Naz Shah’s suspension is too little, too late
I have defended Jeremy Corbyn probably more than I should have done. I was a supporter of his as soon as he went on the ballot, because I agreed with his policies broadly and wanted a decisive shift leftwards within the Labour party. The moment had to be seized; Corbyn was proposing that we actually unapologetically use the state to solve the myriad market failures and betrayals of social justice that have been the outcome of the current anti-state Thatcher/Major/Blair/Cameron political settlement. Compared to the lukewarm leftism of Burnham and Cooper and the brazen centrism of Kendall, first choice on the ballot paper was never going to be difficult.
I had heard of the rumours of Corbyn sharing platforms with anti-semites but believed then, as I believe now, that this does not mark any actual anti-semitism on Corbyn’s part. It is a reflection of the fact that sometimes it is not always possible to vet the backgrounds and prior statements of everyone that you have common cause with or are on the same side of an issue as; it’s virtually impossible to do so if you’ve just hopped off a train and turned up at a protest march to give a speech against the Iraq war or in support of Palestine, while a hack with access to Google and LexisNexis is going to be able to look up basically any speech anyone present has ever given within a few minutes of it starting. Given that the areas Corbyn has been most prominent in (activism against war in the Middle East and in favour of Palestine) are filled with people who have at the very least antipathy to the state of Israel, it is not surprising that he has shared a stage with some people holding repellent views; however nothing suggests to me that he has knowingly done so (I’m happy to be proved wrong) and either way he cannot be held responsible for the views and beliefs of independent third parties. He has always consistently denied holding any kind of anti-Semitic views himself, and for what it’s worth, I believe him. Of all the things one can call Jeremy Corbyn, “committed racist” is not one of them. I have no doubt that his opposition to racism and anti-Semitism is genuine and heartfelt.
Today however has brought things for his leadership rather sharply into focus. The crudely Jew-bashing posts Naz Shah shat onto Facebook, regarding forcibly transporting Jews from Israel to a new continent amongst other repellent things, clearly transcended the already rather blurred line between a dislike of the state of Israel and disdain for the influence it has and gone over to distrust and dislike of Jews as a group. That is, clearly, anti-Semitism. It should not have a place within the Labour party. While Guido Fawkes is a massive cunt of the highest order, I was and am glad that he had exposed this so we could cut the anti-Semitic cancer out of the Labour party. It was a moment for Corbyn to stamp some authority and show that he meant business about a scandal that had been bubbling under for months now; to show he was serious, along with John McDonnell, about purging the party of any racist or anti-Semitic individuals from the top down. She had proven herself unfit to be a Labour member, let alone an MP, and should not have remained one.
Corbyn instead put out a statement right before Prime Minister’s Questions that she had apologised, and this was good enough, and that she would retain the whip. This allowed David Cameron to, and I really hate to say this, unequivocally claim the moral high ground over us, and rightly so. A couple of hours after that, there was a sudden change of course and Naz Shah was suspended as a member and an MP — a move that should ideally have been made at 9 o’clock this morning, rather than a few hours after the Prime Minister had very thoroughly caught us with our trousers down on the matter.
The questions raised by this brazen political idiocy are endless. Why then? Why not hours before? Why not well before PMQs? Why not last night when the posts had surfaced? Was the action that needed to be taken not so thunderingly obvious a child could have thought of it? Who the fuck dropped the ball here?
I’m sorry to say this, but with the above in mind, my patience for Corbyn has run out, and I can’t defend him any more — today has been indefensible. I can’t blame him for selecting Naz Shah as a candidate (she was part of the 2015 intake under Miliband) but I can blame him for not dropping her like a hot rock at the first sign of this, for so poorly managing what should have been an altogether straightforward decision for the good of the party and standing behind someone who had rendered themselves completely indefensible. I have given him plenty of time to improve at his job, to receive the media coaching he so desperately needed and to gain a bit more political nous, and I was quite positive that we were actually getting somewhere with it at long last recently, but clearly none of it has actually sunk in because he has allowed one lone stupid individual to taint the party in a way that may well damage it beyond repair — and then stood behind that individual for reasons known only to him. I have argued, consistently, in favour of his leadership and the idea that he has not been given a fair crack of the whip, but today has been a series of grotesque unforced errors where the buck unavoidably stops with him. Naz Shah is not, to Corbyn, an independent third party like some moron at a rally; she is a subordinate, effectively an employee, and should have been disciplined as such. There should have been no tolerance for such repulsive behaviour and he should have booted her at the first whiff of it. That he did not do so evidences that his judgment is compromised and his leadership in tatters; he did the right thing, eventually, but he shouldn’t have done the most grossly wrong thing imaginable first. He has proven himself unfit for his position, at long last, and should resign. Now.
What’s more, a simple truth needs to be understood clearly by anyone who is considering defending Naz Shah and taking her bullshit apology at face value; anti-Semitism is a special evil. Jews have been unduly, unrelentingly and disgustingly persecuted for centuries, culminating in their attempted extermination in a cold, industrial and inhuman manner. No other ethnic group or religion can claim to have been persecuted in such a calculating way; no matter how you may feel about Israel or Palestine, to compare the undeniably brutal things Israel has done to the systematic, mechanical, deliberate and tightly planned attempted demolition of an entire race of people that was the Holocaust, as many apparently are wont to do, is both highly inaccurate and grossly offensive. To then say they should be forcibly transported, or even just endorse that idea, is grotesque. As a group of people, they have suffered more than enough. If Shah doesn’t or didn’t understand this obvious point, she is deeply ignorant; if she does then she is scum. Either way, it is indefensible that she be in a position of any authority or that she should be in the Labour party.
For my part, my mind keeps turning back to the £5 Direct Debit going out on the 21st of each month, and whether I particularly want to be in public wearing a red rosette any time soon. A lot of that depends on whether Mr Corbyn does the decent thing and falls on his sword before the decent, good people that make up 99% of his membership base get tainted by the foul stench of racism. All I know is that the Cancel button on my Internet banking has never seemed so alluring, and that I may yet finally know what it feels like to quit the same political party twice in six months.