Corbyn in Prague, 2016. Photo: Flickr/PES Council Corbyn in Prague, 2016. Photo: Flickr/PES Council

It’s eyes-on-the-prize time for our side as ruling class instability reaches new heights, argues Alex Snowdon 

There has, predictably, been a fair amount of bluster and half-baked speculation in response to last Thursday’s by-election in Brecon and Radnorshire. There is, in truth, little that can be extrapolated from a single by-election when it comes to making predictions for a general election, especially in such volatile political conditions. That hasn’t stopped the political commentariat using it to boost whatever interpretation they had already decided upon before the election happened. 

A few things are worth noting. The Lib Dems won the seat from the Tories, indicating the potential for them to take some seats from the Tories in a general election. But this is a constituency where the party was already on 29% of the vote in 2017, established as the clear challenger to the Tory MP. Any talk of a Lib Dem revival needs to be kept in perspective: in a general election most seats would still be well out of their reach. 

Furthermore, the election of Jo Swinson as leader should really serve as a reality check for anyone tempted to see the Lib Dems as allies in any sort ‘progressive coalition’ with Labour.  She served in Tory-led government when her party entered into a coalition arrangement with the Tories, complicit in imposing austerity and dutifully voting for massively increased student fees in 2010. 

The Tory vote was damaged by the Brexit Party, which took 10.5% of the vote share. That vote, together with the latest polls, indicates that Boris Johnson moving into 10 Downing Street does not automatically bring all right-wing Leavers back into the Tory fold. There is still distrust of the Tories over the issue of delivering Brexit and an appetite for voting for Farage’s party to send a message to the government. 

It seems likely that Johnson becoming prime minister will help the Tories recover some lost voters, disillusioned with the failure to get the UK out of the European Union, but it would evidently be rash to assume that it’s enough to shut down the threat. It is also clear from new opinion polls that any ‘bounce’ from Johnson taking over the leadership is limited. The party’s current polling compares unfavourably to the period shortly after May became leader – and remember how that ended. Johnson’s majority (including his Democratic Unionist allies) is now down to one, so his government is extremely vulnerable. He simply doesn’t have the parliamentary arithmetic to back him on Brexit and a general election in late 2019 therefore looks more likely than ever. 

Then there is the poor Labour vote (little over 5%) and the wearily predictable backlash against Jeremy Corbyn. Yet this was obviously a two-horse race and the last place anyone should look for insight into how Labour’s support is holding up. There have been fresh claims that Labour would do better if it ditched Corbyn and chose a more ‘moderate’ leader. All of the evidence, most obviously the results of 2017’s general election, would suggest otherwise. It was precisely the strong manifesto, reflecting a decisive shift to the left, which galvanised increased support in a way that hadn’t happened (with Ed Miliband as leader) in 2015. 

It was the bitter experience of the New Labour years that shattered Labour’s voter base, losing millions of votes between 1997 and 2010. Corbyn’s leadership is – despite sustained hostility from much of his own parliamentary party, relentlessly negative media coverage and the messy ongoing fallout from the EU referendum – rebuilding Labour’s support.  

Abandoning the Corbyn project, and moving back towards the so-called ‘centre ground’, would be disastrous. It is, of course, possible that many of Corbyn’s critics know this: they are anxious about a possible general election not because they are sure that Labour would lose, but because they suspect that Labour would win. A Corbyn-led government is precisely what they fear and they will continue to undermine Corbyn’s leadership in whatever way they can.

Palestine: we will not be silenced 

It has been revealed that the Labour-run council in Tower Hamlets, east London, prevented a Palestine fundraising initiative from holding an event in council premises on the basis of spurious concerns about antisemitism. The Big Ride for Palestine is an imaginative series of cycling events, held every summer for the last few years, raising money for Palestinian children. A request by organisers to hold an event in a Tower Hamlets council building was rejected. A freedom of information request revealed that council officials regarded the Big Ride as incompatible with the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which is approved by many local councils and was controversially adopted by the Labour Party last September. 

The organisers reportedly fell foul of the IHRA definition because they use the phrases ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘apartheid’ on their website. What, I wonder, would Tower Hamlets Council prefer? Instead of apartheid, perhaps they could have referred to systematic racism? Or to Palestinians being treated as second-class citizens? Or to there being over 50 discriminatory laws in Israel? Or to the Nationality Law sanctioning racism, discrimination and inequality? 

Instead of ethnic cleansing, perhaps they could have referred to mass dispossession? Or to 750,000 Palestinians being forced to leave their homes in the Nakba (catastrophe) of 1948? Or to the systematic theft of land, enabled by violence? Or to the colonial project of removing indigenous people from their own land? Is this what the council would prefer? 

It would be useful to have clarity on these matters. Otherwise people might begin to wonder if it isn’t the language that is an issue at all, but rather the realities of apartheid and ethnic cleansing that we are not supposed to talk about. The ongoing effort by supporters of Israeli apartheid to redefine antisemitism, so that it encompasses such things as telling the truth about ethnic cleansing and apartheid, was given a tremendous boost when Labour’s national executive adopted the IHRA definition. 

That was a terrible mistake. It emboldened those who are determined to silence Palestinian voices while propping up the legitimacy of a regime characterised by racism, violence and oppression. It made opposition to antisemitism harder by misrepresenting what it is and wrongly identifying who is responsible for it. It served a right-wing agenda of smearing and destabilising a left-wing Labour leadership that is anti-racist to its core as well as championing a positive alternative to decades of neoliberal policies.  

We need to tell the truth about Israeli apartheid- its origins, its history and its current injustices – as part of solidarity with Palestine on a principled anti-racist and anti-colonial basis. 

Another weekend in the death of America 

Two mass shootings in the US at the weekend have horrified people worldwide and reignited debate about racism, far-right violence and gun control. 21-year-old Patrick Crusius has been identified as the killer in a shooting at the Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, which killed at least 20 people. This was quickly followed by news of the killing of nine people in Dayton, Ohio. The Dayton killing is the 31st mass shooting, as defined by those where at least three people are killed by gun violence, in the US this year. 

Police have said that the El Paso killing is being treated as a hate crime. It was aimed at an overwhelmingly Hispanic community very near the border with Mexico. The alleged killer posted a ‘manifesto’ online which expresses extreme racist views. This has rightly prompted many political figures and commentators in the US to condemn President Trump for the inflammatory racist comments he has made, suggesting that these have fuelled a climate in which the targeting of minority groups is more acceptable. Trump’s draconian policies towards migrants from across the border have been challenged as not only inhumane and repressive, but as giving confidence to those who can contemplate wreaking terror on vulnerable groups. 

It isn’t just about Trump though. He embodies a wider system that is structurally racist and scapegoats the victims of global economic policies that drive people into desperate circumstances. That system pre-dates Trump’s arrival in the White House and the Christchurch mosque killings illustrated that racist terror is not an exclusively American phenomenon. 

The Christchurch massacres also highlighted that Islamophobia is, in many different countries, the dominant form of racism today, fed by the demonization of Muslims as part of successive wars, bombing campaigns and occupations. We should take these latest atrocities as a reminder of the bigger challenge of confronting – and ending – the racism endemic in society, and indeed the conditions that breed it.

Alex Snowdon

Alex Snowdon is a Counterfire activist in Newcastle. He is active in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War Coalition and the National Education Union.​ He is the author of A Short Guide to Israeli Apartheid (2022).