Paul Flynn must explain his comments about Jewish loyalty

His ill-chosen words have nothing to do with the just cause of Palestinian liberation.

His ill-chosen words have nothing to do with the just cause of Palestinian liberation.

"Maverick" is a term I usually avoid, because all too often appears to mean "those who reject the prevailing consensus and are therefore a bit wacky". But -- with all due respect to Newport West's long-standing Labour MP -- Paul Flynn has a track record of both being a maverick and a bit wacky. "The only I way I'll vote for this is if they give me a full frontal lobotomy," he said over tuition fees in 2004. "If you find me with half my brain missing, the whips will have had their grubby, blood-stained hands on it." Witty and -- as I say -- a bit wacky.

But - if his comments to the Jewish Chronicle have been accurately reported - then Paul Flynn has discredited himself. The paper challenged him after he questioned the acceptability of Matthew Gould as Ambassador to Israel. In a sitting of the House of Commons Public Administration Committee, which discussed meetings between Gould, the former defence secretary Liam Fox and his friend Adam Werrity, Flynn alleged that Gould "has proclaimed himself to be a Zionist and has previously served in Iran, in the service."

There is a case for Flynn to raise this. Zionism is a political movement, after all, and an MP is well within his rights to query whether there is a conflict of interest. But there is no justification whatsoever for his subsequent comments. According to the Jewish Chronicle, Flynn argued that previous ambassadors to Israel had not been Jewish "to avoid the accusation that they have gone native." He apparently added that Britain needed "someone with roots in the UK [who] can't be accused of having Jewish loyalty."

Flynn has dismissed accusations of anti-semitism as "ludicrous" on his blog. But he still must adequately explain -- or apologise for -- these reported comments.

Firstly, his remarks imply that being Jewish would make a person inherently supportive of Israel. Given the long tradition of Jewish critics of Israel -- recent prominent examples include the late Harold Pinter, Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky -- this is outright nonsense.

In actual fact, many hardened Zionists are not even Jewish. US Presidents ranging from Richard Nixon (who privately indulged in anti-Semitic tirades) to Ronald Reagan were non-Jewish Zionists. The US Christian Right could not be more supportive of the worst excesses of Israeli governments. There are plenty of non-Jewish British ultra-Zionists who -- it could be argued -- would fail to hold Israeli governments to account if they served as Britain's Ambassador.

Of even greater concern is Flynn's clear suggestion that a Jewish person has no "roots in the UK". This echoes classic anti-semitism, which is based on the slur that Jews outside Israel are aliens in whichever country they live (a myth that, unfortunately, is these days also promoted by the Israeli government.) Perhaps Flynn's words simply were ill-chosen but he certainly should clarify what he meant by this.

Apologists for Israeli policy have long alleged that their critics are motivated by anti-Semitism (and that Jewish critics are "self-hating Jews"). It is an ingenious means of shutting down scrutiny, because nobody wants to be associated with a bigotry that, in the 20th century, culminated in the extermination of millions of people. It is as untrue as to suggest critics of Apartheid South Africa were motivated by a hatred of white South Africans.

But Flynn's comments will now be used by ultra-Zionists as evidence that their critics are motivated by bigotry. The immediate danger is that the affair risks overshadowing legitimate questions about the Fox-Werrity affair.

There is an ongoing struggle for a just Middle East free of Western interference, in which Muslims, Jews and Christians alike can live secure, peaceful lives. Hatred of the Jewish people has nothing to do with this struggle -- except that it must be fought against to the bitter end.

I have proudly marched in support of Palestinian liberation, and I will continue to do so. But Paul Flynn's words have nothing to do with this just cause, and he should rightly be condemned.

Owen Jones is author of "Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class"

Owen Jones is a left-wing columnist, author and commentator. He is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and writes a weekly column for the Guardian. He has published two books, Chavs: the Demonisation of the Working Class and The Establishment and How They Get Away With It.

Getty
Show Hide image

Ukip's "integration agenda" is another lurch away from the mainstream

Ukip's only chance of survival is on the nativist fringe. It won't be a happy - or successful - existence. 

After Ukip leader Paul Nuttall failed to steal a famous by-election victory in Stoke-on-Trent, his party’s militant tendency offered a prompt and simple diagnosis: the party was just too nice.

Two months on, with Nuttall now pledging to ban the burqa, sharia courts, new Islamic schools, subject girls from at-risk backgrounds to yearly female genital mutilation checks and make race an aggravating factor in some offences, they are unlikely to making those same complaints. Of the many criticisms one can make of the controversial policy blitz, a surfeit of niceness isn’t one of them – even if Nuttall is comparing himself to Gandhi. But what explains Ukip’s lurch deep into Breitbart territory – and what does it mean for the future of the party?

It’s tempting to chalk this one up as a victory for the hardliners who derided Nuttall – who, absurd though it seems now, was Ukip’s unity candidate – and his attempts to court women voters with a softer, “Nicekip” platform. It’s true that Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless, loathed by the fags-and-flags wing of the party for their wet anti-Faragism and prim sensibilities, are safely gone. Liberated from the strain of, erm, having an MP, the true believers have taken back control.

That neat analysis quickly falls down when one takes a look at the chippiest defenders of Ukip’s new “integration agenda”: Suzanne Evans and Patrick O’Flynn. Once the pair were at the vanguard of the push to unseat Farage and chart a friendlier tack into Tory seats in the Shires. Now they try and spin policies that could be justly criticised with a favourite Carswell slur – “ugly nativism” – as a sort of noble muscular secularism. That they of all people are endorsing the new line underlines just how much trouble Ukip are in. Deprived of their ownership of Brexit, the party has little, if anything, left to offer the political mainstream.

The consequences have been felt more keenly inside the party than in the country, where Ukip has plunged to below 5 per cent in some polls. Plenty would argue that the party – even at their high watermark around 2014 – never operated within the mainstream currents of political thought anyway, instead dragging the Tories to the right. But it was always an uneasy and at times barely coherent coalition between the authoritarian and libertarian right, united only by their rejection of Europe. For the latter, Ukip isn’t about opposition to the sensibilities of polite society but compatibility with them. Theirs is a focus on grammar schools, hard graft and flat taxes, not smearing Romanians and hanging child murderers.

Whatever the likes of O’Flynn and Evans say, though, Ukip has now ceded that libertarian ground it once had claim to. Disgruntled and departed Kippers point to Nuttall’s loss in Stoke-on-Trent Central as the reason why.

“Since the focus on the EU has gone, and after the election in Stoke, there have been people within the Ukip NEC trying to drive the party towards the far-right,” says Tariq Mahmood, a practicing Muslim and self-styled libertarian who stood for the party in neighbouring Stoke-on-Trent South in 2015. He has since joined the Conservatives, and complains that efforts to court the aspirational middle classes and British Muslims (among whom he says Ukip are now “100 per cent” finished) have been jettisoned in favour of what an essentially nativist platform. While Ukip stress that their beef is with cultural practices and not Islam, Mahmood believes that argument is a mere figleaf - and Ukip, he says, know the distinction will be lost on many people. 

“It was an uphill struggle even previously to try to persuade individuals that we were a libertarian party and that we were not hostile to any individual belief,” he adds, ruefully. “Now, with what Peter Whittle and Paul [Nuttall] have said on integration, and with the prevailing mood with the NEC, the strategy seems to be to create division.”

The logic behind this ideological retrenchment is clear enough. Though Ukip stood in 624 seats at the 2015 election, insiders acknowledge that they are unlikely to reach anywhere near that total this time. Its chances of winning even one seat are perilously slim, as is painfully clear from Nuttall's prevarication as to whether he'll stand or where exactly. Resources will instead be poured into a handful of target seats that broke heavily for leave last June, and the party’s (white) core demographic courted much more ruthlessly. 

But those resources, historically scant anyway, have been depleted by its rightward lurch: both Mahmood and Owais Rajput, a former parliamentary candidate in Bradford East, speak of a flight of Asian members from the party. “There’s nothing left for me, other than to resign. It’s not only me – there are lots of other British citizens of Muslim faith who are following me as well,” he told me on the day Ukip dropped its new policies. “Their policy, long-term, is to try to create division in local communities, which is very, very dangerous.”

Both agree that Ukip’s future is as an ethnic nationalist party, which Nuttall and those around him have vigorously denied. But if that is the party’s strategy, it’s a witless one. Ukip has already swallowed most of those votes already, as the decline of the British National Party shows, and the electoral ceiling for those politics is a low one. The party may well tighten its grip on its small demographic core, but will hasten the flight of softer members and voters to the Tories.

Its breakneck change of pace will also bodes ill for its survival as a cohesive fighting force. There will inevitably be further tension among its febrile cohort of elected politicians. Nuttall’s foreign affairs spokesman, West Midlands MEP Jim Carver, this week resigned his post in protest at the burqa ban proposal (“I’m an old liberal,” he told me. “You’ve got to have that freedom of choice.”). He insists he won’t be quitting, and likened Ukip’s internal wrangles to those in other parties. “What you’ve got to is call out people you disagree with,” he said. “Look at the stick that people like Tom Watson is getting from Momentum! This isn’t just happening in Ukip. There’s a tug of war going in all political parties.”  

But Carver is a Ukip member of abnormal vintage, having joined the party in 1996. For others the allegiance cannot and will not hold as the party’s public face gets uglier and its electoral positioning even more uncompromising.  As the exodus of its 2015 supporters to the Tories shows, Ukip’s electoral cachet is a much more ephemeral thing than the parties of old. Senior figures protest that policing Brexit remains key to its policy platform.

Its new strategy underlines how the party cannot remain a broad church defined entirely by its opposition to Europe. “All I know,” Carver told me, “is that I’ve got to be true to my principles”. Recent events prove for most of the wetter wing of his party, that will mean leaving.

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.

0800 7318496