Rod Liddle Rod Liddle

Labour still has an anti-Semitism problem

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Then there’s the other candidate, or ex-candidate, for the Rochdale by-election, the one nobody is talking about. The Green party hopeful, Guy Otten, had his party’s support withdrawn last week and he decided to pull out over tweets he had written, some of them up to ten years ago. The one which really narked his Green colleagues, apparently, was this: ‘The Quran is full of war, slaughter, rape and pillage, with genocide and slavery as well. It’s not fit for the 21st century.’

Hmm. How to put this? I have to say, as a description of the gorier bits of the Quran it’s not terribly wide of the mark, is it?

It is now clear that Sir Keir Starmer is utterly incapable of making a decision without reversing it

If, by contrast, Mr Otten had said of Islam’s holy book: ‘It carries tales of debauchery, decadence, class A drugs and S&M orgies which would not seem out of place in a biography of Iggy and the Stooges’, then people might have genuine grounds for complaint. Mr Otten also asked, presumably rhetorically, in a tweet more recently: ‘Isn’t genocide what the Palestinians and others seek for Israel?’

Mr Otten is a humanist and does not have much time for Islam, or for religion in general. If he had directed his wrath at the Christian church instead, he’d probably be on course for victory right now. But you can’t diss Islam, or go against the apparent view that Hamas are cuddly, peaceable little squirrels being persecuted by an evil fascist state.

Labour’s paroxysms over its own candidate, Azhar Ali, have been a source of great hilarity, and rightly so. It is now perfectly clear that Sir Keir Starmer is utterly incapable of making a decision without reversing it 180 degrees, usually the following day. Starmer first ordered Ali to make an apology, which was risible even by today’s standards of objectively dishonest public apologies.

Ali’s observations that Israel knew all about the 7 October Hamas attacks in advance and kind of welcomed them were made only a few months ago. You cannot disown an opinion you held so recently. What were we to think – that on this occasion, at a Labour party meeting, Ali was suddenly taken over by an alien being which is why those awful words came out?

And yet, with a by-election victory in his sights, Starmer was initially perfectly happy to let Ali continue as the candidate. That is hypocrisy and suggests very strongly that the Labour leader has, first, not changed his party fundamentally, only put an agreeable PR gloss on it, and, second, is not possessed of any great worries about anti-Semitism in his party, only really bothered that it might hamper his chances of winning an election. Once again he is revealed as a politician seemingly devoid of a scintilla of principle. There is no cause he will not jettison, no policy he will not junk, if he thinks it will gain him a few extra votes.

The hypocrisy is all the greater because until further comments came to our notice, Labour frontbenchers had been cheerfully campaigning on behalf of a man who bought into rancid anti-Jewish conspiracy theories. It all leaves one asking the difficult question: is the Labour party better now that it tries to hide its anti-Semitism, or was it more commendable when Magic Grandpa was in charge and that stuff was all out in the open?

‘Bonus… bonus…’

The electorate in general does not give a stuff about Israel’s attacks upon Gaza when compared to more pressing issues like immigration, the economy and healthcare and, sadly, it is not terribly worked up about anti-Semitism, either. It was not the festival of Jew-hating that lost Jeremy Corbyn the 2019 general election but his visceral, almost psychopathic, anti-Britishness – a trait which, mysteriously, does not play well in, er, Britain.

But one small section of the electorate cares very deeply about Gaza, and that is the Muslim section of the electorate. The proportion of Muslim voters in the Rochdale constituency is 23.6 per cent, according to the Conservative Muslim Forum, making it the 19th-largest Muslim vote in the country, and during a by-election with a lowish turnout, that almost-quarter of the vote could win or lose Labour the seat.

Since 7 October, Starmer has played the strong leader over Israel, taking action against party members who have demanded a ceasefire. He has done this in order to banish from the public mind any association with the previous regime, and it has cost him. A recent poll suggested that 85 per cent of Muslim voters believe that the major parties’ stance on Gaza will influence their choice at the next election. Further, since 7 October Muslim support for Labour has, as they say, fallen off a cliff. Depending upon what polls you believe, either only 60 per cent of Muslims who voted Labour last time intend to do so again, or the figure could be as low as 5 per cent.

As I’ve mentioned here before, this will hurt Labour grievously – in the Rochdale by-election, the London mayoral election and the next general election. My suspicion is that before too long Sir Keir will be demanding a ceasefire. He will have to – other-wise there is a long list of potential candidates waiting to be disowned by the party in those constituencies (Birmingham’s Hodge Hill and Hall Green, Bradford West, East Ham and so on) that have a sizeable or even a majority Muslim vote.

And this is the point: nobody can have been greatly surprised by Azhar Ali’s observations. Views such as those are all too prevalent both within our Muslim communities and among that small minority of useful idiots on the Momentum left of the Labour party. My suspicion is that Mr Ali’s views are probably shared by the majority of Labour activists, although I have no figures to back that up. But soon enough I suspect you will see the party leader performing another one of his maladroit volte-faces, and the awful thing is, the public in general doesn’t hugely care.

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