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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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Why Jeremy Corbyn’s evolution on Brexit matters for the Scottish Labour party

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, an ideological ally of Corbyn, backs staying in the customs union. 

Evolution. A long, slow, almost imperceptible process driven by brutal competition in a desperate attempt to adapt to survive. An accurate description then by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, of Labour’s shifting, chimera of a Brexit policy. After an away day that didn’t decamp very far at all, there seems to have been a mutation in Labour’s policy on customs union. Even McDonnell, a long-term Eurosceptic, indicated that Labour may support Tory amendments when the report stages of the customs and trade bills are finally timetabled by the government (currently delayed) to remain in either “The” or “A” customs union.

This is a victory of sorts for Europhiles in the Shadow Cabinet like Emily Thornberry and Keir Starmer. But it is particularly a victory for Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard. A strong ally of Jeremy Corbyn who comes from the same Bennite tradition, Leonard broke cover last month to call for exactly such a change to policy on customs union.

Scotland has a swathe of marginal Labour-SNP seats. Its voters opted voted by a majority in every constituency to Remain. While the Scottish National Party has a tendency to trumpet this as evidence of exceptionalism – Scotland as a kind-of Rivendell to England’s xenophobic Mordor – it’s clear that a more Eurocentric, liberal hegemony dominates Scottish politics. Scotland’s population is also declining and it has greater need of inward labour through migration than England. It is for these reasons that the SNP has mounted a fierce assault on Labour’s ephemeral EU position.

At first glance, the need for Labour to shift its Brexit position is not as obvious as Remainers might have it. As the Liberal Democrat experience in last year’s general election demonstrates, if you want to choose opposing Brexit as your hill to die on… then die you well may. This was to some extent replicated in the recent Scottish Labour Leadership race. Anas Sarwar, the centrist challenger, lost after making Brexit an explicit dividing line between himself and the eventual winner, Leonard. The hope that a juggernaut of Remainer fury might coalesce as nationalist resentment did in 2015 turned out to be a dud. This is likely because for many Remainers, Europe is not as high on their list of concerns as other matters like the NHS crisis. They may, however, care about it however when the question is forced upon them.

And it very well might be forced. One day later this year, the shape of a deal on phase two of the negotiations will emerge and Parliament will have to vote, once and for all, to accept or reject a deal. This is both a test and an incredible political opportunity. Leonard, a Scottish Labour old-timer, believes a deal will be rejected and lead to a general election.

If Labour is to win such an election resulting from a parliamentary rejection of the Brexit deal, it will need many of those marginal seats in Scotland. The SNP is preparing by trying to box Labour in. Last month its Westminster representatives laid a trap. They invited Corbyn to take part in anti-Brexit talks of opposition parties he had no choice but to reject. In Holyrood, Nicola Sturgeon has been ripping into the same flank that Sarwar opened against Richard Leonard in the leadership contest, branding Labour’s Brexit position “feeble”. At the same time the Scottish government revealed a devastating impact assessment to accompany the negative forecasts leaked from the UK government. If Labour is leading a case against a “bad deal”,  it cannot afford to be seen to be SNP-lite.

The issue will likely come to a head at the Scottish Labour Conference early next month, since local constituency parties have already sent a number of pro-EU and single market motions to be debated there. They could be seen as a possible challenge to the leadership’s opposition to the single market or a second referendum. That is, If these motions make it to debate, unlike at national Labour Conference in 2017, where there seemed to be an organised attempt to prevent division.

When Leonard became leader, he stressed co-operation with the Westminster leadership. Still, unlike the dark “Branch Office” days of the recent past, Scottish Labour seems to be wielding some influence in the wider party again. And Scottish Labour figures will find allies down south. In January, Thornberry used a Fabian Society speech in Edinburgh, that Enlightenment city, to call for a dose of Scottish internationalism in foreign policy. With a twinkle in her eye, she fielded question after question about Brexit. “Ah…Brexit,” she joked. “I knew we’d get there eventually”. Such was Thornberry’s enthusiasm that she made the revealing aside that: “If I was not in the Leadership, then I’d probably be campaigning to remain in the European Union.”