Definitely not unelectable

Labour was predicted to suffer its greatest-ever election defeat on May 5th – enough, some hoped, to ‘justify’ a coup against Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

But these predictions were way out and a coup now seems most unlikely. In reality, Jeremy’s leadership is unassailable (a recent poll has him more popular now than when first elected). A survey of Labour supporters after the election revealed that over 55% thought Labour had done “moderately well” and a further 17% said “very well”.

Although Jeremy himself has warned that Labour is “not yet doing enough” to win the 2020 general election, these election results demonstrate that Labour, under Jeremy’s leadership, is definitely not unelectable.

That much is uncontroversial. But the differing results on May 5th for England, Scotland and Wales suggest further lessons from the voting.

England

It was predicted that Labour could lose upwards of 200 Councillors compared with its 2012 high point. In the event, Labour lost only 18 Councillors (whilst the Tories lost 48 seats without a squeak from the media). Labour also won every Mayoral election and several Police Commissioner elections.

If 2012 was a great result for Labour, so must be 2016. Compared with the May 2015 General Election this was a huge improvement for the newly Corbyn-led Labour and, based solely on these results, Labour would be on course to win in 2020

Scotland

Labour’s vote plummeted in 2015 (due to the mistakes of the previous decade and the Independence Referendum) and no-one expected a recovery this soon. In the event, Labour still won more votes than the Tories in Scotland – a fact ignored by the media who, instead, preferred to trumpet that the Tories won more seats.

I’m no expert on Scotland but I would have been astonished if the long-term decline in Labour’s vote had been reversed. Scotland provides no credible evidence that Jeremy’s election as leader affected these results adversely.

Wales

Before May 5th pundits predicted that Labour would fare better in Wales than England – because Corbyn is supposedly unpopular here (with Welsh Labour). In the event, Labour did improve on the 2015 General Election results – but it’s constituency votes fell catastrophically from 42% to 35%.

I would not claim – with the complication of UKIP votes to explain – this as a positive rejection of Welsh Labour’s efforts to distance itself from UK Labour – but it is fair to conclude that there is no evidence that this reaped a dividend.

Labour’s campaign

Enough of punditry – my own experience of “campaigning” (in Torfaen) was both heartening and dispiriting. In practice we were we simply checking where our excellent candidate Lynne Neagle had assured support – but we did not campaign to persuade people to vote Labour by discussing issues on the doorstep.

But, if Labour is to win in 2020, the Party has to welcome in the hundreds of thousands of new members inspired by Jeremy’s politics and must campaign for these policies – not simply rely on historic Labour loyalty.

Hopefully the encouraging (English) results of May 5th will see off further attempts to undermine Jeremy’s leadership. What we now need to do is recapture the spirit of 1945 – when hundreds of thousands of Labour supporters argued for Labour’s policies at doorsteps and workplaces. We were not reliant then on a friendly media and there’s no reason suppose than 2020 will be different.

Hitler and “Zionism”

Ken Livingstone’s (ill-advised) references to Hitler and Zionism have led to much (negative) comment – due to ignorance.  So my childhood recollections of debates about, before and shortly after the creation of the state of Israel may have contemporary interest.

Firstly my background: I was born into a committed anti-fascist family whose social circle included numerous Jewish socialists. As a child I presumed that all Jews were anti-racist and socialist (Leo Abse, for example, was a close family friend). It was not until I went to University (1952) that I learnt otherwise.

Prior to the creation of Israel I recall heated discussions about the merits of a “Jewish homeland” and learnt that this “Zionist” vision was controversial. Most Jewish socialists (in our family circle) visualised their future in a socialist Britain and to them “Zionism” was a ‘cop-out’ – a way to avoid struggle against the British ruling class who were using anti-semitism to divide the working class.

Against that backdrop, Hitler’s “offer” to relocate Jews in Palestine (yes, it did occur –  but it was not out of concern for their plight but for money and property) reinforced their distrust of a Zionist “solution”. [Aside: Hitler’s “offer” was not “support for Zionism” and, apart from placing Hitler and Zionism in the same sentence, Ken Livingstone did not equate the two.]

As I recall, our circle of Jewish socialist friends was unpersuaded that a Jewish homeland would end anti-semitism – but all sympathised with the concept and, indeed, several of my best friends and comrades in my University years planned for a future in a socialist Israel (and did so later).

At that time no-one that I recall – whether of the right or left – anticipated Israel developing in anything other than a socialist direction – all the talk was of socialist-style kibbutz and cooperatives. We expected that Israel would soon become socialist – and when the Soviet Union recognised the new state of Israel (before Britain and the USA) it seemed that we were not alone.

In 1948 it seemed preposterous to suggest that a Jewish state might ally itself with imperialism (as it did in the joint Anglo-French-Israeli attack on Suez). In my teenage years Jews formed a disproportionately high proportion of the membership of the Labour and Communist Parties (and may well do so even today). We expected that, having faced the worst of fascism and racism, Israel would be a standard-bearer for racial tolerance (as South Africa has been since the ending of apartheid). We were wrong.

But, whilst it is an undeniable fact that successive Israeli governments have favoured Jewish immigrants over Palestinians, there are still many good people and socialists in Israel working for harmony between all the peoples living there. It may be academic now but I still don’t accept that Israel’s subjugation of the indigenous peoples was an inevitable outcome of the creation of Israel. “Zionism” was a response to anti-semitism and I still find it difficult to understand why its politicians behave as they do.

I fear, from my reading of numerous examples of history, that those that achieve power by violence virtually always maintain their power with continued violence. Yes – you can put that as an epitaph on my grave.

We are where we are – but Israel is far from being the safe homeland for the Jewish people envisaged by the 19th Century “Zionists”. Adding to the confusion, we also have people who describe themselves as “Christian Zionists” who support Israel but seem to envisage a mass conversion to Christianity one day! For this and several other reasons I try to avoid using “Zionist” and “anti-Zionist” in anything I say or write.

“Zionist” for some people has become synonymous as a negative encapsulation of Israeli government policy whilst “anti-Zionist” has become synonymous for others as “anti-Jewish”. Personally I think it highly desirable that we confine its use to the meaning universally understood prior to the creation of Israel.

Returning to Ken Livingstone’s recent remarks, this link is to all his recent statements which have variously been described as “vile”, “anti-semitic” “Nazi apologist”, etc. Whilst I believe he was very ill-advised to mention Hitler, Zionism and anti-semitism in virtually the same breath and clumsy in his words, I fail to see how any of these remarks can be construed as anti-semitic. I do believe that all this synthetic fury, whipped up by “Bitterites” and the anti-Labour media, is simply about undermining Labour and its popular leader.