The shame of Barnet: losing a council because the voters think you’re racist

by Rob Marchant

The general consensus of the UK media is that Labour did not achieve the result it needed to last Thursday. As largely expected, it had lukewarm results in London overall and disappointing results outside.

But the most significant result of the night was surely that in Barnet, where the Tories in midterm, in London, actually regained a council that they recently lost to No Overall Control.

The reason? Unsurprisingly, the Jewish voters of Barnet, surely the council with the highest Jewish contingent in Britain, turned away from Labour in droves. Because they were fed up with Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to tackle anti-Semitism, two years after the Chakrabarti report. And, as the Jewish Chronicle’s Stephen Pollard pointed out:

Quite. While there was enough evidence from polling returns by ward, the anecdotal evidence was strong, too. Journalists deployed to the borough noted the extraordinary strength of feeling they found on the doorstep. As John Mann, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Semitism, put it:

Adam Langleben, Barnet councillor and member of the Jewish Labour Movement’s (JLM’s) NEC, was ousted from his seat by the anti-Labour tidal wave in Jewish areas. When he called this out, he was then trolled by far-left blogsite Skwawkbox. When he called that out, Skwawkbox threatened to sue. John McDonnell agreed to meet with Langleben and another councillor, seemingly with positive results. At least someone seemed to be listening to the attacks on Jewish figures.

But then, on Tuesday morning, Langleben was notified that JLM had been uninvited to Labour’s NEC Working Group on anti-Semitism, taking place that evening. A “misunderstanding”, apparently. Undeterred, Langleben and his JLM colleagues decided to attend anyway. They were kept waiting in Reception, without being allowed in. If Labour had genuinely wanted to rebuild bridges to the Jewish community in the wake of the Barnet result, they really couldn’t have done it worse.

Finally, to add insult to injury, we had the frankly witless Dawn Butler telling the BBC that the Corbyn had wanted to act on the Chakrabarti report these last two years but – wait for it – former General Secretary Iain McNicol had blocked it!

Yes, that’ll be the same McNicol who tripled the size of the Compliance Unit and worked tirelessly in the face of resistance from the NEC and Leader’s Office to bring to book the worst offenders in the deluge of anti-Semitism cases hitting the party. We shall see if his successor, already with previous on downplaying the issue, works anywhere near as hard. But it may be advisable not to hold one’s breath.

Langleben’s tweet sums it all up perfectly:

In short: for probably the first time in its century-long history, Labour has been punished at the ballot box for perceived racism. An ugly line has been crossed. You cannot just say “the voters are being over-sensitive”. Like it or not, they are the final judges of everything (not to mention the racism implicit in the stereotype of the “over-sensitive Jew”).

Forget electoral calculation, and whether this is a big deal in numbers of votes. It’s not.

Forget policy. No-one cares about the Israel-Palestine debate in the country (if it were even relevant here, which it’s not) at election time. They care about the economy, jobs and services.

Forget whether or not the Tories are racist in some parts of their party (probably, but what is this, the whataboutery Olympics?)

No. This is a matter of a basic level of human decency, and a small but important numbers of voters have just told Labour it has been found wanting, for the first time in its history.

As a party, we should be completely ashamed.

Imagine if Labour had, say, lost Haringey, due to the voters in Afro-Caribbean-dominated wards in Tottenham deserting Labour for perceived racism. If you had said that to anyone even three years ago, you would be met with stunned silence, despite early signs that the party’s attitude to anti-Semitism, a special kind of racism, was far too tolerant.

But in fact, that is precisely what happened this week to an Asian Muslim politician, when Sajid David was branded a “coconut” and an “Uncle Tom” by Corbyn supporters over his appointment at the Home Office.

In short, when you start to tolerate one kind of racism, it is a short step to tolerating others. This kind of behaviour was really only a matter of time.

To conclude: we can act in two ways on anti-Semitism.

We can continue to pretend that we are taking action. Or we can actually take action. The second is the only way to save the party. But it is difficult to see how it can happen with Jeremy Corbyn still leader and Jennie Formby as General Secretary.

To be fair, the party had at least kicked out Marc Wadsworth the week before – the man who barracked a Jewish MP at the Chakrabarti Report launch and then joked about it with Jeremy Corbyn – but when the election came around, Corbyn did not even meet candidates or the public in Barnet.

No, he met with a small group of activists – we can probably conclude they were hard-core Corbynites, because anyone else in Barnet not closely vetted might well have heckled him under the circumstances – and went home. Somewhat inconveniently, one of that crowd was then expelled from the party only hours later. Oops.

It was not the only unfortunate event for Corbyn around anti-Semitism. The day before the election, a leading light in Jewish Voice for Labour – if you remember, a hard-left grouping recently instigated by Corbyn to provide a counterbalance to the Jewish Labour Movement and the Board of Deputies, neither great fans of the Dear Leader – went on a mad rampage, alleging “Zionists” to blame for Holocaust deaths and that Israel was trying to tweet anti-Semitism under “false flag” accounts.

These things make very little noise up and down the country. But they make a lot of noise in Golders Green and Edgware.

These things do not exactly point to taking the situation seriously. They smack of lip-service. Of warm words.

And these things will one day do for Corbyn, if they do not do for the party itself.

When they come to write the history of this time, the fate of the Labour Party will not, like the Battle of Waterloo or quite possibly the fate of the Tories, have been decided on the playing fields of Eton.

But, if we do not act swiftly and decisively, it might yet be recorded that it was decided on the leafy streets of Barnet.

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

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25 Responses to “The shame of Barnet: losing a council because the voters think you’re racist”

  1. buttley says:

    Rob when was the last time Labour had control of Barnet Council? Answer: Never

    In 2014 Labour took 103,429 votes

    In 2018 Labour took 126,508 votes

    That is an increase in votes.

  2. nhsgp says:

    Sorry you don’t get it.

    Labour lost because voters THINK Labour is racist.

    Why blame the voters for getting it wrong?

    Labour lost because voters KNOW Labour is racist is a more accurate statement.

  3. buttley says:

    Local elections May 98.

    The high watermark of New Labour popularity.

    We only managed to poll 92,954 votes.

  4. John P Reid says:

    Buttley how many people lived in barnet 20 plus years ago, I’d take a bet it was 25% lower

  5. Vern says:

    Corbyn has to take the blame in that he and his immediate cabal have seemingly bought out the very worst behaviours in people. Some of the comments you see are so far removed from the Labour Party it is truly shameful. Racism, anti-Semitism, anti-aspiration, anti-wealth and the treatment of women within the party are common place where once they were not.
    But by bringing in the hard left Momentum with their hostile rhetoric, promoted by Corbyn, McDonell and numpties like Owen Jones the party should be less attractive to decent folk. It really is a case of a few bad apples but they have the loudest and angrier voices and have somehow managed to brainwash some decent people. Sad times for the Labour Party and shameful times for British politics.

  6. Hugh Thomson says:

    And by way of some additional data –

    In the 2014 local elections the Tories got 108,774 votes in Barnet.

    In the 2018 local elections the Tories got 146,198 votes in Barnet.

    So this is a Labour triumph?

  7. @Buttley

    Better than the vote share at the high water mark of New Labour popularity?

    Labour vote at 1995 local elections under Blair:
    Lab 47% Con 25%

    Labour vote at 2018 local elections under Corbyn:
    Lab 35% Con 35%

  8. steve says:

    Well said, Rob.

    It is truly shocking that, after so many years, Labour has lost Barnet council.

    I say we should start a campaign to bring back Jim Murphy – a politician who really does know how to win elections.

    Let’s go for it, Rob. With your straight-talking and a vision undistorted by swivel-eyed ideology we’re sure to succeed!

  9. John P Reid says:

    Some parts of inner London are remain areas, and the last council elections four years ago werr on the same down as EU elections,so I would be surprised if the few Ukip votes in inner London in 2014 went to labour ,so if the Tory vote has gone up in parts of inner London it may have come from Ukip,

    The fear of Tories winning with momentum my hwve caused a few people not happy with the Tories to hold their nose and vote Tory anyway,

  10. buttley says:

    In 1998 Barnet’s Electorate was 225,886

    In 2014 Barnet’s Electorate was 237,010

    A 4.92% increase in voters.


    George, don’t be such a retarded little troll, there were no elections in Barnet in 95.

    2nd column Tories – seats won / vote share

    3rd column Labour – seats won / vote share

    4th column Lib Dems – seats won / vote share

    5th column overall turnout

    1994 29 (36.7%) 25 (40.1%) 6 (19.4%) 45.4%
    1998 28 (38.5%) 26 (40%) 6 (16.3%) 35.9%
    2002 33 (39.9%) 24 (33.7%) 6 (16.7%) 34.0%
    2006 37 (42.2%) 20 (26.2%) 6 (19.1%) 41.7%
    2010 39 (41.8%) 21 (30.1%) 3 (19.1%) 63.2%
    2014 32 (38.6%) 30 (36.7%) 1 (7.2%) 40.5%
    2018 38 (47.0%) 25 (40.6%) 1 (8.8%)


    Rob, as usual, based his whole bullshit article on a false premise.

    That is the main point in all of this.

    Labours best share of the vote in Barnet in 24 years.

    23,079 people in Barnet were more motivated to vote for Labour under Corbyn, than Milliband.


    page 62 for the data

  11. Tony says:

    “Those who called anti Semitism a smear cost Labour badly last night. A Jewish member for more than 60 years told me on the doorstep he couldn’t vote Labour in Barnet yesterday”

    — John Mann (@JohnMannMP) May 4, 2018

    Why should we believe what John Mann says?:

  12. @buttley said:
    “Local elections May 98. The high watermark of New Labour popularity. We only managed to poll 92,954 votes.”

    I replied:
    “Better than the vote share at the high water mark of New Labour popularity?
    Labour vote at 1995 local elections under Blair: Lab 47% Con 25%
    Labour vote at 2018 local elections under Corbyn: Lab 35% Con 35%”

    @buttley’s charming response:
    George, don’t be such a retarded little troll, there were no elections in Barnet in 95.

    My response:
    The local elections in May 98 were never going to be the high water mark of New Labour, because parties in government always do worse in local elections. Tony Blair never led the Labour party into local elections in Barnet while he was in opposition.

    Unless, of course, John Smith counts as New Labour, in which case:

    Labour vote at 1994 local elections under John Smith: Lab 40% Con 28%
    (1994 in Barnet under John Smith: Labour share of the vote, 40.1% Tory 36.7)

    Labour vote at 2018 local elections under Corbyn: Lab 35% Con 35%”
    (2018 in Barnet under Corbyn: Labour share of the vote, 40.0% Tory 47.0)

  13. Vern says:

    Tony, the Morning Star? Are you holding this up as a piece of credible journalism…..

  14. Rob Marchant says:

    @buttley: What hair-splitting. Point is, the momentum was with Labour, Tories had dropped to NOC and we were within a whisker of winning it. Thanks to our alienation of the Jewish vote, we lost something we could have won. Is that clear enough for you?

    You are hanging your entire argument on an interpretation of the word “losing”, instead of accepting that the Labour Party is now thought to be riddled with racism and that it has destroyed our vote in the Jewish community. But if you are happy to dismiss that unprecedented event by hair-splitting on the definition of “losing”, so be it.

    Well done. You’re part of the problem.

  15. Simon Hinds says:

    Ahead of the 2015 general election, 18 per cent of the community pledged support for Labour under Ed Miliband’s leadership. Asked this week, 14 per cent of British Jews said they had gone ahead and voted for the party two years ago, with the Tories receiving 67 per cent of the community’s votes.

  16. steve says:

    ” we lost something we could have won”

    Spot on, Rob. I know exactly how you feel.

    I’m feeling particularly naffed-off because I lost the £millions I could have won on the lottery the other week.

  17. Tafia says:

    The latest wave of national polls is not happy reading for Labour. Not one of them shows a Labour lead and all of them show a fall. For an opposition party, during a mid-term, against a deeply fractured government, that is a disaster.

    C43 L39 Opinium
    C43 L38 YouGov
    C43 L40 ICM
    C39 L37 BMG
    C41 L40 Survation.

    I still firmly believe we are leaving without a deal, that if the Reform Bill gets messed around when it comes back to Commons it will simply be withdrawn, negating all the amend,ments on the spot and I reckon when the talks end in October we will just walk away, ignore the EU, and at some stage over the following months the EU will offer some sort of arrangenment regarding the Republic of Ireland (both Brussels and Dublin know that a hard border would cause an economic crash in Dublin to rival 2008 and it has probably come as a shock to them that the New IRA is not only against the GFA, but has also gone back to it’s origins and regards the Dublin government as ‘collaborationist’ and wish not only for a united Ireland, but including the overthrow of the government in the South and its replacement by a marxist revolutionary one). The statement the other day by the DUP that if it takes a hard border to get out of the EU then so be it will have rattled both Brussels and Dublin and encouraged the ERG, who now apparently have exceeded the required number of letters to force a leadership election on May by a significant margin if push comes to shove.

  18. daodao says:

    Why all this focus on Barnet? Both Labour & Tory results in the local elections were patchy, but overall there was a net Labour set gain, and the results should be compared to the relatively high watermark of 2014. The problem is the perception, because they over-hyped their prospects. Labour is now the largest single party on my local council, with the Tories losing 5 seats and control of the council.

  19. Vern says:

    Tony, you are trying to defend and find a justification and excuse for racism and hate.The Morning Star was attempring to do the same. That unfortunately is the bigger part of the party’s problems.
    Rags like The Morning Star are full of fantasist’s conspiracy theories and lean on people’s emotions. Some people swallow their shit whole, others use their savvy.

  20. Anna says:

    Labour lost overall control of Hackney council in1998 as the voters thought labour were anti white racists

  21. Tafia says:

    Why all this focus on Barnet? Both Labour & Tory results in the local elections were patchy, but overall there was a net Labour set gain

    There was still a 1% swing to the tories – higher in the areas Labour needs to take to win an election such as the English east Midlands. And we now know that not only is what should be Labour territory – the lower half of C1, C2, D, E now more likely to vote Tory than Labour, but young voters now prefer May to Corbyn.

  22. Tony says:

    Vern: I am doing no such thing!

    I am pointing out that the dead bird story actually happened 6 years ago and thus has nothing to do with contemporary issues at all. Why do you not face facts?

    The story appeared 6 years ago in the Worksop Guardian, the Independent and the BBC. Why do you ignore this?

  23. Tafia says:

    Anna – “Labour lost overall control of Hackney council in1998 as the voters thought labour were anti white racists”

    They are. They are also sexist and anti-semite.

  24. Vern says:

    Tony – the facts are simple – anti-semitic behaviour is a problem for the party. Hate of those who have a different opinion to Corbyn is a problem for the party. And that same hate and anti semitism sees people bury their head in the sand or put their fingers in their ears because they are too ashamed to admit they were wrong or too foolish to know they were being hoodwinked.

    In simple terms Corbyn has mugged you off.

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