‘Every day this summer marked another development in the moral death of the Labour Party’
Every day this summer marked another development in the moral death of the Labour Party. Perhaps lowest was the squabble over whether Jeremy Corbyn had lain a wreath at the grave of the perpetrators of the Munich Olympics massacre. Suddenly Corbyn’s supporters had to scramble to pretend they were experts on the precise grave arrangements in Tunis and contest whether being photographed holding a wreath equals being involved in any wreath-laying. The Labour press office was happy to deflect attention from this serious charge by saying “But Israel . . .”. And Corbyn’s few die-hard supporters in the mainstream press fought hard to get their man off. This was no easy task.
A great giveaway for false sentiment is the use of false language. One example during this depressing episode was provided by (who else?) Owen Jones in the Guardian (where else?). Explaining that Corbyn’s wreath-laying was no big deal and in any case lots of people have laid wreaths, Jones clearly felt a need to balance his case by making a complementary condemnation of anti-Semitism. “And here’s where moral clarity is needed,” he began promisingly. “Anti-Semitism exists, it is a menace, and frightens Jews traumatised by the all too recent Holocaust.”
“All too recent.” It’s been a while since I’ve come across a line so false that it is painful to read.
The decision to go for “Islamophobia” in the Conservative Party as the counter-attack for the endless string of anti-Semitism embarrassments in Labour is revealing in itself. Tactically speaking, if Labour is being accused of anti-Semitism the obvious thing to do would be to say, “Well, why doesn’t the Conservative Party get its own house in order before accusing us of anti-Semitism?” It is the obvious move to make, and one which could (if Labour were remotely bothered about tackling anti-Semitism) do some good. Questions could obviously be raised about Sayeeda Warsi, who resigned from the cabinet over the British government’s support for Israel and has spent recent years arguing that British dual-nationals who are in the IDF should be treated like British nationals who join IS. I can also think of at least one Conservative close to the Prime Minister who has very fanatical and bigoted attitudes against the Jewish state, and who is currently in a position of greater importance than Corbyn and Co. have ever reached.
But the Labour Left clearly aren’t remotely interested in dealing with anti-Semitism in their own party or any other. They are interested in covering over their own shame and pressing a political advantage on behalf of their preferred interest groups.
I have spent a fair amount of time in recent weeks getting back on the road and speaking with live audiences. In Dublin and London I appeared with Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson. Then it was all around Australia and New Zealand with Dr Cornel West. One thing that live events now always throw up is the question of what audiences already know. It is a troubling and nearly unsolvable question for anyone appearing in public. In the recent past you could make assumptions on levels of knowledge or areas of interest. Today you have to find a way to negotiate between sections of an audience who have just shown up, and another section that has followed everything the speakers have ever said or written, right up to that day. The internet, especially YouTube, is an amazing blessing, but it presents conundrums to public speakers which are almost insoluble.
Very occasionally a story comes along that is so suggestive that it almost seems to be communicating at a different level. The New York Times, among other papers, recently ran a front-page story on an American couple who gave up their desk jobs to go cycling around the world. Jay Austin and Lauren Geoghegan were both 29. They updated a blog as they travelled. “You read the papers and you’re led to believe that the world is a big, scary place,” Austin wrote. “People, the narrative goes, are not to be trusted. People are bad. People are evil. I don’t buy it. Evil is a make-believe concept we’ve invented to deal with the complexities of fellow humans holding values and beliefs and perspectives different than our own.”
In July the couple were cycling along a road in Tajikistan. A car passed them, did a U-turn and then sped into them and two other cyclists (one Dutch, one Swiss). The five men in the car got out and stabbed the cyclists to death. Days later the perpetrators released a video showing themselves in front of the flag of IS and promising to kill “disbelievers”. The NYT’s coverage attempted to wrestle some hope and positivity from this story. It seemed to be reaching for a moral conclusion something like this: “At least they weren’t bigoted or pessimistic when they were killed.” As the late Mr Austin put it, “I don’t buy it.”