The FBI is claiming success in dozens of anti-terrorism cases that rely on its undercover agents suggesting bombing campaigns against Jewish targets to susceptible Muslim youth, then supplying fake bombs for suspects to plant. In order for the FBI to avoid the charge of entrapment, the suspects were coaxed by the agents into voicing anti-semitic remarks which could be used to prove predisposition and deny them credibility. The US security forces, of course, cooperate closely with their Israeli counterparts, and appear to have learnt from them the use of allegations of anti-semitism as a political tactic calculated to overcome doubts about guilt.
The same tactic was used by the Tories in the recent London mayoral election, fabricating and amplifying allegations of anti-semitism against individuals in the Labour party – then claiming the party was “riddled with anti-semitism.” Combined with a virulent Islamophobic campaign against the Labour candidate, Sadiq Khan, the Lynton Crosby-masterminded strategy targeted Jewish votes in outer London constituencies that were assumed to be marginal. In parliament, prime minister Cameron tried to tar Jeremy Corbyn with the anti-semitism brush by suggesting an association between Khan and a supporter of ISIS – but the individual he referred to turned out to be a Conservative party supporter.
The tactic rebounded on them when millions of ethnically diverse Londoners, in a turnout sharply higher than four years ago, repudiated the Tory candidate’s racist campaign and elected Khan by a decisive majority. The voters responded to the social issues he campaigned on, above all the crisis of affordable housing and transport, rejecting the Tory policy of pandering to a tiny few in order to attract their wealth.
Demographic changes have changed London’s political profile significantly from previous mayoral elections. Migrant voters and ethnic minorities make up a larger slice of the electorate, and the catastrophic rise in house prices has forced people out of the centre of the city into the outer boroughs, which have become poorer and more diverse. Manchester University lecturer Rob Ford told the Guardian: “Any mainstream party associated with anti-racism, as Labour is, potentially has huge appeal.” The Guardian adds: “The dysfunctional rental and property markets, the spread of unpaid internships, the particularly obvious need in London for more state spending on overcrowded schools and transport infrastructure – all of these have drawn young Londoners towards Corbyn’s mildly anti-capitalist Labour party.”
Socially liberal, multiracial Labour politics are “spreading to cities with significant student and ethnic minority populations, such as Oxford, Southampton, Brighton, Manchester and Bristol, where last week the mayoralty was won by Marvin Rees, a mixed-race Labour candidate close to Corbyn. Simon Woolley of the non-partisan pressure group Operation Black Vote, who followed the Bristol contest closely, says that Rees’s victory was partly achieved by a coalition between black Bristolians and white, liberal incomers from London.”
After his victory, Khan penned an opinion piece in the Observer that implicitly rejects Corbyn’s electoral strategy, suggesting that he is failing to appeal to a wide enough electorate. Khan’s recipe for winning elections is “to unite people from all backgrounds as a broad and welcoming tent – not to divide and rule. … Just like in London, so-called natural Labour voters alone will never be enough to win a general election. We must be able to persuade people who previously voted Conservative that Labour can be trusted with the economy and security, as well as improving public services and creating a fairer society.”
However, although he spent much of his campaign in outer London boroughs touting a pro-business policy, Khan didn’t achieve his majority by winning over disaffected Tories. Nor did the result reflect his religion or charisma. He fails to mention that his success in inspiring young Londoners to come out and vote in such numbers was because of his association with the Labour party’s rejection of neoliberalism under Corbyn’s leadership. Other successful Labour candidates in places like Bristol, Liverpool and Salford had the same experience. Corbyn’s own assessment of the election results was that they were “only the first stage in our task of building a winning electoral majority, attracting voters from all the other parties and mobilising those who have been turned off politics altogether – as we did last week in Bristol and London.” There’s an important difference in nuance between the two statements. Khan is advocating moving the party to the centre to attract Tory voters; Corbyn, by contrast, is in favour of attracting new voters to Labour’s position.
Hostile Labour MPs have seized on Khan’s remarks, as well as his criticism of Labour’s slow reaction to the anti-semitism charges, to blame Corbyn for results that would fail to give the party a majority at the next general election. Their antagonism reflects a struggle to overturn the Labour leadership vote; as Max Blumenthal comments: “The right-leaning elements empowered by Tony Blair are determined to suppress the influence of an increasingly youthful, ethnically diverse party base that views the hawkish, pro-business policies of the past with general revulsion. … Labour’s Blairite wing has embraced a cynical strategy to shatter the progressive coalition that brought Corbyn to power.”
Labour are rightly concerned about their dismal result in Scotland. There, the vote was polarized between nationalist and anti-nationalist, leaving no political space for Labour’s anti-austerity message. Instead, the party was trounced because of its dismal record over the independence referendum. Instead of recognizing it as a chance to reject austerity imposed by a government that Scots never voted for, Labour supported the union. No wonder anti-nationalists preferred to vote for the party that more directly expresses unionism, the Conservatives. No amount of left promises will erase voters’ memories of Gordon Brown huckstering for the Tory side.
Labour needs to continue building social coalitions while recognizing the importance of Welsh and Scottish national identities. The idea of “Britishness” has been eroded by years of industrial decline and the privatization of nationalized industries like shipbuilding, steel, mining, railways and electricity supply that gave the multinational union some coherence and held the labour movement together. The Tories define British identity as presupposing people who are white, property-owning middle class and subordinated to the Westminster parliament, but they have been definitively rebuked in London.