As the Tory ‘Islamophobia’ row simmers, Labour has a unique opportunity

Will they be bold enough to grab the high ground? Somehow I doubt it…

Hardly a day goes by without reports of identity issues within our existing – yet lifeless and to all intents and purposes, dead – political parties. And so it is that the next ‘identity under fire’ scandal begins to take hold of another major British political party, as mutterings of ‘Islamophobia’ within the Conservative and Unionist Party begin to make their way into the public ear.

The Guardian reported last week that some party members, activists and potential election candidates had been on the end of some rather unpleasant behaviour from other members. I make no judgement on the veracity of these claims; for the purposes of this piece, I merely want to look at the fact that these things are being reported.

For herein lies the potential opportunity for Labour (particularly the Corbynite wing), one which I wholeheartedly believe they will not take, living as they still do in the point scoring, one-upmanship world of traditional politics.

When the Labour antisemitism scandal started to bubble up, I was sceptical. I couldn’t really see how there could be so much prejudice and dislike of Jews within that party. Of course, any large organisation will always have unpleasant people (especially organisations that are, by definition, ideologically driven such as political parties) and unsavoury views. Of course, it has turned out that there is far more of it than it really palatable for a mainstream party and they are rightly now doing something about it.

But I have to be completely honest, whilst I thought it unfair, I had very little sympathy. I will always stand up for my opponents when they are being unfairly smeared (indeed I have done so on these pages several times), but it felt very much like they were finally lying in the bed that they had made for themselves.

For years, they trashed, smeared and viciously attacked UKIP (a party that I personally loathe but had huge democratic support at one point) whenever any reports of racism or other prejudices surfaced. There was no ‘well I’m sure it’s only a few bad apples’, no ‘well at least they’ve expelled that person’, no ‘that isn’t representative of that party at large’. Nothing. They joined, nay led, the charge, crying ‘racism’ at every turn. Same thing happened at the referendum, when I got caught up in the hysteria against my vote. So I have absolutely no problem standing back and letting Labour defend itself against charges of rampant, endemic and institutional antisemitism. I don’t believe it, but that’s the game they’ve been playing for years, so they can keep playing it and take the punches from it. Not nice being tarred with a big brush is it?

Now though, the Tories are facing a similar thing. The tone is rising to the point where they will be accused very soon (if they haven’t already by the time this goes out) of having rampant, endemic and institutionalised ‘Islamophobia’. So Labour has a choice. It either does the traditional, tiresome, public-are-bored-of-it-all tactic of squeezing them on this and pushing for resignations and inquiries and expulsions. Or, it takes a new path, one that urges them to root it out whilst not assuming the whole thing is already corrupted by it. A good faith opposition, if you will.

I’ve felt the responses to this just whilst writing those last few paragraphs. It’s like I can already read the comments. ‘But they are though, Mark, it’s so obvious’. ‘You’re not serious defending the Tories are you?’ ‘This is a completely different situation.’

Well it might look like a different situation to you, but from an outside, non-partisan point of view, it looks exactly the same. You certainly don’t need to listen to a word I’m saying, you’re welcome to do whatever you want. But wasn’t politics supposed to be different now? Wasn’t Labour supposed to be ushering in a new era of politics? It seems to me that there is a moral high ground that could be occupied here that is currently vacant. It’s also, if you really want to look at it with cold hard party politics, an opportunity to get this antisemitism thing off your back. By looking reasonable for them, you make yourselves look more reasonable.

I don’t have a horse in this race, and I know next to nothing about the internal machinations of the Tory party. I don’t think I even know a member of it, but I know plenty of Labour voters and members – probably at least 80% of friends and acquaintances, with the rest distributed amongst Greens, Lib Dems, random other weird Leftist movements and non-engaged people. I do know that most of my friends are feeling very cross about being accused of either being antisemitic or enabling antisemitism though. And that doesn’t feel fair does it? So…what do we think we might do about it? Someone has to take the first step here.

It feels like that moment in ‘The Thick Of It’ where one of the two parties announces an inquiry into something that will bring them both down. An act of pure mutual destruction, no longer held in a state of stand off. Well, whilst you’re both scrabbling around in the mud anyway, one of you has the opportunity to be the bigger party.

I hope that can be Labour. But I doubt it.

 

Ken Livingstone resigns – and yet I don’t rejoice

Something still doesn’t feel quite right about this whole saga

Ken Livingstone has resigned (finally, one might say) from the Labour Party. So there we have it – the dragged out, inevitable result following a grotesque spectacle that has lasted 2 years. Two years. Has it really been that long? It simultaneously feels like an age and just a few days since the ex-Mayor of London uttered the phrase that may outlive anything else he has ever said: “Hitler was a Zionist“.

Rejoicing has come from most quarters outside of the Labour hard left to which Mr Livingstone nominally belonged. My own MP, Luciana Berger, who I very much like and has championed the cause of ridding the Labour Party of antisemitism, tweeted her approval with a note of disappointment that it has taken so long.

It is being positioned as a victory for the moderates, a victory over Jeremy Corbyn (whose response has, as is typical, been criticised) and a victory against antisemitism.

And yet…and yet…I just can’t bring myself to join the chorus. Something still doesn’t feel quite right about the whole issue. I say still, because back when this was all kicking off, I wrote in defence of Mr Livingstone:

“Here’s my problem – why didn’t anyone just challenge him on the facts? If you think you’re right about something, there is no reason to apologise. Sometimes people get hurt and that’s a shame, but if they’re hurt by something that is true, there’s not much you can do about that. As it happens, he’s wrong, so he should apologise. But the problem is, every time he is on the airwaves, he isn’t met by this challenge, he is just met by an incredulous presenter who simply cannot believe that he won’t apologise for hurting people’s feelings.

“I’ll be completely honest, I think the guy is wrong, but I do have a respect for his doggedness. He hasn’t just backed down like every other person in public life does and apologised just to end it all. Throughout this whole saga, I deliberately didn’t look up his references because I wanted to hear him faced with someone authoritative on the subject to deliver an actual riposte to his claims. The problem with not doing that, is that the people listening just hear his side, then a request for him to apologise. This leaves people going “well if he’s right, why should he?””

If somebody is going down, even an enemy of mine, you’d better have a good, logical and rational reason for it

It honestly feels like this never really happened. I saw the odd piece discussing the so-called ‘facts’ that Mr Livingstone was talking about, and some brilliantly dissected them and showed, to my satisfaction, that he was at the very least misinterpreting unquestioned historical events. David Baddiel’s piece in the Guardian was particularly good.

But the whole thing has been soaked in emotion and fury, something most of us hate when it is directed from the hard left towards the rest of us. It’s so easy to drop verbal nukes on people – ‘racist’, ‘sexist’, homophobe’, transphobe’, ‘Islamophobe’, all terms which, if they can stick, can destroy you in an instant. I hate their overuse and the casual way they are thrown around. Well, the latest powerful one is ‘antisemite’, and I’ll be damned if I start playing the same game as unthinking idiots whose tiny emotional capacities can’t separate “I think, after careful consideration, that the EU is a bloated, bureaucratic organisation which is not capable of real reform and which I think will collapse quite soon, and I’d rather Britain was away from that when it happens” from “I HATE IMMIGRUNTZ”.

I refuse to allow emotion, even when used to advance my own political ideas, to be the tool used in what should be a civilised argument. If somebody is going down, even an enemy of mine, you’d better have a good, logical and rational reason for it. If only this whole saga had taken place at the level of ‘Ken, you are wrong, here is why you are wrong and therefore why we’d like you to recant and apologise’, we may have better grounds to call for his sacking. As it is, it has taken place at the level of ‘what you said was very hurtful and we don’t like you so kindly p*** off or we’ll destroy you’, leaving the guy bewildered and in a more defensible position. He can claim he was hounded out by a mob without due process. Not something you want to leave an enemy with.

You might say that he didn’t help himself, that he seemed to just keep talking about Hitler every time a camera was pointing at him. But frankly, why shouldn’t he? That’s what he kept being asked about. It may look silly, but I’ve had to sit back and admire the guy whilst he engages in political suicide in order to not back down to emotional pressure. More power to him on that front.

He thinks he’s right. I think he’s wrong. He won’t be persuaded of that whilst people just shout in his face and demand apologies. He isn’t sorry, so why you even want him to say it is beyond me – you know it would be empty.

Listen, the Labour Party as an organisation can do whatever it likes. It’s not my problem how they go about their business. If they don’t want him there, they can get rid of him. It just seems like such spurious grounds at the moment, and without solid due process, it’s difficult to know. Antisemitism is definitely a real problem within the Labour Party. Is this a serious victory in that fight?

Somehow, it doesn’t feel like it.

Syria, Tomahawks and Red Ken

Let’s just take a step back

One of the running jokes on Have I Got News For You is Ian Hislop sarcastically inserting the word ‘allegedly’ in front of outrageous or salacious claims (often true). A nod to ‘the lawyers’ is never too far behind. It’s a running joke because of the face he will pull, or the tone he will employ. However, the joke is based on the very real risk of stating outright on the BBC something which is, or could be, false. This would open them up to quite serious libel charges, and be a strict violation of BBC rules.

I mention this only because there has been a distinct lack of this word appearing recently, particularly in relation to this ‘alleged’ gas attack in Syria. I was amazed to awaken this morning to the hosts of the Today programme stating that Assad has ‘gassed his own people’ as though it was a verifiable fact. Is it? When was this confirmed? And by whom? How did they obtain this information?

If this sounds like an odd thing to say, then we may have hit upon the problem. Forgive me for sounding overly sceptical…but where have all the sceptics gone? Has anyone stopped to question whether this is true or not? Or have we just taken it as gospel?

Before I am reprimanded, I should state outright that I am NOT saying that this didn’t happen. It could well have. But isn’t this all happening a little fast? Are we acting and speaking before we think? On what basis do we believe these things?

I’ll lay my cards on the table – I will be amazed if this is proven to be true. Horrified, yes – but mainly amazed. Because it simply doesn’t make any logical sense. Assad is currently in the middle of a bloody and horrid civil war, one which he clearly plans on winning. He is a dreadful man, a sinister tyrant – but he is not stupid. Bad as he may be, he shows no sign of being genuinely foolish.

Let’s try for a moment to strip all emotion out of this and just focus on reason. Chemical weapons are horrible. They’re also rubbish weapons. They have no demonstrably superior effect in a war situation and cannot kill or wound as efficiently as conventional weapons. Weapons which, at the moment, are in plentiful supply thanks to Russian involvement.

Assad is starting to win and Russian conventional weapons are starting to help him to gain a good foothold. He has also been warned repeatedly that if he uses chemical weapons, Western troops and bombs are coming in. So why on earth would he stop using bombs and start using gas? That would be asking for intervention in a conflict that he’s winning. It doesn’t make any sense. Does the timing not sound a little suspicious?

He is being backed by Russia – RUSSIA. Putin is most definitely not stupid. He knows full well that a gas attack would have absolutely no strategic benefit whatsoever, and surely would never allow such a thing to happen on his watch, given how much he has invested.

This has not been proven to anything like a level that I would be asking for, and I admit to being stunned at how readily a nation that backed Blair’s WMD theory is to believe it all over again. Once more – I’m not saying this didn’t happen…I’m saying it hasn’t been proven.

Is it so much to ask for a little scepticism? What harm could possibly come from just waiting a little to see what can be proven, independently and rigorously? Why are we rushing headlong towards a battlefield that contains Russian troops, tanks, planes and ships? I beg you – take a step back.

A scary response

On a similar note – is it just me who is utterly terrified by the thought that Trump saw some images of kids and sent his military to bomb the crap out of an airfield? Whatever you think of his actions – you may approve – is it not just the slightest bit insane that he can just change his mind so easily when he is at the helm of the largest military the world has ever seen?

Leaders need to free themselves of emotion in order to make good, unclouded decisions. American leaders especially, given the enormous power they can wield. We know Trump can’t do this. How can you make major strategic decision in this manner? More to the point, who is reining him in?

Sadly, US Presidents traditionally need to hold back their generals from going to war. Trump is enabling them. We can’t trust him with a delicate and tense situation involving huge interests and nuclear powers. One slight misstep and this goes horribly wrong.

59 Tomahawk missiles (at a cost of $250,000 each) rained down on an airport at the whim of a baby in a suit. In the parallel universe that we apparently now occupy, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron and Supreme High Lord of the Utopian Left, Justin Trudeau have backed him, while Nigel Farage, Paul Nuttall, Katie Hopkins, Arron Banks, Milo Yiannopolous, Paul Joseph Watson and Ann Coulter have denounced him. As the latter pointed out, plenty of people voted for him on the understanding he wasn’t a Middle East hawk. 13 weeks in, he’s already proven himself one.

Pictures of dead/suffering children are unbearable to see. They’re also an awful basis for making good decisions.

Challenge him on the facts

This whole Ken Livingstone saga has dragged on for far too long. More to the point, Ken and everyone else have been at an impasse that should have been resolved long ago. The main thrusts of the argument to this point have been as follows:

Ken: “Here’s a thing that happened”

Everyone else: “That’s really offended and upset a lot of people, you need to apologise”

Ken: “But it’s true, why should I apologise?”

Everyone else: “Because people are hurt and upset. You need to apologise”

And round and round and round…

Here’s my problem – why didn’t anyone just challenge him on the facts? If you think you’re right about something, there is no reason to apologise. Sometimes people get hurt and that’s a shame, but if they’re hurt by something that is true, there’s not much you can do about that. As it happens, he’s wrong, so he should apologise. But the problem is, every time he is on the airwaves, he isn’t met by this challenge, he is just met by an incredulous presenter who simply cannot believe that he won’t apologise for hurting people’s feelings.

I’ll be completely honest, I think the guy is wrong, but I do have a respect for his doggedness. He hasn’t just backed down like every other person in public life does and apologised just to end it all. Throughout this whole saga, I deliberately didn’t look up his references because I wanted to hear him faced with someone authoritative on the subject to deliver an actual riposte to his claims. The problem with not doing that, is that the people listening just hear his side, then a request for him to apologise. This leaves people going “well if he’s right, why should he?”

The answers as to why he’s wrong come in pieces like David Baddiel’s superb contribution to today’s Guardian. He outlines why Ken is wrong accurately and succinctly. But he hasn’t had the chance to put that to Ken directly. He needs to be debated.

Perhaps this should be a lesson. Demanding an apology is just an appeal to emotion. It’s saying “it doesn’t matter if what you say is true or not, you need to say sorry”. And that’s not good enough. What we need to do is say “here’s why what you said is wrong, it’s here in this respected book, this respected and knowledgeable expert says so, you’ve interpreted it in this way when really you should have done it that way. Now apologise.”

A world where people are forced to apologise for something they’re not sorry for – what kind of world is that?