Labour Friends of Israel chair Steve McCabe MP has written the below article for the Jewish Chronicle. Click here to read the original.
Next week, Keir Starmer will have his first real opportunity since becoming Labour leader to address the country as the party gathers in Brighton for its annual conference.
The message that I hope he delivers will mark a key moment in Labour’s journey back to becoming a credible party of government – one in which the Jewish community can, once again, have confidence and trust.
First, Labour needs to decisively demonstrate that it is turning the page on its morally and politically disastrous turn to the hard left under Jeremy Corbyn. Words are important, but action is the acid test. That is why the National Executive Committee was right in July to proscribe four far-left groups, including Resist and Labour Against the Witchhunt, which claim antisemitism allegations were politically motivated, and Labour in Exile Network, which welcomes expelled or suspended members.
Second, we need to continue Keir’s drive to rid Labour of the ugly stain of antisemitism. The new independent complaints process adopted by the NEC in the summer – and due to be approved at conference – is another important step forward. But, of course, tackling racism is about cultural change – a process which rule changes alone cannot achieve. Above all, this is about leadership and setting boundaries – the decision to suspend Mr Corbyn from the Parliamentary Labour Party following his disgraceful reaction to the Equality and Human Rights Commission report last November is one example of how, under new management, the party is tackling anti-Jewish racism.
Third, as Keir has argued, Labour needs to stop talking to itself and start listening to the country. The 2019 general election was our heaviest defeat in nearly a century. While the hard left continues to preach the doctrine of no compromise with the electorate, mainstream Labour’s response should be one of humility – reaching out to, and beginning a conversation with, those who didn’t support us.
That, of course, includes tens of thousands of Jewish voters whose response to the prospects of Mr Corbyn in Downing Street was one of fear and anger. But Jewish voters aren’t alone in detesting antisemitism and bigotry: millions of their fellow Britons – including swathes of our party’s staunchest supporters – looked at Labour’s hard-left leadership and really didn’t like what they saw.
Intolerance, sectarianism, and a raft of attitudes and prejudices which made them question Labour’s commitment to social cohesion and Britain’s national security. The intricacies of foreign and defence policy do not normally determine the outcome of elections, but I believe that voters have a keen sense of whether a party can be trusted to stand up for our country and the values which it represents on the international scene.
Fourth, for over a decade some in Labour have turned their back on the record of the Blair-Brown governments. It is a curious attitude: both because of those governments’ considerable achievements and because of the fact that, having won three consecutive general elections, it is clear that many voters approved of our performance.
During our 13 years in power, the Labour government had a proud record of working with the Jewish community and fighting antisemitism at home: instituting Holocaust Memorial Day, introducing terrorism legislation which proscribed Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, outlawing religious discrimination, and establishing more state aided Jewish schools.
Overseas, we strengthened Britain’s bilateral relations with Israel, took a lead in promoting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and vigorously defended the Jewish state’s right to defend its citizens against terror attacks.
This record – one which stood in the long tradition of our party’s close ties with the Jewish community and historic support for Zionism stretching back even before the Balfour Declaration – offers the foundations upon which a future Labour government should build.
Finally, Labour must look to the future. The world has moved on since Labour’s last victory in 2005, but the values which underpinned our approach then are the right ones to guide us in the years ahead.
As LFI argued in our recent publication about Middle East policy, Labour’s thinking should be rooted in enduring principles applied to an understanding of the modern world and the changes, challenges and opportunities we confront.
In the first 18 months of his leadership, Keir has skilfully and decisively shifted Labour’s course back towards the vital centre of British politics. But this cannot be the work of the leader alone: now’s the time for the party to rally behind him as we pick up the speed.
Steve McCabe MP is chair of Labour Friends of Israel