Something’s got under Labour’s skin. You can tell because their spin machine is going full tilt. Their target is Change UK. The arrival of the new party on the scene has triggered a massive trawl through prospective candidates’ social media posts, looking for instances of racist and sexist comments, in an attempt to prove that the “hard-centre is racist”.
It’s no bad thing that parties should seek to bring to light instances of racism and misogyny – and several legitimate examples of both have been unearthed.
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Ali Sadjady, for example, a candidate in London for the European elections, resigned after an old tweet resurfaced, in which he made derogatory remarks about Romanians. “When I hear that 70% of pick pockets caught on the London Underground are Romanian it kind [sic] makes me want Brexit”.
An incriminating tweet from Joseph Russo, a leading candidate in Scotland, was also uncovered: “Black women scare me. I put this down to be chased through Amsterdam by a crazy black wh***.”
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Change UK acted swiftly to distance themselves from both men. Yet they have stood solidly by another candidate, Nora Mulready, who was accused of “Islamophobia” and charged with “conflating terrorism with Islam” by Labour supporters and organisations which claim to speak for British Muslims. In comments posted online, Mulready suggested it was a “fallacy that Islamism is nothing to do with Islam” and that radical Islamism could be “Koranically justified”. She also said the concerns of far-Right leader Tommy Robinson should be “acknowledged” because he had “hit [a] societal nerve”.
Though I do not agree with everything Mulready has written, Change UK are right to stand by her. The concerted attempt by the Left to silence her and no-platform her from democratic politics has been correctly described as a “smear campaign” by her new party.
Momentum has led the charge against Mulready, along with the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and The Independent, with especial help from the newspaper’s Europe Correspondent, Jon Stone – a dedicated Corbyn supporter. The paper ran three stories on Mulready last week alone (though it did give Mulready a right of reply). Its latest revelation (written again by Stone) attempts to damn her by association – claiming that Gerard Batton, the leader of UKIP, has “thrown his support behind Mulready” based on comments she once made about Islam.
Stone and The Independent have attempted to paint this as “yet another racism row”, yet much of what Mulready has said is uncontroversial. She claimed it was a “fallacy that Islamism is nothing to do with Islam” and asserted that radical Islamism could be “Koranically justified”.
Both statements are unarguably true, and it shouldn’t be problematic to accept this, while also acknowledging that a majority of Muslims want nothing to do with Islamism. In contrast, to pretend there is no link whatsoever is absurd; you might as well say the crusades had nothing to do with Christianity and the Gulag nothing to do with communism. Every religion has a fanatical wing which draws at least some of its sustenance from the doctrines adhered to by the mainstream.
The MCB, an umbrella organisation of community leaders who claim to speak for British Muslims, should not be treated uncritically, and is testament to how mainstream organisations can sometimes give succour to extremist elements. In the past, the MCB has refused to attend Holocaust Memorial Day, has denounced homosexuality, and has given prominent organisational roles to men who once backed the Iranian fatwa against the novelist Salman Rushdie.
Indeed, the MCB’s own record and shifting positions would indicate that there are many interpretations of Islam, some of which are closer to Islamism than others. Would the MCB claim that the stances it has held in the past, some of which share things in common with the tenets of Islamism, also had ‘nothing to do with Islam’?
As well as her comments about Islam, Mulready is being criticised by Labour and its media outriders for remarks she made on the back of blasphemy riots in Pakistan in 2018, in which she wrote that some “immigration brings with it some very regressive cultural values”.
Again, it is difficult to see how this is controversial, especially in light of the recent row over the teaching of LGBT sex and relationships education in Birmingham’s schools. Immigration invariably brings with it new challenges and it should not be off limits to say so. Those in favour of immigration (as I am) should not be burying their heads in the sand and pretending these challenges do not exist (see also labour market exploitation).
This isn’t to say that some of Mulready’s comments aren’t misjudged. Her point that the concerns of far-Right leader Tommy Robinson have “hit [a] societal nerve and that needs to be acknowledged” reminds me of New Labour’s toadying to the hard-Right on asylum and immigration. Robinson is an anti-Muslim rabble rouser who is adept at exploiting public fears around immigration, not someone who is addressing genuine concerns around integration and shared values.
But I do not believe Mulready is a racist. Her comments – even when disagreeable – sit within the realm of acceptable discourse. Unlike, incidentally, Jeremy Corbyn and his spin-doctor Seumas Milne’s nasty conspiracy-mongering about an entirely fictitious link between ISIS and Israel. She is espousing a robust liberalism that can at times sound insensitive, but which is a perfectly legitimate point of view.
In truth, the attacks on Mulready stink of whataboutery. The Labour Party is engulfed in an ongoing crisis over anti-Semitism and, rather than deal with that, its media mouthpieces have chosen to lecture Change UK on racism based on a handful of cases which have been swiftly dealt with.
According to a report published last month by Fathom journal editor Professor Alan Johnson, the Labour Party had “failed to understand contemporary antisemitism, failed to prevent the party becoming a host to antisemitism, failed effectively to tackle antisemitism, free from political interference, and failed to root out a culture of antisemitism denial and victim-blaming”. This, of course, is why Luciana Berger, the Jewish MP for Liverpool Wavertree quit the Labour Party to co-found Change UK. She she was “embarrassed and ashamed” at its failure to confront antisemitism.
Perhaps, when the leader of your own party has been described as an “existential threat” to British Jewry, you might spend a little more time getting your own house in order and a little less time spreading baseless accusations about other people.
But they won’t. And that’s because this sort of prejudice isn’t really what the Labour Party is concerned about. What really bothers them is the Blairites and the purity of the Party. That’s why Corbyn supporters have spent the past four years hounding people like Mulready out of Labour.
The trouble is, it’s not enough that she has gone. They have to go even further. Partly it’s irritation at the new party’s success, but mainly it’s because this is what organisations do when they are in the grip of ideological fervour. They can’t simply let you disagree, they have to destroy you.