Op-ed “Oh Jeremy Corbyn”,” the soundtrack of a summer. A generation had arisen. The marginalised, the ignored, the victims of Tory austerity. The media knives were sharpening, the establishment quivering, “The cult of Corbyn,” was the phrase they coined. It encapsulated all their fears. A man of principle and unwavering strength had brought people together from all backgrounds, united under one banner of progressive politics.
In the subsequent 2017 election, Labour sent shockwaves through the establishment. A ‘hard left, ‘Marxist,’ ‘communist,’ ‘terrorist sympathiser,’ had defied all odds and achieved the greatest vote share increase for Labour since 1945. Ironically the man that year was none other than the great Attlee, and his party was also told they had no chance.
Within the Wavertree seat, Labour MP Luciana Berger saw her vote increase from 29,466 in 2015, to 34,717 in 2017.
The reason behind all these significant vote increases was clear. Labour had the Corbyn Effect.
A principled man of the people, with principled policies and a progressive manifesto. Like many others Berger backed the policies, riding a Labour ticket, while dumping them later. The ultimate duplicity.
Despite these excellent results and increased majorities, the plotting and scheming from within continued unabated. The ‘centrists’, or ‘Blairites,’ were hatching a breakaway plan and despite the significance of Labour's election success dampening their spirits temporarily, Brexit appeared to give them renewed vigour.
Leaving a political party is nothing new, however to turn your back completely on the manifesto you stood on, is unforgivable.
Calls have come thick and fast for by-elections to be held and those quitting MPs to stand down. It would be the moral, decent, and democratic thing to do. Don't forget these are the MPs calling most vehemently for a people's vote, yet they are blocking local democracy.
Luciana Berger suggested that there wasn't an appetite for a by-election. That seems ridiculous now given the outrage coming from the constituency even more when she announced her decision.
So, what about Wavertree then?
Wavertree as a constituency covers several local areas bordering the east of the city of Liverpool. Namely; Broad Green, Childwall, Edge Hill, Kensington, Fairfield, parts of Mossley Hill, Old Swan, and of course Wavertree.
Our Labour MP was very well thought of locally, a strong ambassador for mental health support, provision, and campaigner for government legislative change.
Indeed, talk to many people and they'd have good things to say about her, particularly on her above mentioned mental health record. However there was a frustration bubbling that she was far removed from the Corbyn fever that had swept the party and convinced 13 million people to back Labour. It is something I am told was raised at meetings quite often, but never allowed to be debated openly.
It is no secret that MP Berger has been a long standing critic of Jeremy Corbyn, using the media to take swipes at him frequently and then upon leaving the party hurling a monstrous allegation of institutional anti-Semitism. Parachuted into the seat with little to no knowledge of the area, let alone Liverpool, Luciana benefited from her close relationship with Tony Blair's son, Euan.
She was given the role as a Labour representative in one of their safest seats.
At the time it caused quite a noise within sections of the party who advocated for local representatives at all levels. But give Scousers their due, they accepted her as one of their own and gave her the chance to prove herself. Things appeared amicable until Jeremy Corbyn was elected.
Unsurprisingly in many ways, due to its socialist history, and being a hot bed of unionism, Liverpool backed Jeremy overwhelmingly during both leadership elections. It seemed reasonable to expect their representative MP to in the very least respect their choice of elected leader, but paradoxically it appeared that sabotage was the aim.
The Wavertree CLP passed two motions calling no confidence in their representative MP, Luciana Berger. The premise of both related to her continuous attacks of Corbyn in the media, and her refusal to answer in simple terms whether she was planning to leave the party. It seemed the CLP were more than willing to allow her a platform to discuss concerns and attempt to find a way forward. It need not have been a fatalistic motion.
What followed was simply puzzling and perplexing. Deputy leader, Tom Watson appearing outraged that a CLP would dare to challenge their elected MP branded the CLP bullies, without it seems the slightest engagement with local members to hear both sides of the issue. The CLP were quite literally guilty as charged without a fair hearing. You can't get any less democratic than that.
A series of strong views were exchanged publicly with the serious insinuation arising that members of the local CLP were anti-Semitic in their treatment of the MP. As far as I am aware no formal investigation was carried out, which is absolutely bizarre given the nature of the complaints. The CLP chair defended the decision to allow the motions of no confidence citing local party policy. But it was never to get that far as the motions were removed after pressure being applied from senior positions.
Just one week later, our MP had emailed all local Labour Party members with her intention to resign from the Labour Party. Anti-Semitism, and Labour's alleged ineffective actions on dealing with it, were cited. This puzzled me greatly.
Whilst it can not be denied that MP Berger has suffered horrendous abuse, namely on twitter, for a scathing attack on the local party and Jeremy Corbyn to ensue was quite bizarre.
During 2014 Luciana was the victim of a sustained and brutal twitter storm, containing some 2,500 messages and tweets. An appalling way for any human being to be treated, let alone when it was based on a person's religion. At the time, the party backed her vigorously with many MPs calling out the disgraceful tweets in the strongest of terms, namely Diane Abbott - herself, the victim of extremist hate and racism.
What must be made unequivocally clear, which I fear has not been done, either by Ms Berger or the mainstream media, is this horrific abuse originated in the US with a neo Nazi group, and included British individuals who had no ties to the Labour movement. Which makes Labour's implication even more obscure.
So what of anything does the Wavered CLP have to answer in relation to anti-Semitism?
There have been accusations made publicly about things allegedly said to Ms Berger by one individual. I feel strongly such incidents ought to have been fully investigated and dealt with. There is no indication even now that that was done, and that is something the party truly has to learn from I feel. Conversely, however I don't see how this singular incident contributed to the wider claim of institutionalised anti-Semitism.
We should have no doubts that anti-Semitism exists within the Labour Party, as it sadly does within wider society. It is a sickening disease, and one which we must seek to eradicate once and for all. However, phrases such as “infestation,” “institutionalised and breeding ground for hate,” are outlandish and opportunistic.
I feel that the issue of anti-Semitism has been utilised for political aims, falling under a wider campaign to discredit a socialist movement within Britain. As a you gov poll (August 2017) suggests there was an average decrease of 8% in anti-Semitic tropes across six key questions relating to the views about Jewish people. From Labour's own internal investigation and data collection, they found that complaints of an anti-Semitic nature related to approximately 0.08% of the total membership. Hardly an infestation or the institutionalism cited by those leaving.
Nonetheless, just a single example within this category would be one too many. What it highlights to me however is that certain MPs outrage focused on a disbelief that the figures were not higher. Almost as though they couldn't possibly be factual because they didn't correlate with their assertions.
It seems that MPs were trying so hard to find anti-Semitism that they saw things that simply were not there. Both Ian Austin and Joan Ryan were cited for fabricating anti-Semitic complaints. Ian’’swas of a very serious nature, accusing a pro Palestinian group of denying the holocaust. Something he was later forced to retract. Joan was secretly filmed talking with a member of friends of Palestine, and Joan reported her for anti-Semitic abuse based on something she hadn't actually said.
Labour finds itself in a volatile and precarious position. It is apparent that nepotism is at work, with MPs using anti-Semitic abuse calls as a political vehicle. However to call it out as a conspiracy would render Labour both arrogant, paranoid, and open up a wider allegation of institutional anti-Semitism. Whichever way Labour responds it's position is perilous.
The finger pointing and accusations came straight to my door when I was questioned online after a debate on Ms Berger's Facebook page.
A supporter of the MP was talking about racism and I responded stating that it had nothing to do with her heritage. I was called anti-Semitic, despite the fact I was actually defending the MP!
It was horrific to be so quickly condemned and it reminded me that we are watched with intent.
Having set the context, we now come to the main purpose of the article, to discuss the Guardian piece which ran recently and was posted online. I'm absolutely horrified and disgusted by the assessments made, I'll explain why shortly.
The article was headed “anger, denial and prejudice fester on the streets of Liverpool Wavertree.”
Immediately I was reminded of the 1980s and the sun article in which Scousers were once again unfairly and grotesquely demonised to satisfy a blood lusty tabloid journalist. They didn't accept it then, and we shouldn't accept this now. As I described earlier, the Wavertree ward covers several large areas to the east of the city. Each area differs in both its economic and social demographic.
In Wavertree itself, there is a strong student population within the thriething Smithdown Road area, and a strong middle Eastern community living along and within the roads adjacent to Lawrence Road. What we all have in common is community spirit in bucket loads. We have a shared sense of identity and belonging to the area.
Andrew Anthony self selects the street most in need of regeneration when he writes about the decline of Wavertree and attempts an outrageous correlation between urban decay and anti-Semitism. This is sensationalist at best, and at worsted a calculated and orchestrated attack on the good people of this area.
He describes a conversation with a man who clearly has deep rooted prejudices with remarks about “high rollers” and “Corbyn getting into bed with the wrong Jews.” These words are both sickening and deplorable, but is this indicative of the wider population of Wavertree, or indeed the rest of the areas within the ward! Of course it isn't. It merely cements the fact that you can find prejudice anywhere, especially when you know where to look for it.
Indeed, Andrew must have thought he had hit the jackpot. He skips over quite conveniently those on the High Street who speak positively about the MP, or those who suggest anti-Semitism doesn't exist. Instead he homes in on this one character. In Liverpool they have a saying for people like the one Andrew met it is melts,” or “meffs,” and generally most would just laugh them off or tell them to “be’ave lad.”
I only moved to Wavertree in May last year, but very quickly my family and I have settled in. I'm originally from Lancashire, with a scouse mother. I've lived in various parts of Liverpool for most of my adult life. The scouse wit is notorious, and much like the Irish Scousers will put you in your place if they see fit. This makes “infestations” of a racist or bigoted nature highly unlikely.
The fact that Liverpool is so staunchly socialist in mindset and accepting in terms of being multicultural, means that right wing ideology falls mostly on death ears. People have a real sense of collectivism which I haven't found anywhere else. It isn't a surprise really that Scousers are subjected to ridicule and are marginalised.
The city really is like no other, and establishment figures fear this. They fear the people and their values.
We are in grave danger as a party of allowing the issue of anti-semitism to control free speech and political activism. We've seen several instances recently where pro-Palestinian or pro-human rights in the region have been called out as being anti-semitic. It would be laughable if it wasn't such a serious subject. Shutting down the political criticism of Israel is not just undemocratic, it also a dangerous precedent.
Where does it end?
A genuine concern for human rights for all people is not anti-semitic. What Labour really needs to get a grip of is a clear distinction between anti-semitic and anti-Zionist / questioning Israel. Andrew does what many leaving MPs have appeared to do. He takes the narrow minded attitudes of one individual and makes a sweeping generalisation about the good people within a multicultural city like Liverpool.
He begins to conclude by arguing that those on the receiving end of years of tory austerity are anti-semitic and relate Jews to those in positions of “wealth and power.”
Finally he ends by dividing Wavertree up (one street, after talking with a handful of people) into two groups. The above mentioned and the last group who he calls “bourgeois radicals” who “view Jews through the prism of Palestine.”
This is probably one the most troubling aspects of the article.
I walk side by side with my neighbours as I walk my little boy to nursery - people of all backgrounds and race. I also think a lot about the suffering of Palestinians within the occupied territories. Does this make me an anti-Semite? Of course it doesn't.
We must challenge such views like those above. Supporting the human rights of all people just makes you a decent human being, nothing more and nothing less. It must be nice to live in a world like Andrew where everyone fits nicely in their little boxes. I'm anything but bourgeois, and I am a victim of tory austerity but I also care passionately about the suffering of Palestinians.
However I certainly know what I am not…
All that Wavertree residents ask for is an MP who will stick by them, back their democratically elected party leader, allow them to raise concerns without being labelled bullies, and above all show passion, pride and loyalty to our Labour Party.
Scousers wear the red badge with honour, they don't vote Tory and they seldom vote Independent. They don't ask for much, just fairness. At the moment that is certainly not what they are getting from all sides of the spectrum.
Matt Swift - Labour Party Member. Party Activist and Wavertree resident