What does Starmer's election as Labour leader mean for British Jewry?

Jewish MPs were hounded from their party, and some Jewish families contemplated leaving the country if Corbyn won the December 2019 election. It is natural to feel relief that Corbyn has gone.

New Labour Party leader Keir Starmer  (photo credit: REUTERS/SIMON DAWSON)
New Labour Party leader Keir Starmer
(photo credit: REUTERS/SIMON DAWSON)
The fact that Jeremy Corbyn’s four and a half years have ended is a cause of huge celebration. This has been an unprecedented period when antisemitism was elevated to the highest levels of the party, became a mainstream force from top to bottom and created a climate of fear for Jewish people.
Jewish MPs were hounded from their party, and some Jewish families contemplated leaving the country if Corbyn won the December 2019 election. It is natural to feel relief that Corbyn has gone.
Not everyone will share my concern for the appalling damage he caused to the Labour Party. Under Corbyn’s leadership the opportunity to elect progressive politics to lead the country was sacrificed to the narrow ideological interests of a paranoid cult with backward policies and the politics of the gulag at their core. However, we are all affected by the fact that Labour may no longer be led by Corbyn but is still afflicted with Corbynistas.
Should Keir Starmer’s election be the trigger for street parties? I would advise caution at this stage. Starmer is an accomplished barrister and former director of public prosecutions. His record and politics are certainly cause for optimism. Labour can at least boast a leader who could realistically be a prime minister, free from the associations with bombers and murderers that rightly hung around Corbyn’s neck. He has displayed none of the obsession with Palestine shown by many of his Labour contemporaries, nor links to terror groups and extremists.
But before Jewish communities break out the champagne, I would suggest Starmer has several tests he needs to pass. And he has significant challenges to overcome, not least in the face of the placement and power of Corbynistas in all layers of the party. This will require decisive action and a greater commitment from other figures in the party who lacked any real commitment to standing against antisemitism. They must sign up to the decisive action needed to remake the party as a viable alternative.
The problem is stark. It’s not just the incidents under investigation and the ones still ignored. In polls only a quarter of Labour members thought antisemitism was both a problem and needed addressing. The size of denial is the greatest challenge ahead.
It will do little credit to the Jewish community if it embraces Labour with an unjustified and childish enthusiasm. I have no doubt that the great and good – noticeably absent during this prolonged fight – will seize every opportunity to show themselves to be influential and powerful by their proximity to the new leader. But my party needs to earn its place back in the heart of the community. It should not be gifted.
What does Starmer have to do? He must reach out to the Jewish Labour Movement and make it clear that this is the only legitimate, affiliated representative of Jews within the Labour Party. He should engage with Labour Friends of Israel and show that there is a genuine commitment to a two-state solution, and not to succumb to the politics of annihilation.
He must abandon the Labour Party’s victimisation of those staff members who blew the whistle on antisemitism and issue them an apology. He must remove the key figures responsible for the cover-up and obfuscation over antisemitism from the top echelons of the party. He should be prepared to confront the Unite trade union and its leadership on these issues.
He should immediately allocate resources to the teams dealing with complaints of antisemitism, so they can be dealt with in weeks not months. We don’t need a fully independent process for complaints. That was only a demand when the process was in the control of those who were part of the problem.
And of course, he must expel the anti-Jewish racists from the party, no matter how senior or how embedded in the previous regime.
The soon-to-be released report by UK equalities watchdog Equalities and Human Rights Commission has lost part of its original significance as the community’s last hope to restrain Corbyn.
Nevertheless, it will act as an important final adjudication on what the Corbyn years wrought and especially the shame that the EHRC has only ever investigated two political parties since it was founded – the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, and the neo-Nazi British National Party (BNP). The enthusiasm and alacrity with which Starmer enacts the EHRC instructions will be an important opportunity for his leadership.
Antisemitism runs deep in the Labour Party. It is entwined with the far-leftist politics of anti-West and anti-imperialism that Corbyn brought into Labour in large numbers in 2015. It is a poison that will not be drained by a few high-profile expulsions and warm words aimed at Britain’s Jews.
To defeat anti-Jewish racism inside Labour, and to win back a sizeable chunk of the Jewish community at the next general election, Starmer must embark on a long, drawn-out battle with hate and racism.
It means political education, argument and being proactive in saying goodbye to those whom hate is more important than hope. It means clearly denouncing the insults to the Jewish community such as the discredited whitewashing Chakrabarti report. And it means high expectations of leading figures in the party supporting these actions.
It won’t be an easy, nor a swift, task. It requires a process, not a series of events. Is Starmer the man to do it? To use a phrase all too familiar to the new Labour leader, the jury is still out.
The author is a Labour peer in the House of Lords and president of the Commonwealth Jewish Council​.