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26 November 2019updated 08 Jul 2021 12:33pm

Evening Call: The Chief Rabbi steps in, then Gove attacks Stormzy

By Jonn Elledge

US politics has a strange love of themed weeks, like infrastructure week, in which infrastructure, bafflingly, never makes an appearance. If British politics worked the same way, today would be best termed “racism day”. And our leaders’ failings on matters of racial equality have been clearly, shamefully on show.

At 10pm last night, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis took the unusual step of intervening in the election through the pages of the Times. A “new poison” was flowing through the Labour Party, he wrote, adding that “the overwhelming majority of British Jews are gripped by anxiety” at the possibility of a Labour victory next month”. He was backed up by other figures from both within and without the Jewish community, not least the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who issued a statement warning that the “unprecedented statement… ought to alert us to the deep sense of insecurity and fear felt by many British Jews”.

Jeremy Corbyn, of course, disagrees. Speaking at the launch of the party’s “race and faith manifesto” today, he described anti-Semitism as “vile and wrong”, and claimed it would not be tolerated in his party. He was backed up by the Labour peer Lord Dubs, who arrived in Britain as a refugee from Nazism on the Kindertransport of 1939, and who describe Mirvis’ claims as “unfair and unjustified”.

Nonetheless, polls consistently show that what Mirvis says about sentiment among the British Jews is correct: whatever is in Corbyn’s heart, the community overwhelmingly believes him to be an anti-Semite. What’s more, the manner in which some Labour supporters attacked him and those who agreed with him as caring about nothing more than re-electing a Tory government seems unlikely to help. As Stephen wrote this morning, “Reconciliation can only begin with contrition”. That contrition, so far, has not been forthcoming.

Another group expressed its solidarity with Mirvis today: the Muslim Council of Britain, which said that those it represents “will listen to the Chief Rabbi and agree on the importance of voting with their conscience”. But it also used the statement to highlight the Conservative Party’s problem with Islamophobia, noting that “it is as if [it] has a blind spot for this type of racism”.

Those accusations have been around for some time – but, whether through the political bias of some parts of the media, or their own blind spots on racism, they haven’t had quite the impact those of Labour anti-Semitism have had.

As if that weren’t enough dirty laundry on the Tory side, today also saw Michael Gove attack rapper Stormzy for encouraging his listeners to vote, telling Talk Radio that, “when he took to the stage at Glastonbury wearing a stab vest, he made clear what his political views were then”. How Stormzy’s choice of costume is a better guide to his politics than, say, his decision to personally fund scholarships at Cambridge for black students, is not exactly clear. The baffling tweet in which Gove quoted the rapper’s own lyrics didn’t help much either.

At any rate: this election ends with one of two parties in government, and some minority community or other feeling like it’s been thrown under the bus by the voters. There are 16 days to go.

Good day for…

The Welsh Labour Party. A YouGov poll published overnight showed the party up nine points, and six points ahead of the Tories, in Wales – a country in which it had previously looked horribly like it might not win the plurality of the vote for the first time in a century. Cardiff University’s Roger Awan-Scully explains the shift here.

Bad day for…

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who as part of his continuing quest to be the least likeable person in the cabinet, was filmed by ITV angrily telling the grieving parents of Harry Dunn that it was “not on” to ask him difficult questions in front of the cameras.

Some back story: after the teenaged Dunn was killed by a car in August, the lead suspect fled back to the US, claiming diplomatic immunity. Raab has previously warned that the government would seek legal costs from the couple if they sought a judicial review of the affair. It’s fair to say he does not seem to be dripping with empathy.

Quote of the day

“I set trends, dem man copy.”

Michael Gove, quoting the lyrics of Stormzy’s “Shut Up”. There is a context to this – It was part of his war of words with the rapper – but I’m not sure the context makes it all that much better. Nor can it excuse the fact that it gave Daniel Hannan MEP the opportunity to reply with the words, “Big man ting!” I don’t want to live on this planet any more.

Everybody’s talking about…

The fact the Tories have posted a 71-minute video of Boris Johnson sitting on a train going past cartoon countryside, which – let’s hear this again – goes on for 71 whole minutes. This is one of those “The kids are doing WHAT?” moments in which I become acutely aware of my own decrepitude, but luckily Chris Stokel-Walker is on hand to explain it.

Everybody should be talking about…

North East Fife, the most marginal constituency in the UK, which the SNP’s Stephen Gethins won in 2017 after receiving just two more votes than the Liberal Democrat candidate. This time around, both parties are throwing everything at it, reports Ailbhe. It’s a great read and so, I suggest, you read it.


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