Two letters from Hastings and Rye

JVL Introduction

A letter in the Hastings & St Leaonards Observer is typical of the feedback we are getting from  frustrated Labour activists up and down the country.

They expresses outrage that candidates who came into office on a Labour manifesto can resign from the party but maintain their seats in parliament or on local councils. They cannot see anything undemocratic about holding elected officers accountable to the local parties who selected them. They are all opposed to genuine antisemitism but see it as being weaponised in a struggle by those opposed to the Corbyn leadership and/or programme.

And a letter from Prof Richard Wistreich to his Hastings and Rye MP, Amber Rudd, takes her to task for the shocking use of the expression ‘Jew-baiting’ in her recent accusation against the members of the Labour Party in her constituency.

“I’m in no doubt that the current question of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party has been vastly exaggerated”

Mike Southon, Marina, St Leonards
Hastings Observer
08 March 2019

May I take this opportunity to respond to the report of Cllr Dany Louise’s resignation from the Labour Party as reported in your edition of the February 22, 2019.

Cllr Dany Louise has indicated that she intends to continue as a Councillor for the Old Town Ward until her term of office is up in May 2020. This will deprive the Labour voters of being represented by a Labour Councillor for 14 months and thus double the workload of the remaining Labour Councillor James Bacon.

Dany Louise was a new candidate in the May 2018 elections and so her personal vote would have probably been minimal, and she was elected as a Labour candidate on a Labour manifesto.

Integrity would suggest that she should resign as a Councillor forthwith and if she has the courage of her convictions stand in the subsequent by-election as an Independent. I doubt, however, that she will do this.

As regards her comments about the Liverpool Wavertree MP, Luciana Berger, my son was a Labour voter in Wavertree until he recently moved, and I know a number of Labour Party members in Wavertree, and have spoken at length to them about their feelings towards the MP. She was regarded as out of kilter and at odds with the views of the majority of the Labour members and voters in Wavertree.

She had been parachuted into the constituency prior to the 2010 General Election despite local opposition, and didn’t even know who Bob Paisley, the most successful ever manager of Liverpool FC, was. Despite Jeremy Corbyn offering her a Shadow Ministerial role, which she accepted and then later resigned from as part of a co-ordinated attempt to remove him as Leader of the Party. She consistently aligned herself with MPs looking to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership at every opportunity.

I abhor the abuse she has received, but as regards the proposed vote of no confidence in her by the Wavertree Labour Party, this was withdrawn as result of pressure from the national leadership, despite her continued attempts to undermine the leadership, and constant rumours that she intended to resign the Labour Whip, which obviously came to pass. Her actions prior to resigning continually frustrated the Wavertree members and led to an noticeable increase in dissatisfaction with her perceived disloyalty to the Labour leadership.

As is often the case it’s never a black and white situation, but one of a shade of grey. I’ve been in the Labour Party for over 40 years, and I’ve lived in various parts of the country, and I’m in no doubt that the current question of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party has been vastly exaggerated, and is cynically being used to attack Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the party. Any questioning of the appalling treatment of the Palestinians by the Israeli Government is immediately labelled as anti-Semitic by the anti-Corbyn brigade.

Dani Louise’s fellow Councillor Leah Levane is one of the national officers of the Jewish Voice for Labour, which is attempting to counter balance the right wing propaganda machine which is always looking to muddy the waters over this issue.

True Labour Party Members will continue to fight for the truth to be known and campaign for the election of a radical Labour Government led by Jeremy Corbyn, which is urgently needed by the people of the UK.

Rt. Hon. Amber Rudd, MP
Swallow House
Theaklen Drive
St Leonard’s on Sea,
East Susses TN38 9AZ

8 March 2019

Dear Ms. Rudd,

I imagine that you share my belief that it’s essential that public debate, however vigorous and however opinions may differ between its participants, needs to be conducted in a respectful manner on all sides. I expect, too, that you decry and abhor the casual or deliberate use of racist or anti-religious language that denigrates anyone, whether Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Bhuddist, or any other faith, national or racial origin.

Thus, your choice (or that of your special political advisor in the Cabinet Office, from whose e mail account the public statement was sent) to use the expression ‘Jew-baiting’ in your recent accusation against the members of Labour’s CLP in the Hastings and Rye constituency that you have the privilege to represent, without citing a shred of concrete evidence that would justify using such language, really shocked me. ‘Jew-baiting’, with its direct derivation from ‘bear-baiting’ – the deliberate provocation and tormenting of helpless animals in chains for entertainment – is a reprehensible, deeply offensive, and indisputably anti-semitic term, intended to equate Jewish people with animals worthy only of public degradation and humiliation. My father and many members of his family experienced real ‘Jew-baiting’ in Poland in the 1930s, which for a large proportion of them quickly progressed from name-calling and petty-humiliations, to horrendous physical attacks and eventual murder in the holocaust.

For my part, I have never experienced or witnessed any form of racist or other xenophobic behaviour in Hastings from any political side, whether Conservative, Labour or other political party or in any forum, whether a public meeting or in casual conversation. Indeed, I have only witnessed the same respect for human dignity that characterises the extraordinary collective opening of arms and generous hearts of the people of Hastings to the hundreds of refugees arriving here from the unimaginable horrors of war and suffering, just as my father and his young brother found refuge and welcome in Britain in the late 1930s. Perhaps I have been lucky to have avoided what we know to be the tiny minority of people of whatever political persuasion who think nothing of hurling racist or other kinds of abuse, and who need to be confronted and called out wherever they show themselves; I have little doubt that in your very exposed public position, you must be subject to some appalling abuse, and I most genuinely both condemn those who do it, and praise you for your courage in being prepared to stand up and be counted as a political actor, something which I do not take for granted.

But as you have had occasion to discover in another context in the past week, the careless use of language can easily have unintended consequences, especially in the volatile atmosphere in which we are currently living. Language, no less than mob behaviour, is a potentially dangerous weapon that can very quickly go from merely coarsening public discourse that impoverishes us all, to the incitement and encouragement of genuinely dangerous people, emboldening the deep-seated racism and xenophobia that exists within our society everywhere, but which is normally kept in check by the force of our collective consensus on civilised dealing. I hope, then, that in reflecting on the deep hurt that use of ‘Jew-baiting’ as a cheap jibe to score a political point has caused to many people in your constituency and elsewhere, you can join in pledging that whatever our differences of opinion and however lively the political debate continues to become, it will be conducted in a spirit of respect and great care for the language which we use.

With kind regards,

Professor Richard Wistreich



Comments (1)

  • Richard Hayward says:

    ” I’ve been in the Labour Party for over 40 years, and I’ve lived in various parts of the country, and I’m in no doubt that the current question of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party has been vastly exaggerated”

    … which is the sort of statement that has been made many times by long-term members of the Labour Party.

    … but what has truth got to do with it?

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