Thursday was a routing for Labour but the reckoning is still to come. Four years into the Corbyn project, and two years after it should have happened, the country crushed the Labour party for embracing the most extreme and dangerous figure in mainstream British politics since Oswald Mosley. For British Jews, who have been put through intolerable torment since 2015, this past weekend marked the first Shabbat dinner at which Jeremy Corbyn’s name could be raised in something other than anger or exasperation or dread.
In a break with much of Jewish history, Gentiles were on the right side for once. And while it is naive to assume anti-Semitism was the decisive factor for most voters, for some it was and for others it was swimming around in the broth.
On Thursday, little old ladies who have never met a Jew pulled on their winter coat and went to their polling station to put a stop to Labour’s vendetta against Jews, because we don’t do that here. He that keeps Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps and nor does the instinctive decency of the British people, at least not for long.
Victory over anti-Semitism has meant a harrowing loss for Labour. Not as harrowing as it should have been but it’ll do for now. Best of all, Corbyn is going, eventually. When it comes to the governing of this country, he will be neither present nor involved. But Corbyn is one man and if Labour still believes in anything it is that ‘by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone’.
Well, look what you achieved. By the common endeavour of old Trots, young Tankies, anti-Semitic cranks and supine centrists, you made British Jews feel so unsafe in their own country that 47 per cent of them would have considered emigrating had you won.
I wrote my first piece on Corbyn and anti-Semitism a month before he won the 2015 leadership election. I was hardly the only one raising the alarm but friends and colleagues still thought I was mad.
Of course, there was anti-Semitism on the left but it was limited to the faculty-lounge fedayeen and a few decrepit Stalinists in parties with acronyms longer than their membership rolls.
There was no way the Labour party would go along with Jew-hatred. It was the Labour party. I was adamant. A Corbyn victory was the end; he would corrupt everything. Moderates would resist until resistance threatened the wellbeing of the party because, for even the most unreconstructed Blairite, the party comes first, not the country.
Since Thursday, I have read many soft-left write-ups and Twitter threads, each of them sulphurous towards Corbyn, Momentum, the WhatsApp groupies, and the top brass of the All-Out War, but not one of them showing a hint of introspection or skerrick of regret.
Typical was one former Labour adviser turned columnist, who told her readers before the election that ‘Labour is the only vehicle that can compete with the Conservatives’, then confessed afterwards that defeat brought ‘a sense of relief... that moderate people such as myself don’t have to pretend to go along with this ludicrous political charade anymore’.
Only, she didn’t have to go along with it. She and others like her chose to, out of tribalism and sentiment and a gymnastically flexible concept of anti-racism. Such people believe there is no place in society for anti-Semitism, except 10 Downing Street. This is not moderation but mawkishness, the product of politics as a morality play in which Labour are the goodies and Tories the baddies and voting to place anti-Semites in charge of the British state is fine as long as they’re wearing the right colour rosette.
On Thursday, Corbynistas led Labour to one of its worst ever showings but they didn’t do it alone. By their side were Jess Phillips and Wes Streeting, Yvette Cooper and Keir Starmer and the rest who now pontificate about What Is Wrong With The Labour party, when they are what is wrong with the Labour party.
‘Every Tory policy over the next five years has been enabled by Corbynism,’ Streeting tweeted over the weekend. Some in the Jewish community still respect the Ilford North MP for his early opposition to Corbynism but, in the end, he wasn’t there when they needed him, unless they were running low on hopes and prayers.
If Wes Streeting is your idea of an ally, your enemies have caught one hell of a break. On Thursday, he and all the other ‘friends of the community’ tried to put their anti-Semitic party into government and were only stopped by ex-steelworkers in Redcar and Workington. There is always a place for atonement but the Streeting tendency aren’t here to atone. They consider themselves victims of Corbynism when they were its enablers. At least the Corbynistas truly believed their man was the victim of smears and conspiracies; the soft-left knew what he was and they bust a gut trying to make him prime minister anyway.
We’re told by those rushing to rebuild Labour that there must be meetings with the Chief Rabbi, fulsome apologies and re-engagement with the Jewish Labour Movement. There must be all of these things but not as a fast-acting salve to allow Labour to move on. Stick the most sympathetic MP you have in Finchley United Synagogue and their remorse will be outwardly welcomed but inwardly many in the congregation will study the bowed head and the solemn tone and note how much this seemingly respectable person looks like all the other seemingly respectable people who end up apologising to Jews instead of not mistreating them in the first place.
Who will be the next leader of the Labour party? Who cares? Every single member of the PLP was prepared to sit on the benches of a government led by a man 84 per cent of British Jews considered a threat to their community.
One day the gravity of that will sink in and the realisation will be unbearable. Their apologists contend that these MPs merely fought their party’s corner, and that’s the problem. Given a choice between taking a stand against anti-Semitism and getting a Labour government, they chose the latter.
If Corbyn decided to stay, they would balk but soon enough there would be another election and with it another round of hand-wringing and another attempt to make him prime minister. They did it before, they’d do it again.
If Boris Johnson makes a halfway decent stab of majority government, he will give Labour another decade in opposition to confront what it did, and what it almost did, to British Jews. Those who care only about beating the Tories would rather skip all this, but it is vital to the repair of Labour’s soul, assuming that is still possible.
Without a reckoning, this will happen again and next time the country might not be so lucky. Next time Redcar and Workington might not save us. Labour did the worst thing a democratic party can do in the shadow of the 20th century: They made Jews afraid. A long, hard contrition lies ahead.