Just over two years ago I had the honour of being elected as a Labour Councillor. I owe this privilege to two selectorates. Firstly, to Labour Party members for choosing me as a candidate and secondly to the people of West Hendon for electing me as a councillor. My biggest regret and greatest sadness is that the Labour Party in Barnet fell just short of winning majority control for the first time ever. That being said, it was the biggest victory at council level the Labour Party in Barnet has ever had.
I was selected not as a delegate but as a representative; people put their faith in me to make the correct choices (or try). I am not delegated to vote this way or that by the membership of the Labour Party nor by my electorate. The only whip I follow is the Labour whip on Barnet Council, a whip that I have never broken and nor could I see a situation where I would break it.
So whilst I am not delegated to vote for a specific leader or set of Labour policies, I do believe I am still accountable for the choices I make. And therefore I want to explain to my members and my constituents why I believe that it has to be Owen Smith for Leader of the Labour Party.
West Hendon, Barnet Council and the three Barnet constituencies
Alongside Devra Kay and Agnes Slocombe I represent West Hendon, one of the areas in Barnet with relatively high deprivation alongside huge wealth and everything in between. In order to win the ward, it is the task of the Labour Party in Barnet to build a winning coalition of voters; voters who are rich, poor and everything in between. Tied together by a fundamental belief that Labour locally is the best vehicle to achieve better society through the tool of democracy.
West Hendon has been undergoing a regeneration project that will result in the displacement of hundreds of families from the area. This is due to the Tory council’s policy that they want to eradicate social housing as a genuine and legitimate form of housing tenure. Most of the households displaced will be forced by the council into private insecure sector tenancies, most probably outside of London. Once the various ‘regeneration’ projects are concluded, Barnet will have 800 LESS social homes than it had when the projects became almost 10 years ago.
My biggest frustrations of being a councillor is that in every Housing Committee, Planning Committee, full council meeting, the Labour Group are always outvoted when trying to oppose these disgusting policies. We failed to win the 2014 local elections and therefore we are now unable to help those hundreds of families and households who are being made homeless. Every few weeks when I hold a surgery on the West Hendon estate I have families come to me and they are anxious and worried about their future. Right now I can work on trying to make the best of their personal circumstance, beg the council to change their minds on the housing criteria for this family or that, but fundamentally I have no control over the very policy that had put them into this circumstance.
In order to achieve control over policy, at a local and a national level, Labour need to win elections. Which brings me onto the Labour Leadership.
Over the past 12 months I have been knocking on doors, telephone canvassing and speaking to voters. The consistent answer I receive from voters in West Hendon and across Barnet is they will not vote for a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn. And for the few households who have switched, we have lost three or four others. There is no way that we can win control over Barnet Council or any of the three parliamentary constituencies in Barnet whilst Jeremy Corbyn remains leader. The vote is simply not there.
And, if Labour fail to win Hendon or Finchley and Golders Green or Chipping Barnet there is no way that Jeremy Corbyn will ever be Prime Minister. The parliamentary arithmetic simply does not add up, especially without a resurgence in Scotland.
Will Owen Smith for Leader win a General Election for Labour? I do not know. But I do know that he would at least give the Labour Party a fighting chance – a chance that is fading away every day Jeremy Corbyn remains leader of the Labour Party.
My own demons and personal conflict: antisemitism in Labour
I am Jewish, I am also a socialist – proud of being both. Up until recently there has never been a clash or conflict between these two proud, righteous and distinct parts of my personal identity.
For the first time, under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership there has been a fundamental conflict. To the extent that I have questioned if I really can remain part of the Labour Party. And this is not because I believe that Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-Semite but rather because he simply lacks any understanding of the majority of Jews in this country, nor does he appear to have any desire whatsoever to educate himself in this.
As far as Jews are concerned, Jeremy Corbyn has a series of blind spots.
His first blind spot is only mixing with the kind of Jews he seems to like or as I would put it, Jeremy Corbyn believes (knowingly or not) in good Jews and bad Jews.
And by this I mean Jews who are at best from the extreme of the Labour left or Jews who have never been in the Labour Party (with a few notable exceptions). Jews who disassociate themselves from Zionism and Jews who have been his fellow travellers over the past 40 years .
The kind of Jews Jeremy likes are just as Jewish as me, the distinction is that they represent a very small but vocal minority. Perhaps as little as 7%.
Even the most ardent Jewish Jeremy supporter would agree that he does not command mainstream support from the majority of Jews. Many Jews believe that a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn is directly hostile to our community.
On antisemitism he also has a complete blind spot and I think that this is mainly due to misunderstanding the phenomenon. To most people, racism is the classification of a group of people as being inferior – this is the most obvious and well known manifestation of discrimination, whether it be racism against black people or against muslims. A fear and/or a belief in inferiority of the other. Antisemitism is most commonly the opposite – it is a fear that Jews are powerful, lurking in the shadows, controlling this, that or the other. Take the examples of Jonathan Freedland at the Guardian, Labour donor Michael Foster (who foolishly himself used a Holocaust analogy which is wrong) or Judge Jack Beatson – all three of which have been accused by Corbyn supporters on social media of having some kind of sinister underhand motive – this is called antisemitism and Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t done or said anything to stop it.
I do not believe that Jeremy Corbyn is able to intellectually grasp racism towards a group for their alleged superiority rather than inferiority, which is why I believe that he allows incidents to go relatively unchallenged, not because he is a racist bigot himself but rather because he cannot understand the question he is being challenged to answer.
I have a little sympathy with someone who does not understand but sadly my gut is telling me that the situation is made worse by the fact that there are a number of prominent people around Jeremy who actually do believe in Jewish conspiracies, even if they do masquerade their hatred behind the word Zionism.
This is what most worries me. Jeremy clearly has little time for his MPs and people who have experienced life outside of the hard left bubble. And some of those he does have significant time for are people who I believe are bigoted against Jews – and they do not recognise their own bigotry.
So to conclude, I am at a crossroads with the Labour Party for two reasons.
Firstly, the Labour Party’s purpose is to win elections to give power to working people, if we are no longer in this business then what is the point of the Labour Party. Secondly, Labour has a racism problem, and the problem is mostly coming from one wing of the Labour Party and we have a leader who is blind to the problem. For the Labour Party – the party of antiracism to be experiencing this is damning and more damning is that we have a Leader who does not appear to want to take it on.
For these two reasons I just weep.