I should probably start this piece by apologising for writing it. There have been too many leaving Labour blogs already. But I’ve told many people to vote Labour over the past few years. I’ve spent a lot of time and energy fighting for decent Labour since 2015. I have many friends I’m leaving behind politically (though I hope not personally). I feel I owe them an explanation.
I understand the people who stay to try to fight. Anyone who thinks this is an easy choice hasn’t thought about it enough. You will get no attacks on people trying their best to hold back the hard left tide from me. But this is why I felt I had to draw a line.
In Corbyn’s Labour, each new anti-Semitic incident follows a pattern. Despicable views and behaviours emerge. The alarm is raised. Corbyn supporters blame it on attempts to undermine the leadership. The leadership delays. Corbyn claims to oppose anti-Semitism — in delphic terms which avoid telling anyone to do anything about it. Incidents are dealt with reluctantly, kicked into the long grass or ignored altogether.
The left had a problem with anti-Semitism before Corbyn rose to prominence. The problem went beyond the hard left, too. But it was always strongest there, because the hard left has specific susceptibilities to anti-Semitism. Suspicion of capital lends itself to tropes about Jewish capital. Conspiracy easily shades into international conspiracy. If your politics are formed in an ‘anti-imperialist’ crucible with Israel as the ultimate enemy, people who hide their racism under an ‘anti-Zionist’ carapace will be willing and eager to stand beside you.
Corbyn comes from that world, and both he and his inner circle are deeply and personally culpable. This is a man who spent years in a Facebook group filled with vicious anti-Semitic rhetoric. This was a group he’d commented in, for which he’d organised events, whose organiser he knew personally: a group spewing hate he can’t possibly have failed to see. This month, we found out he suggested ‘the hand of Israel’ was behind terrorist attacks in Egypt in 2012. There was no evidence — just a shadow conspiracy speculation (‘theory’ is too grand a word) involving the world’s only Jewish state. And this week, we discovered this gem about ‘Zionists’: ‘having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, [they] don’t understand English irony’. I am a British Zionist. Corbyn was not talking about me.
Corbyn’s record proves he will at the very least live with anti-Semitism to promote ‘anti-imperialism’. Worse, he has repeatedly used anti-Semitic tropes himself. He will do nothing serious about anti-Semitism on the left: to do so would be to damn himself. It is no surprise that Chris Williamson’s sharing platforms with Assad apologists and belittling the anti-Semitism crisis merited a vague pledge of investigation, while Margaret Hodge and Ian Austin were threatened with disciplinary action for calling anti-Semitism out. It is frankly untenable even to think Margaret Hodge was incorrect.
A Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn will never tackle anti-Semitism, because to Jeremy Corbyn Jews are dispensable. I will not tell voters he’s a consistent anti-racist. I can’t even say I don’t believe he’s an anti-Semite. And a man who, so far as I can tell, most British Jews regard with disgust, anger and sometimes fear would be utterly unacceptable as prime minister.
Commitment to your country’s security should be a political prerequisite for running it. Corbyn has worn his hostility to the West on his sleeve throughout his career. He opposed defending the Falklands in 1982. Falklanders didn’t want to submit to a military junta, but the UK had to be in the wrong. He opposed enlarging NATO after 1989. Eastern Europeans wanted to join the Atlantic world after decades of Soviet oppression, but NATO had to be in the wrong. He described the Russian invasion of Crimea as ‘not unprovoked’. Ukrainians wanted to move towards the EU, and the EU had to be in the wrong.
The man who called for NATO to be shut down in 2014 campaigned on a 2017 manifesto which supported NATO membership. But it’s a bad faith pledge he undermines at every turn. He has never once committed to defending NATO members under attack. Instead, he dodges the question. He thought the run-up to Donald Trump (a fellow NATO-sceptic) becoming US President was the moment to suggest demilitarising our allies in the Baltic (never mind their views on the topic). Corbynites might say this displays an admirable preference for exhausting peaceful avenues first. I suggest Vladimir Putin would say it meant NATO’s second military power was no longer committed to collective security.
This year, we had yet more proof that Corbyn’s first instinct remains to blame the West and excuse our enemies. People were murdered with chemical weapons in Salisbury. All the evidence pointed to Russian responsibility — Moscow didn’t even offer a plausible lie in response. Corbyn allowed Seumas Milne to imply that rogue elements in MI5 might be trying to blame Russia and raised the possibility of mafia involvement (despite experts’ view that this sort of chemical attack required state-level involvement). He only acknowledged the likelihood of Russian responsibility through gritted teeth. Most recently, on tougher sanctions against Russia he said: ‘We cannot just have a building up of tensions on both sides of the border.’ It seems responding to the murder of our citizens makes us the ones ‘building up … tensions’.
I do not believe a man who has hated the West all his life has had a Damascene conversion. Jeremy Corbyn’s promises on NATO aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. I believe in international solidarity quite as much as he claims to. But my international solidarity includes Estonia. I believe in a Europe whole and free. I oppose people who think imperialism is best opposed by consigning free democracies to some Russian sphere of influence.
I will not tell voters they should trust the Labour leader with the UK’s or the West’s security when the chips are down. Everything we know about him, and his circle, shows they cannot.
Corbyn’s hostility to the West has deep roots on the hard left. So does his acolytes’ intolerance of dissent and their contempt for parliamentarians’ link to their voters.
Corbyn has a populist appeal I never foresaw. Still, the Corbynites’ democratic centralist understanding of the world doesn’t lead to a ‘let a thousand flowers bloom’ approach to politics. It produces a politics of bullying, intimidation and heresy-hunting. MPs and Haringey councillors can attest to that. (So can I. I’ve been in the meetings.) It subverts MPs’ accountability to their constituents in the name of subordinating them to their local General Committee. It takes power away from voters and moves it to self-selecting activists.
John McDonnell exemplifies the hard left’s contempt for parliamentarism. This is a man who joked about lynching a (female) political opponent. This is a man who saw ‘students kicking the shit out of Millbank’ as a positive, exciting thing; a man who saw fit to give speeches about how ‘sometimes you feel like physical force — you feel like giving them a good slapping’. More recently, this is a man who wanted mass demonstrations to force early elections mere days after the last one.
Meanwhile, Seumas Milne was a ‘tankie’, deeply involved with the Communist Party of Great Britain — with a long history of minimising Stalinist crimes, of mourning the demise of the USSR and East Germany, of defending or equivocating over every odious regime so long as it hated the Americans. When the Council of Europe condemned the crimes of communism, Milne said: ‘For all its brutalities and failures, communism in the Soviet Union, eastern Europe and elsewhere delivered rapid industrialisation, mass education, job security and huge advances in social and gender equality.’
I do not believe that these people have changed their views after a lifetime of extremism. And I cannot stand behind them. I believe political power derives its legitimacy from our elected Parliament. I believe politicians have no business trying to rouse the streets to eject democratic governments. I believe in liberal constitutionalism and the rule of law. And I do not trust Corbyn, McDonnell or Milne to guard them. Their worldview is profoundly anti-parliamentary and would be dangerous if it ever controlled the state.
I cannot and will not go on doorsteps and pretend that a government with Jeremy Corbyn in 10 Downing Street, John McDonnell next door and Seumas Milne whispering in his ear would leave our democratic culture uncorroded. The fabric of our democracy already feels thinner than it did: a Corbyn Government would pull more threads out.
Standing by, not standing up
The decent left should be casting Corbynism out. Instead, Corbynism is being normalised. Like latter-day DDT, the levels of poison in our political bloodstream are building up as we swim along.
In a banal but crucial sense, it’s true that ‘centrists’ lack answers and complaining about Corbyn isn’t doing the job. Moderate politics is clearly failing to persuade people it can tackle their problems. Disliking Jeremy Corbyn, Jacob Rees-Mogg or Brexit does not make a programme for government. (Corbyn doesn’t have one either, but leave that aside.)
But the trope also shows how decent people can make the unconscionable unremarkable. Suppose centre-left politics is bloodless, soulless and visionless — technocracy plus tax credits. Do people who dislike Corbyn but think we’re complaining too much about him honestly believe enabling anti-Semitism is better? Are we even going to put them on the same moral plane?
People say that ‘we don’t like Jeremy’ isn’t enough. OK, it’s not a manifesto. But anti-Semitism alone should be enough to rule ‘Jeremy’ out. Much of the non-Corbynite left is forgetting that in the name of boxing clever. I want to reassert it.
Power and principle
People should think long and hard about the consequences of a hard left government. The UK has far fewer checks and balances than the US under Trump. We have no written constitution, veto-wielding second chamber or federalist constraints upon central government.
Only Labour MPs could prevent disaster if Corbyn won a majority. And having watched most of them kowtow most of the time since 8 June 2017, I am not sure they will resist his worst impulses. Anyway, backbenchers can’t make Corbyn’s word his bond on collective security: it would be too late by the time they acted. And the intimidatory style of politics — mob dressed up as movement — which characterises Corbynism could be much more dangerous with the state behind it.
So of course I don’t want Jeremy Corbyn to be Prime Minister. Of course I don’t want Seumas Milne advising in Number 10 or John McDonnell at the Treasury. The idea sends shivers down my spine. It must not happen. I will not help to make it happen. And if it’s the price of getting rid of the Tories, it’s a price I cannot pay.
That leaves me no choice but to resign from the Labour Party. Someday, I hope there will once again be an anti-racist, internationalist, reliably constitutional social democratic party worth joining.
This post was originally published on Medium.com on 24 August 2018.