JVL Introduction

We publish here an article submitted to us by Jon Berry saying that outrage is not enough, we need courage to see us through…

We are the ones who will need to mobilise against the real fascist threat – as we did in 2010 when we worked to turn the tide in the face of Margaret Hodge’s failures.

Protesters from Unite Against fascism and the PCS Trade union protest at City hall against BNP London Assembly member Richard Barnbrook who was being disciplined for lying about knife crime in Barking and Dagenham.

Jon Berry, 7 August 2018, updated 8 August


Outrage is food and drink to those of us who regard ourselves as activists. But it’s no good on its own: to be effective we also need historical perspective and context and some inkling of how we organise against the forces marshalled against us. More than anything else, we need courage when faced with danger.

The last few months of the antisemitism farce have tested that courage sorely. On some mornings it has meant that the first news headline brings a tetchy start to the day. Never mind the bumbling buffoonery of Brexit negotiations, kids in 21st century Britain going hungry in the holidays (and at other times too), Tory councils being flat broke because of Tory policies, Earth being on fire. What are we woken by? More apparent proof that Corbyn is an anti-Semite.

I think we’re fast approaching the point at which this has degenerated into farce, so ludicrous are some of the claims. We can, if the planets align, almost laugh at it as Mark Steel does in this wonderful piece . The trouble, as we all know, is that it’s a serious business and if our courage evaporates there will be even less to amuse us.

Corbyn’s apologies and statements over the past few days have been the wrong thing to do. I know, I’m just sitting at a keyboard and he is living this nightmare, but the truth, for once, is plain and simple. He could say anything to the self-elected leaders of the Jewish ‘community’ and they, along with many of his colleagues from his own party, will shrug and sneer, say it’s not enough and keep the ball rolling.

They will do so because, as their collective record shows, their new-found enthusiasm for hounding out prejudice is convenient cover for harrying a potential Prime Minister whose views they regard as dangerous. There is no need to rehearse this argument: post after post on this site and elsewhere argue the case more closely than I wish to do here. That they would use such an issue as the stick with which to beat Corbyn shows not only their cynicism but also their utter misunderstanding of what we need to do now that genuine anti-Semites are real-live barbarians at the gate.

For just one glaring illustration of what I mean about what happens when we abandon courage and forget how to organise, I turn, with some reluctance, to the intemperate Margaret Hodge. In the 2010 general election, Hodge did, to use the modish phrase, face an existential threat from the British National Party. One of the reasons she did so was because of an obvious shortage of housing in the borough. Her reaction was to pander to the right, using rhetoric about immigrants being, in effect, sent to the back of the queue. She forgot, if she ever knew, that it was the Tories who sold off council housing and made the building of any more nigh on impossible. An easy mistake if you left your political education and your principles at the door when you entered parliament. (For more on this see David Rosenberg’s excellent account in Stand down Margaret; and the contemporary account in Socialist Review How the BNP was beaten in Barking.)

Nevertheless, hundreds of us recognised this threat and went door-knocking on her behalf for weeks before the election. We did not equate housing shortages with immigration because it wasn’t true. Easy enough if you stick to your principles and don’t back away.

Most of us were probably what are now called Corbyn supporters. Not that there was such a thing then. Jeremy was nothing more, and I mean no discourtesy here, than your go-to man when you needed an MP on your platform for any one of the dozens causes with which we, as activists, were involved. Most times he’d come; most times he’d leave early, often to go on to another meeting; always he demonstrated that he was committed and principled and we liked him. We never in our very wildest dreams imagined he’d ever lead the party (or, in some of our cases, that we’d ever join it!). So for Hodge to promote herself as the vanquisher of the BNP is more than a touch cheeky, given that a bunch of Corbynistas literally did the legwork for her. Her amnesia about that is something only she can explain.

That’s just one incident about sticking to your politics and acting with courage. One, for many of us, from the dozens of episodes of physically blocking NF and BNP meetings; organising against them and the EDL; attending vigils at desecrated graves and places of worship. I won’t go into detail about the reluctance of the leaders of some Jewish organisations to sanction participation at such events; from Cable Street to Welling and beyond they have been notable by their absence. The zealous pursuers of anti-Semites of recent months have been invisible. Apologise to them? Really?

Were now in something akin to Alice’s Wonderland. The Austrian government considers issuing licenses to buy kosher meat , Netanyahu cosies up to Hungary’s far right leader and a rich, influential racist thinks Stephen Yaxley Lennon is a very fine fellow but the existential threat resides, apparently, in one of British politics’ most steadfast fighters against prejudice of all sorts. With nothing, but nothing, to apologise for. And if he, and we, carry on doing so, they’ll just keep coming for us and we’ll just have to keep expending energy that is urgently needed elsewhere.

Jon Berry is a university lecturer and writer on education. His latest (non educational) book Boomeranting deals in part with growing up as a Jewish boy in Birmingham in the 1950s and 60s