It reeks of double standards

This article highlights the double standards in Keir Starmer reactions to antisemitic tropes, real and imagined.

Steve Reed, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, idly tweeted a classic antisemitic trope, asking if Jewish businessman porn-baron Richard Desmond were “the puppet-master for the entire Tory cabinet”.

But Keir says it’s OK: Reed didn’t really mean it. (Not like Rebecca Long-Bailey…)

The article also points out the curious case of the attack dogs – the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Chronicle and the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism – who hounded Rebecca Long-Bailey. A muted response: where they noticed Reed’s tweet at all, they were curiously afraid to bark.

But then Reed is their “friend”, urging all Labour local authorities to adopt the IHRA definition (under which Reed is unambiguously guilty of antisemitism, M’lord).

It reeks of double standards and of weaponisation of accusations of antisemitism against your perceived enemies on the left – but forgiveness if it is your “friends” who are at fault.

Steve Reed MP. Offical portrait, UK parliament.

The Steve Reed Affair

Double Standards and the “weaponisation” of antisemitism

On Saturday 4th July Steve Reed, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, tweeted “Is millionaire former porn-baron Desmond the puppet-master for the entire Tory cabinet”. This tweet referred to Richard Desmond, a Jewish businessman and millionaire, who had been embroiled in a donations for planning permission scandal with the Tory Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick.

The idea that governments and ministers of state are controlled by “Jewish puppet-masters” is an old antisemitic trope, one used extensively by the Nazis in their rise to power in Germany. Reed either didn’t think about this or was ignorant of it. He deleted the tweet without explanation but already the Tories had spotted his blunder.

Andrew Percy MP, Conservative co Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-semitism denounced it as “an age old antisemitic trope” and said “If Keir Starmer was serious about tackling antisemitism he would sack Steve Reed on the spot. Otherwise the British people will rightly conclude the action taken against Rebecca Long-Bailey last week was done out of political convenience rather than principle”.

When Keir Starmer was confronted by Nick Farrari on LBC the following day he declared to a frankly astonished Farrari that he had no knowledge of the tweet, but would speak to Steve Reed. Reed later apologised for the tweet saying “it was inappropriate”. Keir Starmer then closed the incident by saying “Steve deleted the tweet and did not mean to cause offence”. Or as Guido Fawkes put it “Zero Tolerance Starmer took Zero Action against Reed”

Double standards

The contrast with the sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey from the cabinet couldn’t be starker. For re-tweeting an interview in a national newspaper that contained a sentence about the Israeli army training US police forces in neck-holds was enough to get her sacked. Starmer declared at the time he had zero tolerance towards “antisemitic conspiracy theories”, but clearly not, as it turns out, of the “puppet-masters” variety.

What was the difference? Rebecca Long-Bailey was a member of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs and the last standard bearer of Jeremy Corbyn’s policies in the shadow cabinet. Steve Reed is a member of Progress, one of the right wing factions in the LP. He resigned from the Shadow Cabinet under Corbyn to join the “chicken-coup” when Owen Smith was put up to challenge Corbyn.

This difference was also reflected in all the usual sources of attacks on antisemitism in the LP. Suddenly the Board of Deputies of British Jews were silent. The Jewish Chronicle and the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism reported the tweet and the Tory response but without any demands for apologies or sackings. A direct contrast to the ferocious campaign launched against Rebecca Long-Bailey which demanded Keir Starmer take action.

Could it have had anything to do with the meeting that took place between Steve Reed as Shadow Communities Secretary and the Jewish Board of Deputies and the Community Security Trust at the end of April? Jewish News reported that here he declared he was determined at ensuring “the rift between the Labour Party and the UK’s Jewish community is mended’. He said “I will be writing to all Labour’s local government leaders to ask those who have not yet done so to adopt the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of antisemitism in full and with all its examples, including reminding them not to support actions that seek to delegitimise the State of Israel.” He also said he would remind local Labour leaders against supporting boycotts of Israel, part of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns.

Were these organisations really going to dump such an ally in the fight, as they see it, against “enemies of Israel”? It is a worked example of the “weaponisation” of antisemitism, where it is used as a weapon against enemies on the left of the LP but quickly forgiven when it rears its head amongst allies.

As a result Keir Starmer ends up keeping a wounded Shadow Secretary, one who is unable any longer to raise issues around Richard Desmond and the financial scandal with the Tories – because if he does so, he will be attacked by the Tories as being “anti-Jewish” and they will have the evidence of his tweet to prove it.

Stuart King
Vice-Chair Dulwich and West Norwood CLP (in a personal capacity)


Comments (22)

  • dave says:

    It’s Ferrari not Farrari.

    Yes this is about selective weaponisation of antisemitism and of course is nothing to do with any real antisemitism. It’s about party politics and who Starmer wants in and out. It’s always been like this and politics is a rough game and not fair, but the pretext of antisemitism is a grotesque recent addition to what should only be political disagreements.

    Reed really didn’t do anything wrong. This policing of language for tropes has got ridiculous and is antisemitic in itself. Jews can have undesirable traits just as anyone else and to say otherwise is to ‘other’ them. The test is simple – if it’s OK to call a non-Jew a puppet master then it cannot be antisemitic to say the same of someone who just happens to have a Jewish background. If it isn’t OK to call anyone a puppet master then there are many words in common use that have to go…

    The way to take on Reed is through politics and policy. We have to stand up to all who are falsely accused of antisemitism and we must not weaponise it ourselves.

  • RH says:

    “a classic antisemitic trope, asking if Jewish businessman porn-baron Richard Desmond were “the puppet-master for the entire Tory cabinet”

    I totally agree about double standards, but don’t play the same game – that doesn’t attack the problem of false accusation. It merely adds to it.

    There is nothing ‘anti-semitic’ in Reed’s comment. It’s guilt by crude association – as used by the JLM and BoD.

  • DJ says:

    Good article Mr Ferrari needs to go on an anti racism training course. The bottom line with the BOD is defending the legitimacy of Israel. This explains their apparent disinterest in what Mr Reed has to say about any influence Mr Desmond may wield on the Tory Party.

  • Les Hartop says:

    I agree with dave and RH…

    Do we have to check every dodgey business person’s ethnic history before accusing them of buying off politicians ?

    Is ‘Richard Desmond’ an obviously Jewish name ?

    And what if it is, or if we do find that the dodgey business person has some Jewish ancestors, does that prevent us from exposing that person for buying influence ?

    I see no particular reason to think that Steve Reed picked out Richard Desmond and ignored others because he thought the others were not Jewish any more than I think Marc Wadsworth picked out Ruth Smeeth because he thought she was Jewish.

  • Philip Ward says:

    I agree with both the comments above. Richard Desmond is an individual: he doesn’t represent all (or any other) Jews, just as Ruth Smeeth didn’t at the launch of the Chakrabarti Report. The anti-zionist left will get itself caught up in all kinds of knots if it spends its time minutely analysing every criticism of individual Jews as propagating “antisemitic tropes”.

    And the article doesn’t defend Maxine Peake and Rebecca Long Bailey as criticising Israel, not Jews at all.

  • James Hall says:

    Totally agree with Dave and RH.

  • Mary Davies says:

    What a hypocrite KS is.

  • Jenny Kassman says:

    Perhaps JVL could lodge a formal complaint against Steve Reed for offending its Jewish members by his very nasty, age-old a-s trope. Enlist the support of the BoD? Happy to help if such an action is decided upon.

  • Dorothy says:

    The reason Reed’s tweet is offensive is that puppet master is not a word in general use, it only occurs in a specific racist slur. He could easily have attacked Desmond’s relationship with ministers without using such a loaded word

  • Naomi Wayne says:

    It is classic double standards – and as such, I am comfortable short term with my left friends putting Reed + BoD + CAA + anyone else who thinks that if a socialist breathes in London, its in order to distribute coronavirus in Israel, through the ringer. I too am enjoying some Schadenfreude.

    However, longer term both cases are worrying. I can’t see why either Reed or RLB should have been done over. The designation of Desmond may have used a ‘classic antisemitic trope’, but is there anything – any EVIDENCE – that tells us Desmond’s religious background/ethnicity was the reason why Reed did it? Anyone who has the kind of political links and contacts Desmond has, Jewish or not, surely qualifies as a ‘puppet master’?! Equally, RLB tweeted an interview given by Maxine Peake which contained one line directly criticising Israel. RLB was only the messenger here – so the question is, even if Peake got her connections wrong, which I think she did, is there any EVIDENCE that her criticism of Israel was fuelled by antisemitism?

    I know I am old fashioned, but it seems to me that if anyone’s reputation is going to be trashed on the grounds of antisemitism, there needs to be some EVIDENCE relating to that person, not just that a word or phrase used is tropic. Otherwise freedom of speech is seriously at risk, and it is the left, which uses that freedom to far more challenging effect, which is the most at risk.

  • Simon Dewsbury says:

    Dorothy, ‘puppet master’ is a ‘specific racial slur’? I think that you had better report Radio 5 Live for dealing antisemitic tropes. One of the repeated jokes on Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s film show is that they regularly call their producer ‘Puppet master’, with the conceit that he is all controlling. It’s a phrase that can be used without a racist overtone (even though Mr Google has just told me that it was used in obviously racist ways by Nazi propaganda).
    I’m with the other posters here. The problem with Reed’s case is double standards, not that this is ‘classic antisemitism’. I didn’t know that Desmond was Jewish, why should we assume that Reed does? Why on earth would he be making a deliberate racist slur? Context is important. This just plays into a narrative that antisemitism is widespread in the Labour Party.

  • Simon Anderson says:

    There seem to be plenty of uses of “puppet master” floating about that have nothing to do with Jews. Reed’s critics are surely reading things into his comment that are simply not there. Easier to label it an antisemitic trope than confront the suggestion that a rich person has undue influence on the government.

  • Simon Anderson says:

    Further, the Financial Times referred to Vladimir Putin as Russia’s puppet master back in January.

  • Margaret West says:

    I agree with all the comments which stated that Reeds comment was not antisemitic – I certainly had no idea that Desmond was Jewish and it is entirely possible that Reed did not know either .. I would also agree with those who say “puppet master” is a common expression – I have heard it made about Cummings and Johnson and the Cabinet!

    The point made above pertaining to Desmond having undue influence is a good one. The fact that rich people have the ear of the Tory Govt through their attendance at expensive dinners – is another thing entirely. It has to be said though it is true of others political parties also.

  • James Dickins says:

    The free online iWeb corpus (1.4 billion words) has 160 occurrences of ‘puppetmaster’ (as a single word): That should be enough to determine how the word is typically used.

  • Allan Howard says:

    The term ‘puppetmaster’ is only anti-semitic if and when someone on the left uses it.

  • Vera Lustig says:

    Allan Howard, 8 July at 12:14, sums it up perfectly. I’m sure I’ve used the term “puppet-master” myself.

  • Anthony Cable says:

    It is now unarguable that Starmer is moving the LP significantly to the right and quickly. His purging of RLB (I can think of no other term) is a purely political move. The mistake of the Corbyn/MacDonnel faction was in their attempts to be concilliatory and not to purge the right.

  • Charles Carter says:

    I worry that certain Jewish factions are using spurious accusations of antisemitism as a weapon to direct labour policy and re-enforforce their own agenda. Antisemitism has no place in either the party or our country nor is there a place for blindly accepting one point of view. We are Labour, we are socialists and we are anti race, religion or colour bias.


    It would be interesting to obtain some statistics on how many people on the right of the Party have been sacked, suspended or disciplined. This would provide some numeric indication of McCarthyism, or hostility to the Left. Subjectively it is plain that Left wingers are the ones who get accused and punished, and people who supported Corbyn.

  • Tweeted & shared to fb too

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