The government should be in a tricky place at the moment. First of all, the Windrush scandal should be hurting them badly. And it is – but Corbyn’s own problems with anti-Semitism give May a partial out. She used it against Corbyn at PMQs today because she knew it would stick. Secondly, they are having to back peddle furiously on Brexit, bracing us for more climbdowns on what we’ll get from the EU upon departure. Corbyn’s Brexit fudge may allow him to be the Remainers choice while not losing the Labour Leave voters, but it also means he has little he can say on the government’s current Brexit climbdown at the same time.
Last night, there was a debate in the House about anti-Semitism. It was about anti-Semitism in politics, officially – but really, it was about anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. The highlight was Luciana Berger’s story of what she has suffered on this front, from activists within her own party. After she was finished, the House gave her a round of applause which is, strictly speaking, not supposed to be allowed in such a circumstance (good on the deputy speaker for allowing it). How did Corbyn respond to the same speech? He got up and left the chamber. Corbyn returned, eventually, but leaving at the moment that he did sent a very strange signal.
The whole time he was actually in the chamber, listening to stories of his MPs having been racially abused, he looked like a giant bruise. He clearly saw it all as a personal attack. This is what I find so puzzling about all this: can’t he just fake sympathy on this one for political reasons? I mean, just look engaged, like he’s not annoyed at the whole thing? Even if you were to make the argument that he’s irritated because he’s sees part of this all as a ploy against him, why doesn’t he combat that by showing he’s bigger than it all? That he cares about all of his MPs, and further, sees anti-Semitism as no different to any other type of racism? The only way this can really hurt him politically is if he keeps acting like he doesn’t really care all that much. Yet, that’s what he keeps doing.
I mean, Diane Abbott last night, coming to the dispatch box after hearing tale after tale of racial abuse by MPs of her own party, started talking about her constituency (!) and only got around to making a cursory statement about anti-Semitism after everyone was, understandably, a little miffed at her. The deputy speaker had to make a point of order that Ms Abbott could say whatever she liked at the dispatch box and was not bound by convention to actually address the topic at hand.
I’ll close by saying this: I don’t understand how most of the Labour MPs who abstained on the Syria vote and who spoke so eloquently in the House last night can stay in the Labour Party now. By that I don’t mean, how can they morally continue to do so – that may or may not be the case, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. What I mean is, I don’t understand how they can all pretend that it’s one coherent political party now, with only minor differences of opinion in a few areas. The worldview of someone like John Mann or John Woodcock is clearly a universe away from someone like Jeremy Corbyn. I don’t see how much longer this can be ignored away.