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.