Gaby Hinsliff at the Guardian has thoughts on how Ken Livingstone (and by extension much of Labour and much of the left) got away with it for so long.
He went on blithely to suggest that Jews have stopped voting Labour because they’re rich, and still didn’t really seem to see what the problem was; but then, he was surrounded by people who didn’t seem to want to see the problem either.
And that’s one explanation for how a politician as naturally gifted as Livingstone could ever think it a good idea to summon Hitler as a witness for the defence, when defending his party against allegations of antisemitism.
Perhaps he has simply lost sight of how it looks, outside the circles – once fringe, now mainstream in the Labour party – in which he moves. You could see today’s extraordinary day of bloodletting – which saw first the suspension of the Labour MP Naz Shah for pre-election Facebook posts suggesting Israel be forcibly transported to the US, and then that of Livingstone for only making matters worse – simply as payback for all the times someone got away with it. Fail to challenge dubious attitudes and they quickly seep into the mainstream.
But there is another possible explanation, and that’s the belief found close to many leftwing hearts that they, and they alone, are the good guys – the champions of equality and fairness – and therefore incapable of prejudice. They don’t need to question their assumptions, or take a long hard look in the mirror, because the racists are the other guys.
I think that’s probably right, and it’s probably inevitable given what “left” means. If “right” means, variously, pragmatic, pro-capitalist, libertarian, traditional, meritocratic, theocratic, communitarian, patriarchal – “left” means, variously, idealistic, socialist, rights-based, progressive, egalitarian, secular, individualistic, feminist. (The communitarian v individualistic opposition is tricky, but what I mean here is that the right tends to the view that Society or The Community matters more than the individual, while the left is protective of human rights. There’s a lot of overlap though.) The caring and compassion seems to be mostly on the left, while the emphasis on responsibility and discipline is mostly on the right. The left is the “nicer” side. If you think you’re on the nicer side, you’re more likely to assume that racism is for other people. It’s never a good idea to assume anything like that.
As Ken explained in injured tones to the BBC’s Martha Kearney today, real racism is when you’re rude to your neighbour’s face in Stoke Newington, which he’d never do. And anyway, racists would hardly be attracted to Labour, would they? To which one could almost hear his colleagues screaming at the radio; well if they weren’t before, mate, they might now.
Hinsliff says the signs have been piling up for a long time.
There were too many stories piling up; lurid although unproven allegations about Labour students using “Zio” as a routine term of abuse for Jews; a dismal string of councillors and activists peddling anti-Jewish conspiracy theories on social media; prominent Jewish leftwing figures saying they no longer felt comfortable in what the party had become. Ritual sacrifice was required.
But God, it’s depressing that it had to be Shah, on whom so many other women’s hopes were pinned after she famously survived a violent childhood, forced marriage at 15, the jailing of her mother for killing an abusive partner, and then a viciously dirty election campaign in order to reach parliament.
And defeat of another one of those glaring signs, George fucking Galloway. It’s so depressing.
But there was no alternative, for all the reasons the frontbencher Lisa Nandy gave when she broke ranks to call for the suspension. It can’t be one rule for obscure councillors and activists and another for popular MPs. And besides, the blunt truth is that having under-reacted for so long to this creeping cancer spreading through the party, nothing but radical surgery now will do.
Some will see in this a chilling of debate over the Middle East, a silencing of pro-Palestinian voices in the Labour party. But that’s a mirror image of the eternal rightwing grumble that they’re not “allowed” to talk about immigration any more thanks to political correctness, and about as well founded.
And guess what: Jews are not the one ethnic group it’s actually ok to demonize. There is no such ethnic group. There never will be. Deal with it.