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I'm not Jewish but whatever I talk about I receive antisemitic abuse

Imagine what it's like for Jews online.

I made my Question Time debut last week as a Labour MP. I was asked about Theresa May, about Brexit, about allegations of rape and how to deal with them and about statues of Margaret Thatcher. I talked about my work as a constituency MP, and as the longest-serving member of the Treasury Select Committee. I discussed my work against child sexual exploitation and abuse and spoke about the economy and immigration. And yet, when I looked at my phone, I found I had received anti-Jewish abuse and an antisemitic death threat on social media. I am not Jewish, I didn’t talk about Jews and I didn’t discuss the Middle East.

This isn’t the first time. I can speak out about knife crime and drugs and the tweets come in – “who is paying you to do your work” “Why don’t you admit you’re in the pay of the Israeli government” and the like. It is not just tweets though. One Labour party member called me a “CIA *******” for dealing with the “antisemitism nonsense” following an appearance I made on the Daily Politics at Labour party conference talking about the Brexit. Not all, but the vast majority of these attacks have come from self-identified “left-wing” activists or Labour party supporters.

Anti-Jewish hate and invective is becoming so obsessive, so fervent that irrespective of what an anti-racist activist is discussing, antisemitism is the online reaction. Last week, Phillip Collins, in the Times, highlighted the problem of Left wing antisemitism and the obsessive hate of Israel. He pointed out that most of the statements people make are not actionable. The death threat I received will be, but much of the abuse fell into the other category. As he said: the “tone of voice, the severity, the passion, the elevation of an issue that should be one among many to a defining idea of political identity.” ”It connects to a loathing of America and of capitalism and of alleged western interference in the Middle East. For the uncomplicated racist, hatred of the undesirable people is the starting point. For the complicated, confused leftist, the denigration of a people is their conclusion.”

But now it’s one step further. There’s a group-focussed enmity. Anyone who calls out racism, or seeks to address anti-Jewish hatred is a target. It’s even now the case that allegations of antisemitism are being inferred or created and attributed to Jews in order to try and diminish the charge when one has not been made. This of course, undermines victims of antisemitism and their right to define such abuse and call out the abusers.

If you have had the misfortune of engaging these racist Twitter trolls, it won’t be long before you find some patterns emerging. It starts with talk of “Zionism” and quickly leads to allegations of the Holocaust being “rammed down our throats” and support for Holocaust revisionism. There is an antisemitic sickness, particularly afflicting the left, and it is spreading.

With the type-and-click ease and public platform that companies like Twitter provide, it is far easier than ever before to exist in a self-edifying bubble of conspiracy and hate. Despite promises and plans, the truth is that social media companies are ill equipped to deal with the problem. The initial response from Twitter to the death threat I reported, was to say it did not violate the company’s terms. The account was suspended, but clearly something went wrong. Most of the abusive, racist rubbish will however remain on line, easily discoverable by the young or any other people interested in searching about plans to address sexual abuse, Brexit or other matters. All the while, the obsessive racists fall further down the rabbit hole, convinced they will triumph over the fabricated “other” they define themselves against.

My political convictions are premised on action. I have acted, and I will continue to act, to deal with addressing these problems.

I expect Labour to call out the anti-Semites. When someone with a public platform in the party tweets a racist slur or alleges antisemitism is fabricated, they must be called out. Each and every Labour MP has a duty to speak. We cannot ask other party’s to deal with issues of antisemitism in their parties if we don’t call it out in our own.

As for social media, we need to change our framework for understanding how the online world operates. The Germans have done so, and the European Commission is on its way to doing so too. Social media platforms are publishers of content, not simply conduits. The more these companies manipulate and edit our feeds and timelines, the more apparent the case for them taking responsibility. Later this month, I will begin the process of seeking a change in the law to hold these companies to account for failing to take action against racism on their platforms.

We all have a responsibility to call out antisemitism. Any MP should be able to appear on a public show about the key policy issues of our time without being subjected to racist abuse. If we can’t defeat racism, then it’s not the politicians we need to be questioning but rather our future as a civilised society.

John Mann MP is the Member of Parliament for Bassetlaw and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism.

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Labour’s renationalisation plans look nothing like the 1970s

The Corbynistas are examining models such as Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and John Lewis. 

A community energy company in Nottingham, a credit union in Oldham and, yes, Britain's most popular purveyor of wine coolers. No, this is not another diatribe about about consumer rip-offs. Quite the opposite – this esoteric range of innovative companies represent just a few of those which have come to the attention of the Labour leadership as they plot how to turn the abstract of one of their most popular ideas into a living, neo-liberal-shattering reality.

I am talking about nationalisation – or, more broadly, public ownership, which was the subject of a special conference this month staged by a Labour Party which has pledged to take back control of energy, water, rail and mail.

The form of nationalisation being talked about today at the top of the Labour Party looks very different to the model of state-owned and state-run services that existed in the 1970s, and the accompanying memories of delayed trains, leaves on the line and British rail fruitcake that was as hard as stone.

In John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn’s conference on "alternative models of ownership", the three firms mentioned were Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and, of course, John Lewis. Each represents a different model of public ownership – as, of course, does the straightforward takeover of the East Coast rail line by the Labour government when National Express handed back the franchise in 2009.

Robin Hood is the first not-for-profit energy company set up a by a local authority in 70 years. It was created by Nottingham city council and counts Corbyn himself among its customers. It embodies the "municipal socialism" which innovative local politicians are delivering in an age of austerity and its tariffs delivers annual bills of £1,000 or slightly less for a typical household.

Credit unions share many of the values of community companies, even though they operate in a different manner, and are owned entirely by their customers, who are all members. The credit union model has been championed by Labour MPs for decades. 

Since the financial crisis, credit unions have worked with local authorities, and their supporters see them as ethical alternatives to the scourge of payday loans. The Oldham credit union, highlighted by McDonnell in a speech to councillors in 2016, offers loans from £50 upwards, no set-up costs and typically charges interest of around £75 on a £250 loan repaid over 18 months.

Credit unions have been transformed from what was once seen as a "poor man's bank" to serious and tech-savvy lenders where profits are still returned to customers as dividends.

Then there is John Lewis. The "never-knowingly undersold" department store is owned by its 84,000 staff, or "partners". The Tories have long cooed over its pledge to be a "successful business powered by its people and principles" while Labour approves of its policy of doling out bonuses to ordinary staff, rather than just those at the top. Last year John Lewis awarded a partnership bonus of £89.4m to its staff, which trade website Employee Benefits judged as worth more than three weeks' pay per person (although still less than previous top-ups).

To those of us on the left, it is a painful irony that when John Lewis finally made an entry into politics himself – in the shape of former managing director Andy Street – it was to seize the Birmingham mayoralty ahead of Labour's Sion Simon last year. (John Lewis the company remains apolitical.)

Another model attracting interest is Transport for London, currently controlled by Labour mayor Sadiq Khan. TfL may be a unique structure, but nevertheless trains feature heavily in the thinking of shadow ministers, whether Corbynista or soft left. They know that rail represents their best chance of quick nationalisation with public support, and have begun to spell out how it could be delivered.

Yes, the rhetoric is blunt, promising to take back control of our lines, but the plan is far more gradual. Rather than risk the cost and litigation of passing a law to cancel existing franchises, Labour would ask the Department for Transport to simply bring routes back in-house as each of the private sector deals expires over the next decade.

If Corbyn were to be a single-term prime minister, then a public-owned rail system would be one of the legacies he craves.

His scathing verdict on the health of privatised industries is well known but this month he put the case for the opposite when he addressed the Conference on Alternative Models of Ownership. Profits extracted from public services have been used to "line the pockets of shareholders" he declared. Services are better run when they are controlled by customers and workers, he added. "It is those people not share price speculators who are the real experts."

It is telling, however, that Labour's radical election manifesto did not mention nationalisation once. The phrase "public ownership" is used 10 times though. Perhaps it is a sign that while the leadership may have dumped New Labour "spin", it is not averse to softening its rhetoric when necessary.

So don't look to the past when considering what nationalisation and taking back control of public services might mean if Corbyn made it to Downing Street. The economic models of the 1970s are no more likely to make a comeback then the culinary trends for Blue Nun and creme brûlée.

Instead, if you want to know what public ownership might look like, then cast your gaze to Nottingham, Oldham and dozens more community companies around our country.

Peter Edwards was press secretary to a shadow chancellor, editor of LabourList and a parliamentary candidate in 2015 and 2017.