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If Labour wants to stamp out anti-Semitism, it should take a lesson from Naz Shah

The Bradford MP was clearly ignorant, but has admitted her comments were anti-Semitic and professes a willingness to change. There are plenty in the Labour Party who have made no such effort.

Here’s a funny thing. Naz Shah was caught out on Monday by Guido Fawkes for sharing and writing various anti-Semitic comments and memes on Twitter and Facebook. Before she became an MP, but not long before she became an MP. And yet, somehow, Naz Shah is one of the very few Labour MPs to have emerged from this week with any credit whatsoever.

Naz Shah is not representative of the Jew hatred that is rife throughout Labour. Her comments about the “Jews rallying” and their forced “transportation” – just think about that word transportation and its connotations for this particular community – were unequivocally anti-Semitic. If you don’t agree with that, I’m afraid you’re probably an anti-Semite too. But Shah had clearly already embarked on a journey – Bradford’s small synagogue, rescued from closure by the city’s Muslim community, tweeted its support for Shah. Her apologies, including an early draft that was not eventually delivered, showed a genuine engagement with the anti-Semitism that has found a happy home on parts of the left, and a desire to stamp it out.

I just wrote that if you don’t agree that Shah’s comments were anti-Semitic – something Naz Shah herself conceded instantly – then you’re probably an anti-Semite too. Which brings me to Rupa Huq, the MP for Ealing Central and Acton. In an extraordinary interview on the Today programme this morning, which I have had to listen to at least ten times to make sure that it’s not a satire dreamed up by her brother-in-law Charlie Brooker, she denied that Shah’s posts were anti-Semitic, and jokingly likened them to a funny photo she herself had once tweeted about Boris Johnson getting stuck on a zipwire.

I’ll remind you again: Naz Shah has not denied that her posts were anti-Semitic. Rupa Huq, however, just laughed that anyone can “share” a “silly picture”. Who represents Labour’s anti-Semitism problem? Naz Shah, who was clearly ignorant but professes a willingness to change? Or Rupa Huq, who spent the day watching an anti-Semite admitting to being an anti-Semite and thought: “Nope, that’s not anti-Semitism”?

Rupa Huq represents Labour’s anti-Semitism problem, not Naz Shah. She, and those who share her views, were there before Jeremy Corbyn and they’ll be there after. This is why Jews spurned Labour at the general election. This is why a man who “might have” donated to a holocaust denier is leader of the Labour Party rather than a subject for investigation by its compliance unit. Because Rupa Huq is not alone. She is one of many Labour MPs and Labour members and Labour supporters who give the impression they could walk into a room daubed with swastikas and say: “Well, that’s a bit far, but let’s be clear – it’s not anti-Semitic to criticise Israel.”

Sadiq Khan has done a commendable job rebuilding bridges with the Jewish community. He may be rewarded with many of their votes in the mayoral election. He deserves to be. But the long-term trend is clear, and probably now irreversible. Labour will not win Jewish votes again. It will never again be the natural party for people like Manny Shinwell, Margaret Hodge, Ian Mikardo, Joel Barnett, David Winnick, Alf Dubs. That’s not on Naz Shah. That’s on Rupa Huq. Does she care? Listen to her interview on the Today programme this morning. I don’t think she does.

Now, there is something Labour MPs could do about this. Yesterday, Lisa Nandy called for Naz Shah to be suspended. She was, but only after a fashion. There was a similar pattern with Ken Livingstone's belated suspension today. What if he had not been? Would Nandy have resigned, or preferred to shape an energy policy that Labour will never be in government to enact? Does she mind that it took Jeremy Corbyn hours to even comment, or that John Mann is apparently being reprimanded for denouncing Livingstone?

Labour MPs and shadow ministers face a choice. What do they want their epitaph to be? “She was there while the Labour Party laughed at anti-Semitism?” Or: “She did her bit to flush Jew-hatred out of the party?” I know which I’d prefer. But then I’m just another of those pesky Jews who joined the Labour Party at the age of 15 and will struggle ever to vote for it again. Rupa Huq would tell me laugh it off. She is the Labour Party now, not me. 

Henry Zeffman writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2015.

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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