How do you share a platform without sharing a platform? Step forward Diane Abbott, Schrödinger’s anti-racist, to explain this feat of quantum Corbynism. On Wednesday, the former shadow home secretary and colleague Bell Ribeiro-Addy participated in a virtual meeting of the continuity Corbyn group 'Don’t Leave, Organise'. Also taking part were expelled Labour members Tony Greenstein and Jackie Walker as well as prominent anti-Zionist activists and others who have sought to minimise the extent of Labour’s anti-Semitism problem. The Jewish Chronicle reports that one participant said Ken Livingstone, who claimed Hitler ‘was supporting Zionism’, had been ‘expelled from the party for saying in truth a historical statement’. This EHRC investigation is going to have more instalments than the Marvel cinematic universe.
When Abbott and Ribeiro-Addy’s participation in this event was queried, a spokesperson for the two issued a perplexing statement:
“The MPs were not aware that any suspended or expelled former members of the Labour Party might contribute as audience members. They did not and would not share a platform with them. Both MPs are long-standing anti-racist campaigners and are known for standing up to all forms of bigotry.
Abbott and Ribeiro-Addy did share a platform with expelled members but also didn’t because they wouldn’t. Yes, officer, I am trying to nick this Lambo Huracan but since I would never steal anything, I’m really at home watching Ozark right now. Calling yourself an anti-racist based on personal virtue alone is like making your own Employee of the Month badge. In an era when assertion defines reality, it only makes sense that being an anti-racist would be a matter of self-identification, but it’s still remarkable how much activism seems to involve doing nothing.
Let’s say Abbott and Ribeiro-Addy didn’t know they would be sharing a platform with these figures. Why didn’t they digitally walk out of the meeting as soon as it became clear the sorts they were associating with? The uncharitable reading is that they didn’t care but even the generous interpretation — that they were ignorant of who these people were — doesn’t do much for them. Two recent frontbenchers knew so little about the scandal which has brought their party under statutory investigation that they happily shared a platform with central characters in the story. A party in which this is possible has a problem that is not only institutional but endemic.
There is no getting away from this for Sir Keir Starmer. Like so many on Labour’s soft left, he was mortified by anti-Semitism but not mortified enough to try to stop it. Tribalism is the opium of the people’s party. Now he says he wants to ‘address the disgrace of anti-Semitism in our party as soon as possible’, but his response to Abbott and Ribeiro-Addy’s actions is not encouraging. According to a Labour spokesperson, the MPs were ‘reminded of their responsibilities and obligations’. That’ll teach them.
Avoiding another fight with the left might be politically wise but it kindles the suspicion that when Sir Keir talks about addressing anti-Semitism, he means telling it to stand in the corner and shut up. Keeping factions happy is an unhappy duty of a party leader but suppressing anti-Semitism just enough to make Labour respectable again is not an option. After what Labour has put British Jews through for four and a half years, nothing short of total deradicalisation will do. Sir Keir may be able to save his party’s body with relative ease but the struggle that matters is for Labour’s soul. Remorse is not enough; Labour must give force of action to its declarations of regret. There are amends to be made and they begin with finding a place for Jews in how Labour thinks about racism and anti-racism.