Lord Levy's 'persecution'

Millions have been spent on chasing e-mails ... but then Lord Levy like Dame Shirley Porter before h

Never underestimate the pressures on a politician's stomach, the higher the greasy pole you climb the higher the calorific content of the diners you are invited to.

So it was that I attended the Annual Dinner of the Board of Deputies of British Jews at the Radisson Portman Hotel.

The great and the good of British Jewry had assembled to hear the next prime minister, Gordon Brown, tell them what a wonderful community they were, how he appreciated their hard work, would fight anti-Semitism and was a life-long friend of Israel. In fact exactly the same things David Cameron told them at last years dinner and the Chief Rabbi duly lead the standing ovation.

There is something incredibly charismatic about Sir Jonathan Sachs, never mind his first rate preaching and common sense contributions to "Thought for the Day" that makes me as a Christian lament the abject failure of the current Archbishop of Canterbury, with his unkempt beard and general wishy-washiness, to provide any spiritual leadership to our Country.

Oh and never underestimate the genuine affection that Lord Levy is held in by the Jewish community.

He sat at the top table with an air of nobility that has nothing to do with his title. Indeed if the organs of the state continue with their current persecution I suspect he will acquire sainthood in the not to distant future.

It seems to me a strange use of police resources that whilst a gang of armed robbers is holding up members of the Orthodox Jewish community in their North London homes, millions have been spent chasing e-mails and other political tittle-tattle: but then Lord Levy like Dame Shirley Porter before him is Jewish.

Whilst the chancellor and his wife stayed to the end of the dinner, the Israeli Ambassador Zvi Hefetz could not get away early enough. To the general relief of British Jewry he is soon returning to Israel with his poor grasp of English, having failed to present Israel's case last summer during the Lebanon war, reluctant as he was to break his holiday in Italy.

A few days later I was in Israel myself as the official report into the failures of the government and armed forces in last summer's Lebanon War was published.

At yet another dinner I sat next to the French wife of the British Ambassador to Israel, Tom Phillips (should British Ambassadors be allowed foreign wives they used not to be allowed foreign cars) and the Ambassador gave Prime Minister Olmert two months but seemed genuinely terrified at the prospect of the return of Benjamin Netanyahu. Having been on the streets of Tel Aviv on the day of the "Olmert must go" rally I can assure the Foreign Office Netanyahu will be back.

Most politicians in Israel are retired military officers, indeed even the Councillor in charge of parking in Tel Aviv is an ex-Major General but Olmert is not: hence a certain prejudice against him.

There is something to be said for the no-nonsense approach of military figures who transfer into politics. If I were Gordon Brown I would be arranging dinner with the chiefs of staff at the Ministry of Defence very soon!

Brian Coleman was first elected to the London Assembly in June 2000. Widely outspoken he is best known for his groundbreaking policy of removing traffic calming measures
Photo: Getty
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No, the battle in Momentum isn't about young against old

Jon Lansman and his allies' narrative doesn't add up, argues Rida Vaquas.

If you examined the recent coverage around Momentum, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was headed towards an acrimonious split, judging by the vitriol, paranoia and lurid accusations that have appeared online in the last couple days. You’d also be forgiven for thinking that this divide was between a Trotskyist old guard who can’t countenance new ways of working, and hip youngsters who are filled with idealism and better at memes. You might then be incredibly bemused as to how the Trotskyists Momentum was keen to deny existed over the summer have suddenly come to the brink of launching a ‘takeover bid’.

However these accounts, whatever intentions or frustrations that they are driven by, largely misrepresent the dispute within Momentum and what transpired at the now infamous National Committee meeting last Saturday.

In the first instance, ‘young people’ are by no means universally on the side of e-democracy as embodied by the MxV online platform, nor did all young people at the National Committee vote for Jon Lansman’s proposal which would make this platform the essential method of deciding Momentum policy.

Being on National Committee as the representative from Red Labour, I spoke in favour of a conference with delegates from local groups, believing this is the best way to ensure local groups are at the forefront of what we do as an organisation.

I was nineteen years old then. Unfortunately speaking and voting in favour of a delegates based conference has morphed me into a Trotskyist sectarian from the 1970s, aging me by over thirty years.

Moreover I was by no means the only young person in favour of this, Josie Runswick (LGBT+ representative) and the Scottish delegates Martyn Cook and Lauren Gilmour are all under thirty and all voted for a delegates based national conference. I say this to highlight that the caricature of an intergenerational war between the old and the new is precisely that: a caricature bearing little relation to a much more nuanced reality.

Furthermore, I believe that many people who voted for a delegates-based conference would be rather astounded to find themselves described as Trotskyists. I do not deny that there are Trotskyists on National Committee, nor do I deny that Trotskyists supported a delegates-based conference – that is an open position of theirs. What I do object is a characterisation of the 32 delegates who voted for a delegates-based conference as Trotskyists, or at best, gullible fools who’ve been taken in.  Many regional delegates were mandated by the people to whom they are accountable to support a national conference based on this democratic model, following broad and free political discussion within their regions. As thrilling as it might be to fantasise about a sinister plot driven by the shadow emperors of the hard Left against all that it is sensible and moderate in Momentum, the truth is rather more mundane. Jon Lansman and his supporters failed to convince people in local groups of the merits of his e-democracy proposal, and as a result lost the vote.

I do not think that Momentum is doomed to fail on account of the particular details of our internal structures, providing that there is democracy, accountability and grassroots participation embedded into it. I do not think Momentum is doomed to fail the moment Jon Lansman, however much respect I have for him, loses a vote. I do not even think Momentum is doomed to fail if Trotskyists are involved, or even win sometimes, if they make their case openly and convince others of their ideas in the structures available.

The existential threat that Momentum faces is none of these things, it is the propagation of a toxic and polarised political culture based on cliques and personal loyalties as opposed to genuine political discussion on how we can transform labour movement and transform society. It is a political culture in which those opposed to you in the organisation are treated as alien invaders hell-bent on destroying it, even when we’ve worked together to build it up, and we worked together before the Corbyn moment even happened. It is a political culture where members drag others through the mud, using the rhetoric of the Right that’s been used to attack all of us, on social and national media and lend their tacit support to witch hunts that saw thousands of Labour members and supporters barred from voting in the summer. It is ultimately a political culture in which our trust in each other and capacity to work together on is irreparably eroded.

We have a tremendous task facing us: to fight for a socialist alternative in a global context where far right populism is rapidly accruing victories; to fight for the Labour Party to win governmental power; to fight for a world in which working class people have the power to collectively change their lives and change the societies we live in. In short: there is an urgent need to get our act together. This will not be accomplished by sniping about ‘saboteurs’ but by debating the kind of politics we want clearly and openly, and then coming together to campaign from a grassroots level upwards.

Rida Vaquas is Red Labour Representative on Momentum National Committee.