My Labour Party voted down antisemitism training and Pittsburgh solidarity! Why?

By Steve Cooke, Stockton North CLP

(The full text of the emergency motion on the Pittsburgh attack Steve refers to is available at bit.ly/pittsburghmotion)

I am aghast to report that an emergency motion on the Pittsburgh synagogue attack which I took to my Labour Party branch meeting on 1 November was voted down, with the leader of Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council and the cabinet member for community safety among its most vociferous opponents. This comes after our CLP executive voted down my proposal to hold antisemitism training.

The three Norton (North, South and West) branches hold a joint monthly meeting, with the option to break out into separate groups should a branch-level vote be required on motions. I am secretary of the Norton West branch as well as political education officer for Stockton North CLP and a member of its executive committee.

I imagined that the emergency motion I had drafted to condemn the Pittsburgh murders, criticise antisemitic hate speech and present the Labour Party as leading the way in opposing such prejudices would be approved without controversy.

I had received positive feedback when I shared the draft motion on social media earlier in the day and a number of Labour comrades asked me if they could use it in their own branches and CLPs. I also sent the motion to my trade union branch executive colleagues with a view to Unite the union’s Teesside Local Government branch bringing it to Stockton North CLP later in the month and all of those colleagues confirmed their support for the motion.

The Norton Labour joint branches meeting was poorly attended on the night, but we had a decent discussion about the Labour Party’s policy on fracking and various other local issues.

When we got to the emergency motion, however, it was soon apparent that there would be resistance to the whole idea with the chair of the meeting, Cllr Steve Nelson, the cabinet member for community safety, the most implacably opposed.

Arguments made against the motion included that it should say we were against all racism not just antisemitism. I pointed out that the motion clearly expressed concern about “racist hate crime more generally”, criticised governments and opportunist politicians for the “scapegoating of minorities”, cited Tell Mama UK, the Islamophobia monitoring organisation, and it affirmed our commitment to “fighting racism in all its forms”.

It was said that all the focus was on “antisemitism this, antisemitism that”, while other types of racism never even got a mention. I pointed out that I had presented a motion about Islamophobia and anti-migrant racism to the CLP in July and then our Women’s Officer Barbara Campbell and myself had organised a counterprotest against a far-right group (mainly members of Anne Marie Waters’ For Britain party) that marched in Stockton town centre later that month.

They wanted references to antisemitism removed from the Pittsburgh motion, but no demands had been made to make the aforementioned Islamophobia and anti-migrant racism motion more generic or to erase all mention of those specific types of racism when it was debated and then unanimously supported at July’s CLP meeting.

Nelson said that the person alleged to be responsible for the Pittsburgh murders was a far-right activist, a Nazi, which was the very opposite of what the Labour Party stood for. Yes, I responded, that’s why the motion condemns what he did, describes his long held antisemitic views and states the party’s opposition to such bigotry. I said that I would be happy to add “far-right, neo-Nazi activities” to the motion’s clause noting that “the alleged perpetrator of this heinous act is reported to have had a long history of antisemitic views and held a deep hatred for Jewish people”, but they weren’t prepared to accept that proposal either.

Nelson pointed out that the motion supported political education about antisemitism when Stockton North CLP’s executive committee had previously voted against us doing that. It made that decision in its meeting on 19 October, when as the CLP’s political education officer I had proposed organising an antisemitic awareness session with a guest speaker in partnership with Stockton South CLP. I pointed out that the emergency motion supported the principle of political education about antisemitism and was in accordance with recent statements made by our leader Jeremy Corbyn who had called for more education about the issue in the party.

Nelson accused me of trying to bring the party into disrepute by associating us with antisemitism. It felt dreadful to be accused of this simply for proposing a motion that, in fact, would have strongly disassociated us from any form of hatred towards Jewish people and which would have shown how clear we were about confronting the evil of antisemitism.

I cited, without divulging names, a number of cases where I had challenged Labour members who posted vile articles and memes on social media that promoted Holocaust denial and blamed Jews for causing most wars and various other problems. I pointed out that some of the culprits had been members in neighbouring constituencies and said I had also intervened privately to advise more local activists that content they had shared online could have been interpreted as antisemitic.

Nelson insisted that such people should be expelled, we should have zero tolerance for them, but Barbara Campbell and I argued that the Labour Party’s efforts to address racism should not be confined to dealing with expulsion-level offences. We didn’t only care about prejudice when it was severe; we wanted members to understand the particular characteristics of antisemitism and feel empowered to challenge it. Changing minds, not expelling people, should be our priority.

Nelson said that the whole Labour antisemitism issue was “just a game being played” and that my motion and call for political education on the topic was part of that. “Who’s playing the game then?”, Barbara and I asked, “Tell us.” But he wouldn’t say.

Barbara had to intervene to ask Nelson to stop attacking me and return to chairing the meeting. It was disappointing that Cllr Robert Cook, the leader of the council, said nothing to support us or protect me from personal attacks. (In the end he too voted against the motion.)

Comrade Campbell said that she supported the motion because the type of training election candidates received on equality and diversity tended to emphasise legal issues and statutory requirements rather than the political dimension or the history, which was particularly relevant to understanding antisemitism.

“Are you seriously going to vote down a motion condemning the Pittsburgh killings?”, I asked, “Is this for real?”

“Yes, I am”, replied Nelson whilst physically pushing away the sheet of paper with the motion on it.

I moved that the motion be approved. No amendments were proposed. A vote of the entire meeting (i.e. all three branches together) was held and only Barbara and I supported the motion. That vote lost, I asked for a vote of the Norton West members but that was tied and the motion fell.

There was further discussion after the vote as Barbara attempted to find a compromise, but no concessions were offered.

I am anxious about going public with this, despite my belief in open debate and transparency, because at its meeting on 19 October another member of the CLP executive committee had threatened to make a formal complaint against me if word got out that the EC had voted down antisemitism training. However, I feel that the person making that threat was the one in the wrong and that such bullying behaviour should not be given further licence in the party.

For the record, I would like to make it clear that Alex Cunningham MP played no part in these meetings and I believe that he has always taken a consistent position in opposing antisemitism and all other forms of racial prejudice.

I would add that the conflict over this issue does not follow the left-versus-right stereotypes presented in the media. Barbara Campbell and myself are easily the most leftwing members active in our branch (I was a member of Left Unity prior to joining Labour in 2016 and we’re both People’s Assembly activists) and we supported the motion. It was the longer-established, Corbyn-sceptic members who opposed the motion. The same pattern was followed a fortnight earlier when the CLP executive voted by eight votes to six against allowing me to organise political education on this topic. The pro-Corbyn left members mostly supported the proposal and the more ‘centrist’ establishment, mainly councillors, voted against.

Let us know what you think? Write a reply? theclarionmag@gmail.com

11 Comments

  1. This Jew-hating intolerance in parts of the Labour Party, dressed up as political correctness, is going to end in Labour being confined to the opposition benches for years to come. Denial at the top of the party, as well as denial in so many of its constituency groups (as so articulately recorded here in the Clarion), is no different to the denial in Saudi Arabia right now that the ruling family had their fingerprints all over the Khashoggi murder.

  2. Steve Cooke is a joyless cretin. He isn’t standing in solidarity with anyone but himself and a narrow band of bumbling amateurs, who are using the murder of 11 jews in Pittsburgh to further sabotage the committee process within CLP, because they can’t get beyond their petty and small-minded grievances with one or two members of the Labour controlled Stockton Borough Council who, unlike Steve Cooke, have actually been elected.

    Steve Cooke wouldn’t know what solidarity was if it slapped him in the face with a big wet fish — which literally everyone in Stockton North would pay good money to see happen, if it meant they didn’t have to listen to his tedious voice rambling on and on and on and on and on about whatever issue he’s latched onto this week, to the detriment of addressing issues we might actually be in a position to do something about.

    His original motion was voted down because, unlike Steve Cooke, members who live in the real world had already agreed that Stockton North CLP would be invited to attend antisemitism training already being delivered by Stockton South CLP. But because King Cooke can’t stand the idea of anyone other than King Cooke taking the credit for something, he decided to make a song and dance about it in the national and international media, dragged his Union into it by lying about the original motion including condemnation of the Pittsburgh attacks when it was actually tabled before the attacks took place, and by generally behaving like a child on social media, for the entertainment of other children, who weren’t at any of the meetings he railroaded and yet apparently have greater clarity on the content of those meetings than people who were.

    If anyone thinks Steve Cooke is the hero whistleblower right-on “real socialist” he likes people to think he is, because of his recent actions, they’re more than welcome to come out door-knocking with me this weekend, to talk to actual voters about Jeremy Corbyn’s policy platform, and see for themselves that it’s the likes of Steve Cooke who make it all the more difficult to convince people “we” are not all mad Trots — an impression they have of all of us precisely because self-serving egomaniacs like Steve Cooke would rather betray long serving members, who’ve literally kept the red flag flying here even as he spreads lies about them in the Tory press, rather than listen to what people are saying while he tries to talk over them.

    The sooner he’s kicked out of the party AGAIN the better. But what do I know? I only joined the party in the first place to support Jeremy Corbyn’s initial leadership bid. Which in Steve Cooke’s world makes me a Tory in disguise Blairite. Because that’s how stupid he is.

    1. “Bonzo Dog”, as an EC member of Stockton South CLP, there is no such training currently approved or planned by our CLP so I’m not sure how Stockton North CLP agreed to participate in “our” training. #It’sTrainingJimButNotAsWeKnowIt

    2. Whatever your personal view of Steve Cooke or/and the motion this is no way to talk about another member of the party or indeed any human being. You are in total breech of The equalities Act and also the online code of conduct set by the NEC. It is possible to maintain differences of opinion and assert your own opinion without being insulting and degrading. It also against the code of conduct on social media from the NEC to use a fake account name for the purposes of hiding your identity to abuse another member (or anyone)
      “cretin” is an extremely offensive and discriminatory name for a start.A word I do not expect to find being used by a member of the party. Sounds like you really do need that equalities training promto.

      While you are awaiting this training please look up the rules and count yourself lucky that you are not being reported in order to be “thrown out” of the party yourself.

      https://labour.org.uk/members/my-welfare/my-rights-and-responsibilities/coc-social-media/

  3. Most of the comments by ‘Bonzo Dog’ are just ad hominem attacks not worthy of a response. However, the claim that my “original motion [to the CLP’s executive commitee] was voted down because, unlike Steve Cooke, members who live in the real world had already agreed that Stockton North CLP would be invited to attend antisemitism training already being delivered by Stockton South CLP” is an outright lie. No such training had already been arranged by the neighbouring CLP. I was in discussions with the relevant officer from that CLP about us organising antisemitism political education and that is the proposition that was voted down by the EC.

  4. Dear Bonzo

    I’m not sure who is feeding you the information about what happened at the meeting under discussion, so a few facts from someone who was there, just to put the record straight
    The proposal to offer anti-semitism training was drawn up jointly by the Political Education Officers both from Stockton North (Steve Cooke) and Stockton South. As the proposal has yet to be put to Stockton South no alternative training is available and there was no discussion about that happening at the meeting. Wider equality and diversity training is already planned for the CLP (I am delivering the sessions over the next two weeks) and this event would have complemented what we are able to cover there.
    Rather, the reasons for not wanting the training were cited at the meeting as-only having a small local Jewish population, that disussing anti-semitism may attract the attention of the press and that we hadn’t had training specifically for other strands of diversity, which Steve made clear he is happy to include in the political education programme. Comrade Cooke has not lied to Unite the Union, of which I am also a member, and the motion that has been submitted to this weeks CLP is a message of condemnation of the Pittsburgh massacre with the full support of the Regional Politcal Officer of the union.
    Most of the content of your post is merely insulting language which has little political content but, as the Women’s and BAME Officer for Stockton North I must take this opportunity to point out that use of the distasteful and discriminatory term ‘cretin’ is a clear violation of the Labour Party code of conduct, equality and diversity guidleines and the Labour tradition of not using discrimintory language. I suggest you either ask for the post to be edited to remove the term or for it to be deleted.
    If I can be of any further help in preventing your anger being sparked by such misinformation please let me know.

  5. Hi, repost and we’ll copy into/over/deleting the original comment so that the flow still makes sense.

    1. In the original comment I incorrectly stated that Stockton South CLP were already delivering AS awareness training. I have since learned this was proposed but not yet decided upon by Stockton South CLP and apologise unreservedly for the misunderstanding.

      I would also like to apologise for the use of a pejorative which I genuinely did not know was insulting to people with learning difficulties. I had assumed all of my adult life that it was an informal form of insult alongside ‘buffoon’ or ‘feckless’ — as indeed it is still listed as such by dictionary.com

  6. Well there you go Bozo. Doesn’t that just show that every day’s a good day for a bit of political education

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