tolerate Corbyn and the anti-Semitism he refuses to tackle?


In recent weeks, Labour’s anti-Semitic virus has moved from the periphery to front-stage prima donnery. At the same time that ex-Labour councillor (and hero) Adam Langleben is tweeting evidence of overt, filthy antisemitism by Labour’s elected councillors, celebrity folk-artist and all-round “good guy” Billy Bragg claims that Jews “have work to do” to rebuild trust with the Labour Party.

And at the same time that the three British Jewish newspapers unite to warn of the “threat” a Corbyn government would pose, Corbyn’s party finally decides to take disciplinary action… against some MPs with Jewish family backgrounds, Margaret Hodge and Ian Austin. Their supposed thought-crime is to have publicly criticised Labour’s idiosyncratic (and self-serving) definition of anti-Semitism: it’s pretty obvious what their actual crime is, in the eyes of Corbyn’s fanatical supporters.

To be aware of what’s happening in Labour, yet voluntarily to be a member, to continue to campaign for a Labour government, is to dive head first into the sewer, to swim through its river of excrement, yet to insist that the taste is pleasant, that it’s just the medicine we all require.

The great unanswered question of our age is not “Why does Corbyn’s politics attract anti-Semites?” (My cat can work that out.) It’s “Why don’t the decent, moderate Labour MPs do something, other than emitting plaintive laments of distaste on Twitter?” At the time of writing, only one Labour moderate, John Woodcock MP, has voluntarily hosed himself down and resigned the Labour whip.

To the outsider — those of us huddled nervously together on the edge of the cliff, trying not to notice the grounds of civilisation crumbling from beneath our feet — that Mr Woodcock (another hero) has so far been joined by not a single other member of Labour’s parliamentary party almost defies belief. That parliamentary cohort could rid us of the Corbyn threat in an instant, were enough of them to resign the official whip and sit as Independent Labour.

Originally I diagnosed the cowardice of comfort as the root cause of this mass inaction. It simply felt too hard, I supposed, perhaps to face a difficult re-election against whatever creatures their Momentum-infested Constituency Labour Parties would select as the official candidates next time round. Easier to shrug, to say (with a rueful smile at the memory of all those youthful, placard-wielding marches) “Well, then, yes: in my name, after all.” Backbench Labour MPs seemed to have chosen the longevity of their careers as a more important principle than something as demanding as taking a stand against anti-Semitism.

Now I’m not so sure. Now, with the attempted deselections of Frank Field and Kate Hoey, I wonder if the tale of the frog and the scorpion might not provide a more compelling explanation. The metaphor, which I was reminded of by former Labour MP Tom Harris, is a good one.

This is how it’s described by Wikipedia: “A scorpion asks a frog to carry it across a river. The frog hesitates, afraid of being stung, but the scorpion argues that if it did so, they would both drown. Considering this, the frog agrees, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. When the frog asks the scorpion why, the scorpion replies that it was in its nature to do so.”

Labour’s moderates are the frog; Momentum the scorpion. The moderates agree to carry the scorpion on their backs because if the scorpion should wipe them all out then it, too, will perish: it requires the backs of the frogs in order to attain a parliamentary majority. The frogs further believe that, as they wade through the ordure of the sewer together, the scorpion’s venom will be directed only at those of their number who are insufficiently pro-EU, about the only “principle” these residual Blairites have left.

Lord Adonis, the famous Remainer, for example, supports Field, but not Hoey. Field was fashionable with the Blairites in the late 1990s; Hoey, never so. And so the Adonis-frog supports the Momentum-scorpion; the price is Field’s career along with that of Hoey; but together — so the frog believes — the moderates and the scorpion will inch closer to the bank, to their common objective, the defeat of Brexit.

I wonder, when the scorpion unleashes its fatal sting on the last frog-moderate — because its instincts make such an outcome inevitable — and the moderate sees its career disappear under the sewage of Corbynism after all — I wonder what that last frog will say to itself, as it realises the scorpion always had quite a different destination in mind. Probably its last croak will still be “Vote Labour, please.” The frog-moderates won’t save us: not only scorpions have unchangeable natures.

Graeme Archer is a statistician and writer.