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How our CLP was misrepresented by Panorama on anti-semitism

AUDREY WHITE was one of those interviewed by Ben Westerman for his ‘investigation into Riverside’ which featured in the recent BBC Panorama programme on anti-semitism in Labour and she says that her CLP has been unfairly discredited — and was denied a right of reply

IN Liverpool Riverside we learnt earlier than others about the duplicitous role played by some Labour officials in our own party.

From our own experiences, the hopes that party officials, in particular some of those described as “whistleblowers” in the recent BBC Panorama documentary about anti-semitism in the Labour Party, were independent, impartial or even fair were dashed within a year of our becoming members.

The Panorama programme revealed what many of us in Liverpool had already been exposed to, that sadly many of the most vocal proponents of Labour’s “anti-semitism problem” are politically motivated opponents of Jeremy Corbyn and his movement — with no real belief in fair process or accuracy.

This article describes our experience as local Labour activists in the Liverpool Riverside constituency — but understanding the recent ideological shifts within our party is an essential context.

The ideas of socialism and the anti-war position of new (or returning) party members has been an anathema to many of those in the Labour Party who for years supported and enabled the disastrous Tony Blair policies of PFI, privatisation, deregulation and the drive for constant war.

The utter failure of these policies and the inability of New Labour to even oppose austerity in the face of tax cuts for the rich has left the parliamentary wing of the Labour Party and the machinery of the party isolated and bereft of ideas.

When you add in the growing sympathy and support for Palestinian rights within the Labour Party (and across the world), it isn’t difficult to understand why attacks on the leader and new members take the form they do.  

In Liverpool Riverside only months after many of us joined (or rejoined) the party following the election of Corbyn as leader, these unsubstantiated attacks began.

A local councillor — also the election agent of our local MP Louise Ellman — tweeted: “thought I would never hear the anti-semitism views [sic] I heard from two members at a Labour Party meeting on Friday.” From this tweet onwards the attacks on new and left-wing party members in Liverpool has rarely ceased.

The idea that Labour activists in Liverpool (many of whom are ardent life-long anti-racist campaigners) would tolerate any kind of anti-semitic behaviour in party meetings is an insult and smear to our constituency — something that the national media seems all too willing to accept unchallenged. We are a city that knows too well about the evils of discrimination (as well as misrepresentation in the press) — fighting prejudice (in all its forms) is at the heart of our activism.

Despite calls to the regional office for this false claim to be investigated, we were ignored, as were other numerous complaints regarding the way the constituency was being run. Likewise we were rebuffed by the department of the then general secretary Iain McNicol and the old guard of the constituency continued to behave with impunity against new members.

In an effort to undermine Corbyn’s first party conference held in Liverpool in 2016, an anonymously authored dossier smearing local Liverpool activists and Labour members was published by the libertarian right-wing Guido Fawkes website. This “dodgy dossier,” which contained lies and libel against party members, was promoted (against Labour Party rules) by our local MP and her election agent, across social media and both national and local TV, radio and newspapers — abusing  local party members and causing reputational damage to local Corbyn supporters. Our own MP even called for the suspension of her own constituency on the basis of this anonymously authored document.

We lodged numerous complaints over this period including a 30-page forensic rebuttal of the “dossier” signed by 13 local party members and an eight-page document regarding the running of the CLP signed by 22 members.

The response from McNicol was to ignore our rebuttal, along with our other complaints and hold an “investigation” into the constituency. This meant that McNicol bypassed the requirement to respond to specific complaints from Corbyn-supporting party members. This of course included complaints made against the MP and her election agent for promoting the libellous document that falsely accused and abused fellow party members in the media.
The investigating officer appointed by McNicol was Ben Westerman, who features prominently in the BBC Panorama documentary.

Mr Westerman reveals in the documentary that he believed anti-semitism was a problem in Riverside, even before he had interviewed party members in Liverpool as part of his investigation. He also states on Panorama that there were “lots of  complaints, these all featured anti-semitism.”

Opposition to Louise Ellman MP for Liverpool Riverside is, despite what the press would have you think, not defined by her Jewishness, but her record

This is a provable lie — we have documentation of scores of complaints (around 70) submitted to the party during this period, none of which allege anti-semitism as an issue. Many of these were discussed at length during the interviews Westerman conducted with local party members as part of his “investigation,” and which unfortunately for Westerman were recorded in full.

Despite written promises that the complaints of Corbyn supporters would be addressed, they have never been addressed to this day.

Astonishingly, Westerman also stated in the documentary that a Liverpool Riverside interviewee asked him “where are you from? Are you from Israel?” Although presented as one of the most sinister revelations of the film, this never happened. Not one of the six individuals interviewed by Westerman asked this question, nor suspected at the time that he might be Jewish. The recording reveals that Westerman is misrepresenting an innocent incident where a party member (herself Jewish) asks him what branch (of the Labour Party) he is a member of, a question Westerman refuses to answer.

The outcome of this report was that Riverside CLP was suspended and put into “special measures.” No individuals were disciplined as part of this investigation and disgracefully neither the executive of the constituency, local party members nor those interviewed through the investigation have been allowed a copy of the report.

Only our MP, Lee Harpin of the Jewish Chronicle (a reporter arrested in connection with phone-hacking at the News of the World) and Murdoch’s The Times newspaper boast of having this report.

Nobody would deny the existence of anti-semitism within the Labour Party — it is an issue within society at large. However, statistically there is less anti-semitism in the Labour Party under Corbyn’s leadership than before, anti-semitic beliefs are less prevalent among Labour members than the general public (incidents of anti-semitism in the Labour Party stand at 0.06 per cent) and it is less prevalent within Labour than among Tory Party members.

Those who, despite the facts, cling to claims that Labour, and in particular Liverpool Riverside, is “institutionally anti-semitic” (or tolerates anti-semitism) need to know that the most respected and most loved member of our constituency was a wonderful Jewish man who fought literally till his last dying breath to save our local hospital against PFI (a policy which our MP supported).

He supported Palestinian rights and (like many of us) opposed our MP for her support of disastrous policies that have brought misery and hardship to ordinary people’s lives in this country, as well as death and destruction to the Middle East. This man’s name was Sam Semoff and we loved him.

It is worth saying that In Liverpool, we do not define people by their race or religion, but by their character. Opposition to Louise Ellman, MP for Liverpool Riverside, is, despite what the press would have you think, not defined by her Jewishness, but her record — particularly her failure to represent the urgent needs of her community by constantly undermining the fight for a Labour government; as well as her unwavering support for military intervention in the Middle East.

Not to disentangle these different facets is itself dangerous.

As anti-racists we find it uncomfortable to think that an issue as important as anti-semitism would be exaggerated and weaponised by officials within our own party for political reasons. It can feel bad-minded and paranoid — but unfortunately the experience of many party members in Liverpool Riverside leaves little room for interpretation.

The misrepresentation of the facts, the abuse of power and lack of fair process, is transparent for all to see.

The Labour movement in Britain has never been stronger. We are on the cusp of implementing a transformative agenda which would redistribute wealth, power and opportunity from the hands of the few to the many.

Whenever the left in Britain has a real stake in our democracy we are subject to the most malicious establishment attacks and smears — the striking miners were branded as “violent,” the Liverpool Labour council of the 1980s was made up of “thugs” and Momentum activists are “Trotskyist bullies.”

I would like to think we live in more enlightened times, but hatred of the socialist agenda within Britain has never ceased. The right wing (including that within the Labour Party ) have lost the argument over austerity, privatisation, deregulation and war.

Bereft of ideas and unable to offer a vision to tackle the urgent problems of our times (from climate change to social care), they resort to unfounded smears (in which life-long anti-racists are deemed racists) and abuse of the party machinery to denounce political opponents.

We stand fast alongside our comrades of all faiths in opposing division and discrimination in all forms, to bring about a socialist Labour government and consign the pro-austerity, pro-privatisation and pro-war agenda to the dustbin of history.

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