Quite extraordinary scenes here at the Labour Party conference. I’m typing this in the main conference hall and have just watched Mike Katz of the Jewish Labour Movement give a short speech against anti-Semitism. This ought to be utterly uncontroversial, but it has become a wedge issue between the two tribes who now make up the Labour Party. Between those who were members before May 2015, and those who joined after. There have two very different outlooks, and are at war with each other.
Katz’s speech was cheered effusively, like a rallying call, by about a third of the hall. And, amazingly, heckled by other members. When Katz said: ‘We shouldn’t have to wait’ for action on anti-Semitism, a woman shouted ‘who’s “we”?’ Other members called for her to shut up. Since when did fighting anti-Semitism become contentious in Labour, a party supposedly dedicated to fighting bigotry?
Then came speeches for a rule about whether Kezia Dugdale, leader of the Scottish Labour Party, should be allowed on the party’s ruling 33-member National Executive Committee. A totemic issue because it’s all about the balance of power in the NEC: she is a moderate, and if Scotland and Wales are represented on the NEC then the moderates will have more power and the Corbynistas will have less. This issue is to be put to a vote, and three members spoke in favour of it – to the fury of the Corbynistas, who wanted someone against. One, Max Shanly, raised a point of order and was heard by the hall. The platform, he said, was
‘Attempting to rig the discussions by not allowing those who oppose the rule changes to come up here and make the argument because they know that they don’t have responses. The package going forth will gerrymander the NEC and allow for the decision made at the weekend to be vetoed by parliamentarians who are not accountable to this movement.