Vicki Kirby McCluskey: more allegations of anti-Semitism, as the party’s entry procedures descend into farce

by Rob Marchant

Welcome to the modern Labour party, where it appears that, after less than 18 months of penitence, an anti-Semitic comment can be forgiven. Then, er, unforgiven shortly after, once the story’s been published by Guido Fawkes.

The story: Sepember 2014, Kirby is suspended from the party after offensive comments comparing Israelis to Hitler. Not to mention a tweet from her Twitter account regarding Jews and big noses, as Tom Harris, sometime of this parish, noted in the Telegraph.

March 2016: It is discovered that Kirby has been reinstated. When this appears in the media, she is suspended again.

While we might be glad that, in the end, the unpleasant Ms Kirby will be prevented from spreading hatred around her fellow activists, the whole episode shows that existing membership controls have become a shambles.

Right now, control sensibly exercised by the party machine is clearly being overridden by the NEC; but that may just be the opening salvo in a war over the party’s “border controls”.

What happens next? The situation will, by definition, continue until either (a) the NEC stops reinstating suspect members – requiring a change in the balance of power between left and right on the NEC itself, and possibly a conference rule change – or (b) the Head Office executive powers to suspend them in the first place are relaxed.

Given that Head Office changes are easy for the party leadership to make and changes at the NEC level are hard, it is easy to see that the most likely outcome is (b), that the Compliance Unit at Labour HQ will be weakened or even removed, as John McDonnell proposed two weeks ago. Along with such a move would go all the party’s defences against people like Kirby rejoining.

Extraordinarily, yesterday there were still activists on Twitter complaining about fellow members drawing attention to this. As Wes Streeting MP pointed out, this is not an adequate response.

The fact that we are called out on something which is totally unacceptable for any political party is not a moment to bleat about party loyalty or whine about the unfairness of the media.

It is a moment to take a long, hard look in the mirror.

Honestly, do we really think stories like this are happening because people are being “unfair”? Tosh.

It is happening because some deeply unpleasant people, who have always hovered on the party’s fringes, are suddenly getting access to its heart. We either take action or we not only lose control of our local parties but we see the party’s name dragged through the mud in the process.

In other words, aside from the stomach-turning effect of having such people as fellow members, there are real practical side-effects. Each one is a potential negative press story, a drip-drip-drip of gifts to Conservative Campaign HQ, each one further entrenching the image of a down-and-out party peppered with political freakshows, or worse.

Ah, but, say the Corbynites. These people are just being picked on because they are anti-Israel, and the Establishment is pro-Israel. Critics are conflating being anti-Israel with being anti-Semitic.

They are not. Anti-Semitism is anti-Semitism, whether it first derives from a left-wing hatred of Israel or not. It has pretty clear definitions, for a start (although amazingly some on the far left of the union movement have tried to play with those definitions, as well, to avoid being labelled anti-Semites. And that same union movement has long been riddled with the same kind of prejudices now hitting Labour, as Nick Cohen noted back in 2011 when he boycotted the TUC).

But what is the most depressing thing about these events is the continuing lack of specific condemnation from the leadership, when words and not deeds are demanded. As Mike Dugher MP put it:

“Labour will be judged by what we do, not by what we say. We must take these issues incredibly seriously straightaway and act immediately.”

Yes, when pushed, Corbyn or McDonnell might make vague mumblings about being “strongly against anti-Semitism”. But an immediate and specific comment about a case, even just to say that this is something which is taken very seriously, is absent.

And why? It is truly hard to avoid the conclusion that these people, our leaders, feel in their hearts that the whole thing is a bit “unfair”. That they do not feel quite sick to their stomachs like the rest of us at such behaviour. That there are fine lines and that sometimes “good” (that is, Israel-hating) people come down on the wrong side of one. That these are not bad people, merely over-excited idealists who took a wrong turn. That we should relax, and “go easy” on them.

And that, for a mainstream political party, is the biggest worry of all.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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15 Responses to “Vicki Kirby McCluskey: more allegations of anti-Semitism, as the party’s entry procedures descend into farce”

  1. Lee Barnett says:

    Just one minor quibble. It appears the timeline went as follows:

    2011-2014: posted anti-semitic and anti-Zionist tweets

    2014: tweets discovered; dropped as Prospective Parliamentary Candidate and suspended from party; warned by NEC as to future conduct; suspension lifted

    2016: story breaks that she’s now vice chair of Woking CLP and holds several positions in CLP; resuspended after 24 hours of story breaking

  2. Anthony says:

    I’m not a member of the Labour Party, though have voted Labour in the past. I am Jewish and very concerned about the current state of affairs. It isn’t right that my life should be less comfortable than other people’s simply because I am Jewish. Yet that is a fact of life for me and a large part of my daily discomfort is Left-wing antisemitism hiding behind the facade of “anti-Zionism”.

    Zionism today is nothing other than the desire to see the continued existence, and success, of the State of Israel. One of the largest political groupings in Israel is the centre-left group literally called “The Zionist Union”. It wants to end the occupation as soon as possible. Indeed, the majority of Israelis want to end the occupation as soon as possible – the only question is what level of compromise is acceptable.

    Simply put – barring a few fringe elements – “anti-Zionism” is not a valid position to hold. Most of the time the person claiming to be against Zionism is not actually opposed to the existence of the State of Israel and so it is a misnomer. Those who do believe that the Jewish State should cease to exist – alone among all countries – well, they are antisemitic.

    The problem is that people are free to hate their anti-Jewish feelings behind the defence of anti-Zionism. That must stop.

    The UK Labour Part is a Zionist party. It supports the two-state solution and the continued existence of Israel as a Jewish-majority country. The vast, vast majority of Britain’s Jews would be elated and feel so much more comfortable if Jeremy Corbyn declared publicly and proudly that the Labour Party is a Zionist party.

    Now think about how completely inconceivable that is. When you cannot imagine the leader of your party saying that he supports the continued existence a particular country and its Jewish inhabitants you see just how deep the problem is.

  3. Tafia says:

    Jewish anti-semitism (and I don’t mean their bombing Palestinians – who actually are semites as opposed to most jews who aren’t).

  4. steve says:

    Lee Barnett: Suspension lifted in 2014.

    Yes, it must be Corbyn’s responsibility as he became leader in… doh!

  5. John R says:

    Tolerance of anti-Semitism on the Left is not new. I’ve posted on my Twitter feed a grossly anti-Semitic cartoon which featured in the “Labour Herald” which was a front for the WRP in the Labour Party.

    As detailed in the link, the cartoon was published in 1982 and John McDonnell MP joined the Editorial Board in 1985. Was John McDonnell aware of the cartoon when he took his position? Maybe Dominic Kennedy of The Times who wrote about the McDonnell/WRP link last Sept will get the chance to ask him.

    I’d love to look at back copies of Labour Herald to see what else is there. Mr Kennedy told me he read them in the British Library if anyone feels like popping over there to have a look. The issues when John McDonnell was on the EB must surely deserve close inspection.

    Btw, I found the cartoon on the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty site. They may not be popular around these parts but they have done a sterling job over the years highlighting the anti-Semitism of the Left.

  6. Hasan says:

    In Tania’s comment above lies the problem the party is facing.

    1) Whataboutery linking to a story about a marginal group of religious zealots in Israel to distract from the question at hand, that of the treatment of British Jews in Britain by the Labour Party, the main opposition party in Britain.
    2) Feigned or real ignorance that the word ‘anti-Semitism’ was invented by an anti-Semite to describe his own political position and has been used in the sense of hatred towards Jews alone, as any reputable dictionary will tell you. Claiming that any other group speaking a Semitic language is anti-Semitic is not only wrong, but laughable; who has a hatred of the Somalis, the Maltese and the Tigrinya of Ethiopia while feeling favourable or indifferent to the Kurds, the Maasai and the Oromo of Ethiopia? See how absurd it sounds?
    3) The racial slur about being less ‘semitic’ than Palestinians. It doesn’t fit the anti-Semitic narrative very well, but most Israeli Jews don’t have ancestors in Poland and Russia but from other parts of the Middle East and North Africa.

    John R is right that tolerance on the left of anti-Semitism is not new; anyone who’s read George Orwell will recognize that. The difference for the far left is that it was the approved line in Moscow at a time when such things had to be defended at all costs. When the communists were thrown out, the parliaments of Poland and East Germany apologized for the anti-Semitic nature of those ‘anti-Zionist’ campaigns. The problem is that, for the far left, the changes in 1989 were a disaster which does not fit into their worldview.

    I just wish I could trust the Labour Party to act. If the NEC turns out as I suspect, I shan’t be holding my breath.

  7. James Martin says:

    Rob, you really must stop being so irresponsible with evidence as it just makes you look sillier and sillier, we all know you don’t like the current leadership but at least try and tackle the political differences you have with them rather than playing along to hostile smears from the Guido slime in the case of Vicky Kirby. Because here’s your problem. Yes, she was suspended in 2014 for comments that she made between 2011 and 2014 (she was a PPC at the time). It appears she was investigated in 2014 (the reports say by the NEC, I am assuming in reality this means the Compliance Unit), reinstated the same year, prevented from being a PPC and issued a warning. She was not, as has been spun by Guido and repeated by yourself, ‘readmitted’ this year as she had never been expelled to rejoin. In other words this story has nothing to do with the current Labour leadership given that what happened was on the watch of that well known anti-Semite Ed Miliband.

    Should she have been booted out in 2014? Quite possibly. The problem is that this case highlights again the failings of the Compliance Unit given they made the original decision to let her remain in the Party two years ago. And the problem with the current new suspension and investigation is that it really does make a mess of things like procedure and natural justice given that so far as I’m aware there have been no comments made by her since 2014 that are being investigated, therefore she is I presume now being investigated twice by the Compliance Unit for the same comments from 2011-14. Perhaps it is time to investigate the Compliance Unit instead Rob?

    Either way what is the reality of the great anti-Semitism storm that has been kicked up? First the Kirby issue is one related to the previous regime as I’ve argued. Second, the allegations about Oxford Labour Club (and extended to Young Labour) are being investigated by Baroness Royall, former Labour leader in the Lords and unless she has had a radical conversion since her days of being an advisor to Kinnock I do not think we could class her as a natural Corbyn supporter. Then there has been the case of Gerry Downing, leader of a sectarian grouplet that would all fit into the same phone box and who was expelled once writings that showed anti-Zionism had merged into straightforward anti-Semitism. In other words I am at a loss to see what else the current leadership could have done better with all of these incidents, and yet you will attack them anyway won’t you? Perhaps you are writing for the wrong site, I’m sure the half-wits down at Guido central would welcome an extra bile staffer.

  8. Tafia says:

    Hasan, Zionists hijacked the words semitism and semite to mean axclusively those of jewish faith – which is a perversion of what semite means, in fact a deliberate lie.

    And then you say 1) Whataboutery linking to a story about a marginal group of religious zealots in Israel to distract from the question at hand, that of the treatment of British Jews in Britain by the Labour Party, the main opposition party in Britain. implying that the story is marginal where as it’s mainstream wityhin the Labour Party – which again is a blatant and deliberate lie.

  9. TC says:

    Thank you Lee Barnett and James Martin for your helpful posts that have put the author’s to shame in terms of honesty and accuracy. It’s genuinely sad to see how some people will latch onto to literally anything to attack Corbyn.

    I see that that waste of space Jonathan Freedland has also used the same faulty reasoning to attack Corbyn on the Guardian website. The comments are turned off on that one though as he isn’t keen on criticism.

    By the way, there was a new poll yesterday showing the Labour Party ahead of the Tories for the first time since Corbyn took over. No article on here about that of course; it wouldn’t fit the narrative.

  10. ad says:

    If “anti-Zionist” means anything in a world in which Israel already exists, it means wanting to destroy a UN member state.

    That is a pretty dubious goal.

  11. Tafia says:

    ad – wanting to destroy a UN member state.
    Such as Iraq, Libya, Syria and soon Iran.

    TC – By the way, there was a new poll yesterday showing the Labour Party ahead of the Tories for the first time since Corbyn took over.
    It’s the second in a week actually, from separate polling companies using different methodology.

  12. paul barker says:

    If you go across to Labour List you can see comments laghing about The Holocaust – that will be the “new, kinder politics” we have heard about.

  13. Chris Bright says:

    Anthony and Ad, “Zionist” in the Israeli context now tends to mean the settler movement, not simply those who support Israel’s continued existence. And if the majority of Israelis support a two state solution it really begs the question of why they keep electing governments which take steps to make that less and less viable.

    While there no doubt is some anti-semitism on the left, and supporting the military destruction of Israel would fall into that category, there is also no doubt that trumped up claims are used as a stick to beat Palestinian supporters in general and recently Corbyn in particular. No-one tries to equate support for Tibetan or Kurdish independence with anti-Chinese or anti-Turkish racism.

  14. Chris Bright says:

    I’d also rather like to hear Vicky Kirby’s side of this story before taking whatever Guido Fawkes says as gospel. The reported tweets seem ludicrously childish quite apart from being offensive – Gerry Downing managed to dig his own grave on the Brillo Pad show, but there doesn’t seem to be any first hand comment from Kirby. Maybe she has a defence we haven’t heard?

  15. delta says:

    This is a very poor article by your standards. Its kind of like Chinese whispers in terms of the commentary that results from it.

    You guys are going to have to seriously raise your game if you ever plan on seeing electors success again. Because at the moment you are in a closet selectively choosing material from dead and discredited deceptive takes on the status quo.

    Merry Christmas in any case and have a lovely new year.

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