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16 August 2018

Len McCluskey’s explosive intervention means Labour’s anti-Semitism row will go on

The Unite general secretary's denouncement of Jewish community leaders means his support for the IHRA definition will count for little. 

By Patrick Maguire

Len McCluskey has gone for the jugular on anti-Semitism. In an explosive intervention this afternoon, the Unite general secretary has accused Jewish community leaders of “intransigent” and “truculent hostility”, described Labour’s anti-Semitism row as “wildly exaggerated”, and accused Corbynsceptic MPs of using it as “rocket fuel” for a split. 

It is characteristically punchy stuff and will quite obviously exacerbate rather than solve Labour’s woes. But buried beneath the invective is a significant shift: McCluskey has called for Labour to adopt the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, with all eleven of its examples. Not doing so in the first place, he added, had been a mistake. 

In isolation, that intervention should be helpful as far as Labour’s attempts to repair relations with the Jewish community are concerned. The full IHRA definition and examples is exactly what community leaders have asked for repeatedly. That McCluskey is the fourth union leader to call for its adoption means it will almost certainly pass the NEC next month – there is now a clear majority for IHRA. With the leadership briefing that it is open to accepting it too, its implementation is basically a foregone conclusion. 

So why isn’t this a cause for celebration for Labour? It is, after all, about to give community leaders exactly what they’ve been asking for for months. McCluskey provides the answer with his rationale for adopting IHRA – that it would allow the party to move on. As I wrote this morning, it is too little, too late. McCluskey’s is a tactical concession on the micro issue of the code of conduct wrapped in invective about the macro picture of the anti-Semitism row generally. So despite resolving the former, his intervention will reinforce the perceptions that mean the latter will rumble on as long as Corbyn is leader. 

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