Marc Wadsworth and “perceived” anti-Semitism

The expulsion of Labour Party member Marc Wadsworth relates to the press conference in June 2016 announcing the results of the Chakrabarti report on anti-Semitism. As with all events it’s best to place them in their historical context. The press conference took place days after members of the Shadow Cabinet had resigned in an attempt to force Corbyn out. A resolution of no confidence in him was passed at a PLP meeting by 172 votes to 40, with four abstentions. The tactics of his opponents were designed to engineer a new leadership election without Corbyn being a candidate. To force an election they only needed to 51 signatories to a letter calling for them, but they wanted to prevent Corbyn from standing because they feared that those pesky members would deliver another vote in his favour, as indeed would subsequently happen. The resignations were designed to make it impossible for Corbyn to find enough MPs willing to join his Front Bench team, thus making his position untenable.

What precipitated the coup attempt was the Referendum result. The vote had taken place on Thursday June 23rd. By the weekend Shadow Cabinet member Hilary Benn was phoning round fellow members asking them to join him in resigning. The news was quickly all over the media. Faced with these efforts by members of his Shadow Cabinet to force him out Corbyn sacked Benn. He could hardly have let a key member of the Shadow Cabinet organise to get rid of him without responding. Owen Smith was suitably outraged by the sacking of a Shadow Cabinet member who was only…organising to force the Leader out. Altogether there were 44 resignations of Shadow Cabinet members and Private Parliamentary Secretaries. Very kindly the Telegraph reproduced some of their resignation letters . Most of the resigners said they did so with “great sadness” or “with a heavy heart”. Jeremy was a good egg, he just couldn’t Lead the Party, couldn’t unite it. Jack Dromey, never a man for under-statement, predicted “catastrophic defeat from which Labour might never recover.” “We cannot fight back and win with you as Leader,” he said. This was reinforced by some of the older Blairites like Blunkett who said “With this Leader we will be annihilated in the general election.” Famous last words. Read on below or download a PDF here wadsworth

 

Luciana Berger came to praise Caesar and to bury him.

You have served with great principle and have shown me nothing but kindness and courtesy since appointing me…I have listened hard to the arguments on both sides and thought deeply. My conviction is that we need a Labour Leader who can unite our Party, both in Parliament and in the country. I have always served the Labour Party and our Leader with loyalty. Having listened closely to Party members, loyalty to the Party must come first.”

Just one of the resigners held out the possibility of Corbyn standing in another leadership election. John Healey said Corbyn should stand in another election to gain a new mandate, if he wanted to remain as Leader.

Ruth Smeeth resigned as a PPS though the Telegraph had no resignation letter for her.

Ed Miliband lent his support, insisting that Corbyn’s position was “untenable”. The Telegraph informed us that Angela Eagle was expected to launch her leadership bid. How could they possibly know? The vultures were circling, though the corpse refused to lie down.

This was the context in which the Chakrabarti press conference convened. What transpired is reported by David Rosenberg who would be a witness in support of Wadsworth. Both Chakrabarti and Corbyn spoke and then she invited the press to ask questions. Not one of them asked about the report itself, or anti-Semitism. Instead they pressed Corbyn on Momentum and associated issues.

In this context Wadsworth made a remark about the Daily Telegraph journalist who had passed a press release to Ruth Smeeth. “We can see who’s working hand in hand.” David Rosenberg describes this as “an unremarkable” comment after a year in which a large section of the PLP and Shadow Cabinet members had been briefing against Corbyn and even writing articles attacking him in the right wing press. Smeeth walked out to be followed by the Telegraph journalist. At the end of the press conference Rabbi Abraham Pinter asked to speak. He admonished the press “for their disgraceful lack of interest in anti-Semitism and the Report”.

A video of the incident has been widely circulated and you can see that Smeeth did not “walk out in tears” as the Telegraph reported. The idea that she would be reduced to tears by the accusation of collaborating with the Telegraph is risible. At any rate she wasted no time in demanding that Coyrby resign as Leader for his failure to protect her against the “anti-Semitism” displayed by Wadsworth. She was apparently the victim of “traditional anti-Semitic slurs” and “vile conspiracy theories about about the Jewish people”. She thundered that the Labour Party was “no longer safe for Jews” under Corbyn’s leadership. She demanded he resign “immediately and make way for someone with the backbone to confront racism and anti-Semitism in our party and the country.”

You might think that Marc Wadsworth’s intervention at this event was injudicious, ill-timed, giving Corbyn’s opponents an opportunity, but there was nothing anti-Semitic in his comments. Indeed, many of the people involved in the coup attempt had been collaborating with the right wing press, Telegraph included, some of them right from the beginning of Corbyn’s tenure. Ruth Smeeth’s hyperbole was nothing more than part of the on-going campaign to get rid of Corbyn.

The expulsion of Marc Wadsworth, a child of the Windrush generation, for the catch-all crime of “bringing the Party into disrepute”, at the very time when the scandal of the treatment of British citizens by the “hostile environment” was at its height is ironic. The much maligned Corbyn, McDonnell and Abbott, the target of so much bile, both inside and outside the Labour Party, who were amongst the few to vote against the Immigration Act in 2014. All of today’s brave opponents of racism who have collaborated with the Tory media against Corbyn and others, sat on their hands then (see Addendum). New Labour allowed them to create such an environment because they were frightened of being denounced as “soft on illegal immigrants”.

They showed the same spinelessness in relation to the government’s welfare reforms from which so many people would suffer. Indeed you can say that the DWP operates a “hostile environment” against claimants. The brave boys and girls of New Labour, 184 of them abstained, whilst 48 Labour MPs voted against. This was one of the decisive factors in Corbyn’s first election victory. Many Labour members and supporters were outraged that Labour did not vote against the “reforms”.

Expulsion for “perceived” anti-Semitism?

A Grassroots Black Left group statement reported that

Such is Labour’s confusion over what the Party has adopted as its definition of anti-Semitism, the NCC had to call an adjournment during the hearing to seek legal advice on the matter. The panel then ruled the case against Wadsworth could be proven based solely on the perception by some people that what he said at the launch of the Chakrabarthi Report on June 30th 2016 was anti-Semitism.”

If this is the case then it sets a dangerous precedent and would provide the opportunity for people to use such a judgement as a means of attacking people with whom they simply have political disagreements, notably on Israel. Action taken against individuals on the basis of complaints raised cannot be based on perceptions since this would open the way for malicious complaints.

The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee in its Tenth Report of Session 2016-17 said that the perceptions of Jewish people, as alleged victim/s, should be the starting point of an investigation.

However, for an incident to be found to be anti-Semitic, or for a perpetrator to be prosecuted for a criminal offence that was motivated or aggravated by anti-Semitism, requires more than just the victim’s perception that it was anti-Semitic. It also requires evidence, and it requires that someone other than the victim makes an objective interpretation of that evidence. ”

Marc Wadsworth’s expulsion is certainly not based on “an objective interpretation” of the evidence. Ruth Smeeth’s assertions about his comments and his motivation were simply hyperbole in the midst of a factional effort by sections of the PLP to drive Corbyn out from the leadership, just days after the mass resignations from the Shadow Cabinet. Smeeth’s comments were part of that campaign to unseat him.

Genuine expressions of anti-Semitism should be dealt with (See Anti-Semitism: real and counterfeit1). But the atmosphere being created is one where people will hesitate about expressing their views for fear of being disciplined on the basis of “perceptions”.

Martin Wicks

May 2nd 2018

Addendum:

The 2013-14 Immigration Bill

In the House of Commons recently we have seen Yvette Cooper tackling the current Home Secretary on the Windrush events. This great opponent of racism was one of those Labour MPs who abstained on the 2014 Immigration Bill. You can read some of her comments at the time in a House of Lords Library Note (HL Bill 84 of 2013-14) when she was the Shadow Home Secretary.

She agreed that “stronger controls” were needed to “control immigration, deal with its impact and tackle illegal immigration”. She suggested that some of the measures in the Bill were “sensible” including charging more immigrants to use the NHS…” She questioned how the system requiring landlords to check immigrant status would work. She said this (which should certainly come back to bite her):

On some figures, nearly one in five usual residents, including British citizens, do not have passports. What will they have to do to rent a flat?”

She also raised “serious concerns” about the removal of appeal rights for most immigrants, suggesting that many immigration decisions were overturned.

She concluded that the Labour Party would “not oppose the Bill as we believe it should go to Committee so we can amend and reform it, use the opportunity to introduce better and fairer controls to deal with the Government’s failures, and make immigration work for all.”

These comments were made during the second reading of the bill. What would Labour do if they did not achieve the “reforms” they wanted? Labour tabled a number of amendments including

  • A proposal to prevent the provisions on the right of appeal coming into force until a review of immigration decision making had been completed by The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration;

  • Delaying the introduction of the duty on landlords until the scheme had been trialled in five areas.

These amendments were voted down.

There were key government amendments introduced. For instance the Home Secretary tabled a new clause which would enable the deprivation of citizenship where a person’s conduct had been determined by the Home Secretary to have been seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK, even if doing so would make the person stateless. It would apply to those who citizenship had been acquired by naturalisation.

In response to a question from Mark Lazarowisc (Labour MP for Edinburgh North & Leith) the Home Secretary confirmed that “people need not have been convicted of an offence to be deprived of citizenship. One Jeremy Corbyn asked May whether a person made stateless within the UK would become destitute because they would not be eligible for access to any benefits or other aspects of society. “We would have to look at the situation”, she replied. She was asked what would happen to a child under 18 whose parent, and sole carer, was deprived of British citizenship outside of the UK. “That would be considered on a case by case basis.”

When it came to the Third Reading, Yvette Cooper criticised the government for the time available for the Bill’s report stage, and for lack of debate on several aspects of the Bill’s provisions. The debate was only given four hours. She said this:

Even though Parliament has hardly any business, she kept the Bill away from the House and has tried to rush it through in four hours today. We have just had four hours to debate a series of important amendments. On our proposals to tackle the impact of immigration on jobs and growth, and to take stronger action on the minimum wage and agencies that exploit immigration, there has been no debate today. On the proposals of Tory Back Benchers on Bulgaria and Romania, there has been no debate today. A series of amendments has been tabled by Members from all parts of the House, but none of them has been debated today.”

Cooper concluded her remarks by saying

The Bill will not sort out Britain’s immigration problems. There are some sensible measures in it, but there is an awful lot missing”.

Despite all these criticism, despite the fact that she herself had pointed out the potential impact on citizens without passports, Labour abstained. The Bill passed its third reading by 295 votes to 16. Amongst the 16 there were these Labour MPs: Dianne Abbott, Mark Lazarowicz, Fiona McTaggart, John McDonnell, Dennis Skinner. Corbyn was a Teller for the Noes.

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