Anyone who’s tried to hold the political or moral line in Corbyn’s Labour knows the drill. Criticise Jeremy and you definitely get nowhere. Cite something Jeremy’s said to back your argument and you probably get nowhere. Draw a pragmatic line and the Corbynites call you unprincipled (except on Brexit, which is of course completely different). Draw a principled line and the Corbynites think you’re hiding a conspiracy under a moral carapace.
Much ink is spilled about how moderate Labour messed up its response to Corbynism. I’m sure that’s true in many ways. Yes: from moaning about McDonald’s to a premature leadership challenge, moderate Labour messed up on plenty of counts. Yes: moderate Labour should realised that Labour members wanted clear red water, at least in rhetoric. (It turns out they’re much less fussed about actual redistributive policy, but I digress.)
That’s all perfectly true. It’s also beside the point. Because people who think sorting all that would be enough for the median Labour member now are kidding themselves. It’s far, far worse than that.
If we’re honest with ourselves, today’s terrible poll just confirms what we already knew. Only 19% of Labour members could bring themselves to answer that their party faced a serious problem with anti-Semitism which needed urgent action without equivocation. 30% of members actually seem to believe that, even though the main representative body for British Jews has effectively declared Corbyn beyond the pale until things improve, Labour has serious no anti-Semitism problem and it’s all being hyped up to undermine him and/or stifle criticism of Israel.
Some cite the fact that 47% think it’s a genuine problem, but deliberately exaggerated to damage Labour or Corbyn (or, again, to stifle criticism of Israel), as comfort. Quite which bits of the problem anyone can seriously deem exaggerated is, frankly, hard to tell. But I suppose it’s less bad than outright denial. I suppose some people will be new to the issue and won’t have fully processed the scale of the crisis. I suppose some will have read ‘exaggerated’ as ‘leapt upon by others’ and not quite clocked what they’ve signed up to. (None of this excuses failing to see the age-old ‘shadowy conspiracies’ trope lurking in the middle option, but there we go.)
Even discounting generously, it’s a grim figure. And 61% think failing to even call for Christine Shawcroft to stand down from the NEC counts as handling the issue well. In short, a comfortable majority of Labour members seem OK with how this is being handled.
That is damning. It also places Labour dissenters in an impossible bind. When I stood in solidarity with British Jews on Monday, I hoped this horror might at least be a turning point, that more people who claimed to believe in equality might put it before loyalty to Jeremy Corbyn. For a few hours I even kidded myself it felt different this time. But if you’d asked me before last Sunday, I’d have said dissenters would make themselves more unpopular for speaking out. And now I’ve seen the poll, I’m not really surprised by the results.
Corbyn loyalists: if you think Labour dissenters are acting from calculation, put it from your mind. So far as I can see, talking about Labour’s moral crisis makes our internal position worse, not better. But so long as we stay, we have no choice. How can we keep our heads down and live with ourselves? We have to think about the long game. But we also have to look at ourselves in the mirror. (No, I don’t have a game plan. There was a time when I hoped someone cleverer, preferably with some actual influence, might have one.)
So, yes: when certain lines are crossed, some Labour dissenters stand up. This time they’ve exploded in rage because Corbyn’s personal enablement of anti-Semitism was exposed once too often. And it makes most members angry. And they dig in deeper. And the dissenters’ plight gets worse.
Short of leaving, what else can they do?
This post was originally published on Medium.com on 31 March 2018.