I said: “Don’t think I’ve felt this depressed about the state of politics for a long time. Well since last week, but you get the picture.” And clearly a lot of people agreed with me. For once.
We are living in strange and disturbing times. In some ways, politics should be having a bright moment. More people are engaged in politics. Technology and social media have democratised democracy, everyone can join in the conversation and air their views. So instead of seeing a thousand political flowers bloom, why is there such a rotten stench?
Because we are living in a time of low-quality politics. We have dumbed our politics down to the lowest common dominator and have lost sight of important ingredients like intelligence, history, compassion, reason and, of course, those annoying things called facts.
Every issue has become polarised to the point that it’s a cartoon parody of whatever your favourite Facebook group tells you. You don’t have to engage your brain, your heart, your values or your eyes and ears. It all just depends on what camp, side or echo-chamber you’re in. Brexit or Remain. Indy or Union. Left or right. Israel or Palestine. Us or them.
Political debate is a now series of demented, simplistic binary choices and it’s leading us to some dark places.
This week saw Labour engulfed in another anti-semitism row over Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to spot a rather horrid, anti-semitic mural which depicted Jews in a way that 1930s German propagandists would have been proud of. I accept that sometimes people may need to be educated about what is anti-semitic, and I’m no expert but here’s a few clues – if it involves people with massive hooked noses looking sinister and money-grabbing then that’s probably a wee sign…
The fallout has been serious. Jewish people within the party and beyond – and indeed many others of different faiths or none – were hurt, confused and dismayed. The Labour party was always proud to have a close association with the Jewish community since the Battle of Cable Street in 1936, when the Labour movement stood alongside its Jewish friends and comrades against the British Union of Fascists led by Oswald Mosley. I will spare you the ins and outs of what Corbyn did and didn’t do but here’s the thing which is so worrying.
So many people who are most of the time normal and fairly decent are behaving in a way which borders on lunacy because of their slavish devotion to Corbyn. They have lost sight of any decency because they see everything in life now as a conspiracy against their dear leader and his views. I don’t think Corbyn is anti-semitic or racist. But he has cultivated friendships and a huge following from people who are and that helped bring him to power. And with power comes responsibility. I don’t think he would look at a Jewish person and see them in a different light from anyone else – but a lot of people who support him do. He says he wants to get a grip of this problem, but he has got to show that he is prepared to be tough with these people. They may adore him, but they have no place in the Labour party and they will eventually bring him down.
That’s where the problem lies. When you are so obsessed with an ideology or a demagogue, things get dangerous – especially when you wilfully deny the truth about what’s going on because it doesn’t fit your narrative.
There is so much hate right now and anti-semitism is on the rise. A few years ago, I went for dinner with my dear friend, Luciana Berger – a young female Jewish MP. As we dined, her phone would not stop lighting up. I asked her what was going on – surely no one could be that busy?
She then opened her phone and in the two hours that we had been in the restaurant, she had received hundreds of the most disgusting, sickening, anti-semitic messages ranging from her face Photoshopped on a rat, images of the gas chambers and other vile anti-Jewish memes. Then of course there were pictures of dead Palestinian children which, of course, the senders believed she was somehow responsible for. Just because you don’t like what the Israeli government is doing, it does not mean you have to blame “all Jews”.
This is the kind of horrific abuse that Jewish people like my friend Luciana get. The level of harassment against her became so intense, someone was eventually jailed.
Holocaust denial is on the rise too along with other conspiracy theories about “the Jews”. How can we be living in these times?
Anyone who has visited Auschwitz, as I did with the Holocaust Educational Trust, or has just read some history will know how stomach-churning all of this is. Why can’t those who support Corbyn see that this is not about Israel and Palestine? Or austerity? As important as those things are, this is about common decency and fighting hate.
I’m a Muslim. I have taken part in fundraisers for Palestinian charities. I have experienced huge amounts of racism and Islamophobia especially since Brexit – does that mean I cannot support my Jewish friends? Does that mean I cannot have empathy with the hurt they feel?
I would expect solidarity from other faith groups and wider society in the face of the vile Punish a Muslim campaign or the abuse that Anas Sarwar and Humza Yousaf endure. Why are we being pitted against each other? This is not about tribe, this is about humanity – and if you purport to care about equality and think you’re a morally superior person, you need to understand this.
As I attended the rally against anti-semitism in Parliament Square on Monday night and watched Luciana Berger address the crowd, I genuinely felt heartbroken to see so-called Labour people there with banners saying this was all a “witchhunt” against Corbyn and that “the Jews” were “weaponising” their hurt for political ends. We’re a long way from Cable Street, Dorothy.