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28 October 2019updated 07 Sep 2021 11:20am

Luciana Berger on antisemitism, misogyny and the Labour party trigger ballots

As Margaret Hodge faces a reselection contest tonight, Berger reflects on her time as a Labour MP

By George Grylls

Since Luciana Berger quit the Labour party in February, six opposition MPs have been triggered for reselection by local members.

“I’m glad that I left the Labour party,” says Berger, Liberal Democrat MP for Wavertree. “Everything that has happened since then proves that I was right to leave. The great party that I joined is a shell of its former self.”

Of the six Labour MPs triggered, four have been women. One has been Jewish. Another — Louise Ellman, the Jewish MP for Berger’s neighbouring constituency of Liverpool Riverside — chose to leave the party before she was hounded out.

“It’s incredibly hard for anybody to make the difficult decision to leave the party they’ve been a member of for decades,” says Berger. “It’s a very personal thing.”

Ellman had been a member of the Labour party for 55 years. In her resignation letter, like Berger, she cited antisemtism as a major concern, and was scathing about the leadership’s response to grassroots intolerance and bigotry:

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“The overwhelming majority of the Jewish community is fearful of what a Corbyn government might mean for Britain’s Jews. I share those concerns.”

Tonight sees another clash point. Yet another Jewish woman is facing a battle to maintain her status in the Labour party. Former minister Margaret Hodge has represented the constituency of Barking for 25 years. Notably she fought off a sustained challenge from the BNP in 2010 to keep the seat.

Berger is not surprised that discrimination has haunted the reselection battles. Controversy surrounds last year’s reform to the trigger ballot process. Berger remembers the time well:

“There was a number of concerns raised when the trigger process was agreed. It was thought that the reforms would disproportionately impact women. These concerns were pooh-poohed at the time, but unfortunately they have borne true.”

A year ago, the NEC agreed to lower the threshold needed to launch a reselection process. Previously, sitting Labour MPs only needed the support of half of their constituency’s wards to remain in place. Now they must secure 2/3rd.

Berger will contest the seat of Finchley and Golders Green at the next election. A poll commissioned by the Liberal Democrats gave her a current lead of eight points. But for the time being, she remains the representative for Wavertree, a place close to her heart.

However, Berger continues to suffer from the same sort of racism that saw one online troll jailed for more than two years.

“The abuse didn’t stop when I left the Labour party. I have a threshold for how bad it is. If I take a screenshot of something it’s pretty bad. Just in the last few days I’ve taken quite a number of screenshots. They have all come from the left.”

Despite repeated attempts to draw a line under the issue, antisemitism is the evil that the Labour party just cannot seem to shake. When asked who was to blame for the ongoing struggles, Berger was unequivocal:

“I sat in meetings with Jeremy Corbyn. Ultimately the leader is responsible and must take responsibility.”

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