A critical response to Richard Angell’s ‘8 steps Labour needs to take to tackle anti- Semitism in its ranks’

We have decided to come back from our break to address the recent events on anti-semitism. It goes without saying that LYON and its writers thinks that racism of any kind is abhorrent and wrong. In this article, Rachael Ward, a member of the London Young Labour Executive Committee, puts forward a critical review of Richard Angell’s ‘8 Steps Labour needs to tackle anti-semitism’. Rachael blogs at http://rachaelwrd.tumblr.com/. 

Over the last few weeks an open letter by Richard Angell, outlining steps to combat anti-Semitism, has been doing the rounds on social media, and has been signed by various organisations.

If it wasn’t already painfully apparent to Labour members, the suspension of Ken Livingston and Naz Shah following their deeply concerning anti-Semitic remarks, should make it patently clear that Labour has a serious problem with anti-Semitism. Tackling this should be a priority for us all.

But the realisation that ‘something must be done’ should not mean we provide our uncritical support to any and all initiatives proposed in response. This would risk alienating Jewish Labour members on the left, who find the party signed up to an action plan, which unintentional or otherwise, they may perceive as factional and problematic.

Whilst I think it’s commendable that Angell has opened a discussion on practical steps to tackle anti- Semitism, I am concerned that a number of the steps are misguided. I fundamentally disagree with others.

Action on this issue is urgent, but it must be the right course of action. The specifics of the steps we take to deal with anti-Semitism matter in and of themselves, as much our commitment to ridding our party of anti-Semitism.

Below I’ve outlined three areas where I think we should be critical of the 8-step plan as it stands:

Step 3 ‘New capacity for the compliance unit’:

Angell calls for new resourcing of the compliance unit. This would dramatically redefine this body’s role in a way which I believe is unhelpful. Dealing with cases of racism is not currently within the remit of the compliance unit and I do not believe it should be. The introduction of a third party ombudsmen would probably be better placed to deal with such complaints, a proposal that Angell himself makes in Step 5.

Complaints of bigotry, particularly ones that may result in an expulsion, should follow thorough investigation, and it would not be appropriate for the compliance unit (which handles the political eligibility of Labour membership) to carry out such investigations, which fall far outside their remit and training.

In general, I think Angell’s letter does well to steer clear of obvious factionalism, but here I find it worrying that tackling anti-Semitism is being used as a rationale for the expansion of a unit that has made a number of high-profile and controversial political expulsions. Given that even Angell himself recommends a third-party outside of Labour handle cases of anti-Semitism, it is hard to understand why the compliance unit is even mentioned in the letter.

Step 4 ‘Time to clarify the rules – anti-Semitism must lead to a lifetime ban’

Angell calls for clarity over the rules regarding racism and anti-Semitism. Whilst this is a sensible suggestion, I do not believe the call for a ‘life-time ban’, which is mentioned in the signatory form (and which John McDonnell also previously called for) is the right approach.

As he rightly points out in Step 7, a ‘modern understanding of anti-Semitism’ is essential. As things stand there is not enough consensus within Labour about what constitutes anti-Semitism, and not enough sensitivity to the subtle distinction between how some expressions of anti-Zionism can act in effect as proxies for anti-Semitism. At the foremost of tackling anti-Semitism we need to educate people about what it is in its subtler forms. The Labour Party’s focus should be on educating people, rather than life-time bans.

Moreover, recent incidents within Young Labour and NUS have proved that there is no clear consensus about what constitutes anti-Semitism. Until we have greater agreement on this, the proposal will not work. We do not want to either restrict our definition of anti-Semitism to the most explicit and obvious forms, nor do we want to overstretch and condemn behaviours which are not problematic.

Step 8 ‘Join the Jewish Labour Movement’

I take issue with this concept of what solidarity means. Whilst the Jewish Labour Movement is free to choose its own membership criteria, and Jews, and non-Jews in Labour can freely choose whether or not to join, I do not believe that we should advocate affiliate membership as a form of solidarity with Jewish people.

The Jewish community is diverse and holds a wide range of views. We should recognise that there are many Jews, myself included, who do not feel comfortable joining the JLM. One common point of disagreement is its affiliation to the World Labour Zionist Movement but I am sure that Jewish members will have a range of views on this issue and others. This is obviously a deeply personal choice which we should show sensitivity towards.

Advocating for non-Jews to join the JLM may be well-intentioned, but I find it a problematic way of showing solidarity with the Jewish community. It shows a lack of understanding of the different opinions within this community, and is actively unhelpful to Jews who may feel excluded from that organisation. Solidarity with Jewish people must be shown by an openness to learn about modern anti-Semitism, a willingness to call it out, and raising awareness of it in its various forms.

On a final note, I want to reiterate how important it is that we can have open discussions around how to tackle anti-Semitism. I may find disagreement with Angell’s 8-step plan, but I respect its intentions. If we want to tackle anti-Semitism within our movement then it is essential that we create a safe space where a range of voices can consult and interrogate proposals to develop a plan of action that is inclusive and routed in the experiences and concerns of Jewish members themselves.

Rachael Ward
Rachael Ward

Taking a break

Two weeks today, the country will go to the polls in a series of elections to choose, among other things, the London Mayor, all MSPs in the Scottish Parliament and AMs and MLAs in the Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies as well as all police and crime commissioners, numerous city mayors and local councillors.

Because of this, LYON will not (and have not for the last month) be posting any more articles until after the election. We will be out campaigning for Labour victories.

We’ll return after the election and will be back publishing articles most days and helping young members to contribute to the wider debate within the party.

Look forward to seeing you all then

LYON

Brexit- A Labour Case for Leaving

In today’s article, Kayode Adeniran makes the Labour case for Brexit. Kayode was born in London but now lives in Essex. He graduated from the University of Sussex in 2014 and will be standing as a local council candidate for Labour within Essex in this May’s Local Government Elections. He currently works for the Charities Aid Foundation in London and in his spare time, is a keen reader of History, goes to church, and enjoys the gigs and culture London has to offer.

With only 8 Labour MPs currently backing Brexit, and much of the party membership seemingly backing the “IN” campaign, it seems the die has been cast. But has Labour resolved its mind too soon on the issue of Europe? It can be tempting to disregard the sort of people who most enthusiastically advocate leaving the EU (you don’t have to remind me, I am nervously well aware of the fact that me and Mr Farage seem to be buddies on this issue), you know, the UKIP/Conservative middle aged type who tends to have a nostalgic, isolationist, little Englander mentality, who is perhaps sulking that we no longer have an empire to rule, and wants Britain to be “Great” again. But while there may be some truth in that, it would be a mistake to let that caricature mask the sensible, progressive reasons for Brexit, which aren’t shrouded in the negative separatist language normally associated with right wing newspapers.

Democracy and sovereignty

One of those progressive reasons should be of concern to all, and which is above party politics – democracy, or put more simply, having the controlling say over matters that directly relate to you and me. Whilst much of the discussion will be about economics, and the scare stories we hear of an economic apocalypse by David Cameron need to be challenged, this shouldn’t be the primary consideration. And historically, this was something those within the Labour party understood, well into the 1980s. Tony Benn, who voted against us joining the then European Community in 1975, put it better than I ever could:

“It’s not for members of parliament to give away the powers that were lent to them because they don’t belong to members of parliament, they belong to the electorate…”

He then went on to describe the situation he could see developing, and which we pretty much find ourselves in now, “we live in a continent where increasingly power has gone to a group of people who are not elected, cannot be removed and don’t have to listen to us”.

While this argument has been hijacked by various figures for ends we wouldn’t agree with, the real point is this: real democratic power flows from the citizens, who can hold their representatives to account. Maybe part of the relaxation we within Labour (and the left) have towards the EU’s lack of democracy are its perceived left leaning values, and seemingly harmless and beneficial regulations it introduces to member states. But what if we started to realise that in many cases it perpetuates the austerity and illiberal values we actively campaign against at home?

The way the EU dealt with Greece was a wakeup call to everyone. The friendly inclusive European political project we were promised, which would guarantee social protection and international solidarity, turned and became an unaccountable force, imposing austerity and bringing pain on people who cannot hope to repay the huge loans that are recapitalising their banks. Or let’s consider the TTIP agreement, (which has worryingly been negotiated secretly) with the US. If implemented, it would allow companies to sue governments if their policies cause a loss of profits, allowing unelected transnational corporations to dictate the policies of democratically elected governments.

Think the NHS is currently threatened by this Tory government set on privatisation? That would become the least of your worries. Like the idea currently mooted to renationalise the railways in the future? This would be threatened too, already backed up by EU directives which make this difficult to enact. The issue of control isn’t simply a conservative obsession, but has far reaching implications for how we want to govern, whatever your political stance.

“Surely we’ll lose influence!?”

Often my pro EU friends ask the inevitable question, “Yes, there are problems, but why lose influence to reform things, and why isolate ourselves from the world?”. David Cameron demonstrated best how a reform project with the EU is an impossible task. Now it may be the case that the issues Cameron sought to reform for were at best irrelevant, but considering the small demands he made, and what he brought back, is this an institution that looks open to reforming? EU voting records don’t seem to provide much hope either. Since records began the UK has voted against 72 laws in the Council of Ministers. It has been outvoted every single time. David Cameron has been outvoted 40 times – more than all the other PMs put together. Now, as amusing and possibly beneficial it is to see a Tory PM fail so miserably to exercise influence within the EU, a more general problem becomes clear; The UK is now being outvoted more frequently as the Eurozone countries have started to use their in-built voting majority.

The idea of the UK exercising enough influence to reform a tired and outdated political institution becomes far-fetched when we consider the facts. But it actually becomes narrow minded to simply see the UK’s influence through the lense of the EU; in an increasingly globalised world, real influence is wielded through strategic partnerships globally, through NATO, and our position on the UN security council.

Money, Money, Money…

For a lot of ordinary people though, arguments about democracy and sovereignty don’t always resonate. Hence why we’ve been hearing the soundbites from both campaigns concerning how people will be affected in relation to their wallets, headlines not too dissimilar to stuff like “you’ll lose or gain however many thousands of pounds if you stay or leave!!”, or “This business figure/group supports our campaign, so clearly we are right!”. This comically treats the electorate as fairly naïve. But whatever the pros and cons there will be economically, let’s get away from the myth that we are heading for isolation and disaster if we vote out. The UK is the fifth largest economy in the world. The past two decades have seen EU/UK trade tumble from 51% to 43% – while our exports to the world have soared. The UK is the biggest market for EU goods with 5 million of their jobs depending on exports to the UK, including 1 million in Germany and 500,000 in France. It is in no one’s interests to play petty politics and to suddenly stop trading with each other – we’re the EU’s biggest market. Outside the EU, countries from the commonwealth through to Asia trade with the EU – and many actually have free trade agreements with more countries than the EU, like China and Japan. On the other hand the EU has failed to secure trade deals with leading economies such as India, or Brazil.

There is much I could talk about; workers’ rights diminishing, the destruction of the  fishing industry, British steel, or how the EU’s immigration policy discriminates against Non-EU migrants. But there’s my two penny’s worth. It’s time for us within Labour at the very least to have a progressive discussion regarding what a future outside the EU would look like. Maybe I can persuade some that you don’t have to be a Ukipper or a Tory backbencher to be sceptical about the EU, and to know that the UK could possibly thrive outside of it.

Kayode Adeniran
Kayode Adeniran

On Reproductive Justice

Next October will mark the 50th anniversary of the Abortion Act 1967, which legalised abortions by registered practitioners in Great Britain and provided a regulatory framework for the provision on the National Health Service of abortion care. Crucially, with health and justice having been devolved matters prior to the bill passing, almost fifty years on this bill never became law in Northern Ireland. Instead, in Northern Ireland the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 act applies meaning abortion is legal only in nebulously defined ‘exceptional circumstances’ and women can face life imprisonment if they have an illegal abortion.

In practice, according to the sexual health charity FPA, 95% of women in Northern Ireland who require an abortion are unable to access services safely and legally. Over 1,000 women a year travel to England to access private services that cost up to £2,000. Those that cannot afford this are forced into buying abortion pills over the internet, or into continuing with their pregnancies against their will and at risk to their physical and mental wellbeing.

Many of us were disgusted this month when a young woman was prosecuted in Belfast, for having procured abortion pills from the internet as a 19 year old after her flatmates reported her to the police. Like this young woman, I was 19 when I had an abortion. It is a decision for which I feel neither shame nor regret, and one that I would take again if the circumstances necessitated it now as they did then.

Living in Liverpool at the time, I could access the support and treatment I needed safely, legally and without judgement. I received treatment on the NHS, with caring healthcare professionals providing pastoral support prior to the treatment and aftercare following the procedure. To have been in that situation, but to be forced to take matters into my own hands, knowing that being open about it afterwards could cost me my liberty, would mean living in constant fear and shame. I am not a criminal, and nor is she.

I do not know many young women who would be able to pull together the kind of money you would need to travel to England for a private procedure, particularly when you would need to factor in the cost of accommodation and so on, and would not be able to be open about what the money is for if you were lending it. Young women are not merely criminalised for needing an abortion, but for not having the capital to leave the country to access one. Illegal abortions are not just an issue of gender, but one of class- with only women too poor to leave the country being forced to undergo illegal abortions, where women with resources can obtain them legally elsewhere. Young people, and particularly those with other intersecting oppressions, are more likely to find themselves in a situation where they cannot access the services they need due to their financial status, making their unplanned pregnancy a crisis pregnancy.

It is time that feminists and allies across the UK stood up in solidarity with our sisters in Northern Ireland to say loudly that the right to access a safe and legal abortion in your own country is fundamental! That no longer will we tolerate this assault on the bodily autonomy of women, and other people needing access to these services. That we call upon the Northern Irish assembly to #Extend67 to Northern Ireland, and that the unholy alliance of evangelical Protestants, the Catholic church and a majority of the assembly’s politicians should not dictate what a woman does with her own body. Not the church, not the state, women must decide their fate.

Charlotte Nichols
Charlotte Nichols

On the mental health crisis, young people and what we can do

In today’s article, Beccie Ions talks about the mental health crisis in this country and what we as young people can do about it. Beccie is from Leeds where she has just completed here Masters in Social Policy. Her main interests are mental health, class inequalities & education. Beccie is currently the Chair of GMB Yorkshire & North Derbyshire Young Members & Secretary of GMB Young Members nationally. Beccie is also on the Young Labour committee as a trade union representative. 

The issue of mental health, in Britain, over the past few years, has received more coverage than ever before. The Labour Party, in particular, have led the way having a campaign for mental health & appointing a Shadow Mental Health Minister in Luciana Berger. So how is it that mental health has become a priority of the left? The Mental Health Foundation estimate that 1 in 4 of us, in a given year, will experience some mental health problem. Chances are, that you or someone you know has been affected by mental health problems- a friend of mine has recently been diagnosed with extreme anxiety. This in itself shows the scale of the Mental Health crisis in Britain.

Despite how common mental illnesses are in today’s society, people who have suffered from such an illness have a tendency to hide mental health issues from wider society. A survey recently conducted by Scottish Power found that almost half of the public would not want other people to know that they have some form of mental illness. However, despite the likelihood that one of us, a family member, a friend or a work colleague will be diagnosed with a mental illness, it is still met with negative stigma. As charity ‘Time to Change’ point out, mental health “is still surrounded by prejudice, ignorance and fear” making it hard for people suffering to find common ground with the rest of society. Due to the stigma mental illnesses receive, people who are suffering may be reluctant to ask for help due to how they believe they will be viewed. This highlights the need for us, as a society, to change attitudes towards mental illness so that those suffering from mental health issues feel supported and not alienated. However, with funding cuts to the NHS, lack of education around mental health & the issue being widely ignored by government, we risk mental health being one of the biggest social issues facing Britain over the coming years.

The increasing coverage of mental health issues, over the past few years, has gone hand in hand with the changing nature of our society. Rising numbers of zero-hour contracts, redundancies and people in temporary work have done nothing to help people’s anxiety levels. People constantly agonise over whether they can afford the rising costs of living with uncertain working conditions that do not guarantee hours from week to week. This is an increasing issue for young people in Britain. Whether workers or students, young people are facing increasing pressure due to rising costs, government cut backs & uncertain working conditions such as, zero hour contracts & lower paid jobs. The changing nature of society has had a clear impact on young people’s mental health & wellbeing. 1 in 10 young people have already been diagnosed with a mental health problem. If we do not change how society views mental health, then this issue is only going to get worse.

We need to start acting today in order to create a better future for ourselves. We need to get mental health to be viewed in the same light as psychical health. We need to educate to reduce stigma. We need to start lobbying MPs to take action to stop funding cuts & start getting a serious support network in place so people know where to turn to when suffering from mental health issues. Labour Mental Health made great steps in bringing focus to this topic. As part of GMB Young Members, we have launched the Fair Deal for Young Workers which wants to promote better working conditions for young people whilst promoting better mental health support. In Yorkshire & North Derbyshire we have already got leading Labour MPs to support our campaign such as Jeremy Corbyn & Luciana Berger. However, there is so much more we can do as a movement. Get involved with the Labour Party Campaign for Mental Health & unions to give this issue more exposure & together we can move towards a brighter future where people are not afraid to speak about their mental health, are better supported & have better working condition that promotes well-being.

Beccie Ions
Beccie Ions

Conservative Party to merge with OMRLP

In a world exclusive, LYON can reveal that the reason David Cameron has refused to recall Parliament this week is because the Conservative Party is holding secret merger talks with the Official Monster Raving Loony Party (OMRLP).

The parties expect, if an agreement is reached, to complete the merger after the European Referendum on the 23rd June. However, for the deal to come into effect, both party structures must give their approval to it and many insiders to the deal have spoken of the potential for a difficult battle in navigating the agreement through.

One OMRLP executive member told LYON ‘I’m all for new, interesting and downright loony ideas in politics. I am fully supportive of my leadership’s proposals to introduce hop, skip and jump years to go alongside leap years and to mandate that socks be sold in packets of three just in case you lose one but these Conservatives have policies that are too loony even for me. How can anyone believe it’s a sensible idea to allow multi national companies to get away with paying tax whilst taking away £30 a week from disabled people or stating that nationalisation is not the answer to the steel industries problems when a large part of them are down to the success of nationalised Chinese steel? There’s also the idea of holding a referendum on the issue of leaving an institution [the European Union] you don’t want to leave when you could have stayed in without one, now what’s up with that?’

Many on the hard right of the Conservative Party are much happier with the deal with one member, Marquis George Poisson d’Avril commenting ‘this is fantastic news, my political views have always been on the ‘Monster Raving’ side and its good to see that the Conservative Party is finally embracing that part of its heritage.’

This is of course an April Fool Message. Hope you all have a wonderful month.