Thursday, October 10, 2019

Our Conservative MP's First Parliament


Since June 2017, Lee Rowley has been the Conservative MP for North East Derbyshire. I served as Labour MP for the same constituency from 1987 to 2005. With the proroguing of parliament he has just completed his first parliamentary period.  

So far in the Commons he has involved himself much more fully with activities in Westminster Hall than with those on the floor of the Commons. He is seldom seen in his place in the Commons' Chamber.

Whilst Westminster Hall is an area which many MPs need to use on occasions, it is much smaller than the Common's Chamber and is more thinly attended, having no facilities for a parliamentary division to take place. So Lee Rowley sometimes uses it to criticise his own Government over matters such as their stance on fracking, but as there are no contested votes in Westminster Hall this will give him no real trouble from the Government whips.

On the floor of the Commons he has made 17 speeches. But these have lasted for only a total of 89 minutes, yet this time also covers intervention from other MPs. So they have  averaged less than 5 minutes. He often leaves the Commons soon after he has made his contributions, so others don't respond to him in such circumstances. Back in March he carried the first reading of a 10 Minute Rule Bill to restrain fracking operations, but in the remaining seven months of the parliamentary session he did not then get the Commons' authorities to print the proposed Bill. Yet the authorities are helpful and skilled in providing the technical details of what any form of Bill needs. With the proroguing of parliament his former authority to print this Bill has now gone.

His equivalent contributions in Westminster Hall (who meet for much shorter periods) has been 24 speeches, lasting for twice as long as those in the Commons at a total of 181 minutes (again allowing for interventions). And whilst in the Commons he has only ever once introduced an item (the one under the 10 Minute Rule procedure), he has obtained the right to introduce debates on several occasions in Westminster Hall. These have added to his total number for such contributions, for they also lead on to him having concluding contributions and he has also intervened during numbers of these debates. Then an MP can barely disappear from a debate which they have introduced. Debates on a topic are normally much shorter in Westminster Hall than those in the Commons Chamber and are more thinly attended. It also meets for shorter periods than the Commons.

He has also submitted 94 Questions for written answer. 31 of these were relating to fracking, 16 to rail or other forms of transport, 7 to health issues, 5 to drones and only 3 on Brexit.

He involves himself with the work of certain All Party Groups. Chairing the groups on the Impact of Shale Gas and on Alternative Lending (who seek to ensure private market development.) Yet these two bodies have conflicting interests. He is also Vice Chair of the Group on Artificial Intelligence and a member of the group on Data Analytics.

He is also Co-Chair of a group of free-market freaks called FREER and has written articles for the House of Commons Magazine and newspapers on their behalf, expressing their free market ideas. FREER are a body which propounds free enterprise principles such as those pursued by INEOS and other fracking companies. This clashes with his  anti-fracking stance, which he clearly pursues merely for local electoral purposes. See here and then here with its claim that “we need to make the moral case for capitalism”.

Then there is a helpful parliamentary avenue he just refuses to use – Early Day Motions. These are published by the Commons and are normally used by back-bench MPs only. Technically they seek a Commons debate on their proposals. Although very few achieve this objective, unless other avenues are then also pursued. But they can be used to publicise a proposal and give the MP who submits an EDM the opportunity to see which fellow MPs then add their signatures to their proposal. This can be very helpful in building up support on a issue – even cross-party support. In just over a week of the opening of parliament after I was first elected in 1987 I submitted an EDM aimed at the relevant Conservative Government Minister agreeing to meet a deputation to seek Government assistance to deal with the consequences of an underground fire in Dronfield. I then pursued other parliamentary avenues and the meeting was later granted. It was just a start down this track.

Excluding my own first two years as an MP for which I can't find relevant records, the Commons shows that over my next 16 years as an MP I submitted a total of 503 EDMs, seconded 31 and signed 12,010. Yet Lee Rowley has not yet submitted, supported nor amended a single EDM. He claims that they cost too much to publish and are just a pretense at doing something. But they can be used especially as the start of a parliamentary (or wider) campaign, with MP's then finding further opportunities to refer to their contents in relevant Commons' debates. They also let people know where an MP stands on a wide range of issues. Lee Rowley's refusal to make use of this established parliamentary avenue (along with his few appearances on the floor of the Commons) is a failure to undertake aspects of his parliamentary responsibilities.

On his facebook site Lee Rowley recently said "We’ve got to stop this; people are tired of MPs messing around and want Brexit sorted. I’ll keep trying to ensure that happens." So why did he not press his views about what should happen (and how) to the Commons during its recent recall ? The Speaker provided ample (and even excessive) opportunities for MPs to do this. Yet there is no record in Hansard of Rowley making a single contribution. And when I looked at the TV coverage at key periods he was nowhere to be seen.

Just who is Lee Rowley ?
He is aged 39. Although born in Chesterfield he later spent time outside our North Derbyshire area. First studying at Oxford and Manchester Universities, then holding various positions with Barclays, a multi-national professional services network called KPMG, Santander and then even with Co-op Insurance. From 2006 to 2014 he served served on the Westminster City Council (living in that area). He became their Cabinet Member for Parking and sort to introduce parking charges, but this was opposed by environmental and disability campaigners and he faced calls to resign. His stance was even criticised by Boris Johnson when Mayor of London and it was then blocked by the High Court. In 2010 he stood unsuccessfully for parliament in the Bolsover Constituency.

In the Commons he served on the Statutory Instruments Select Committee from October 2017 to April 2018. They check Government measures which are pursued under authority granted to them by Acts of Parliament. He then became a member of the Public Accounts Committee in February 2018 and then soon resigned from his position with the Statutory Instruments Committee. The Public Accounts Committee examines the value for money of public expenditure. It is currently examining the BBC's pay policy. He prefers to press for restraining public rather than private powers.

He records his parliamentary interests as being energy, housing, planning, financial services, transport and artificial intelligence. We need to appreciate that this is all in the context of his overriding commitment to free-market capitalism.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Worthy Of Our Support - The Derbyshire Unemployed Workers' Centres.

 Image result for Derbyshire Unemployed Workers' Centre
  I am deeply concerned that the newly Conservative controlled North East Derbyshire District Council has ended that Council's financial support for the essential work of the Derbyshire Unemployed Workers' Centres (DUWC).
   The DUWC are first rate organisations who provide telling assistance and help to deprived and depressed unemployed workers.
   When I was the local MP between 1987 and 2005 for the NE Derbyshire Constituency I developed a close relationship with this body and held half of my MP's surgeries in their office which was then situated on Saltergate in Chesterfield. Due to the shape of North East Derbyshire which curls as a C shape around Chesterfield , I felt that the venue was an important central point where constituents could visit me for my own assistance. Of course, I kept Chesterfield MPs informed of my activities within their constituency boundaries. Then I held the rest of my surgeries scattered around the Constituency itself.
   I hope that people will closely examine the value of the work of the DUWC as far as the well-being of this areas most deprived people are concerned. And that you will then press the leaders of the North East Derbyshire Council over the need to restore that bodies former support for the DUWC's essential operations. To help make up the current shortfall arising from the Council withdrawing its financial support for the work of the DUWC, donations can be sent to them by individuals, trade union branches and other progressive bodies. Your help is keenly needed on this.

   For more details about the essential work of the DUWC and how you and the bodies you are associated with can aid its essential operations, click here.


Friday, September 27, 2019

For Motions Adopted and Policies Announced at the Labour Party Conference

Image result for Labour Party Conference 2019                                                    See via this link.     

Hat tip "Labour List".                                                 

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Brexit : Parliamentary Arithmetic and Constitutional Conundrums

 This first item was updated at 11.30 am on 8th September 2019 and again corrected at 2.40 pm. Then adjusted following the move by Sam Cyimah to the Lib Dems on 14 September.
 EU Countries Map
Hat tip for map. See here.  
                          We Now Have A Clear UK Minority Government

The party status of no less than 46 MPs has altered since they were first elected – 31 are former Conservatives. 15 former Labour. This is a post-war record for such changes.
                                    2017 General Election         Currently
                                       % Votes     Seats                      Seats
Conservatives           42.4        317                        286  One Deputy Speaker
Labour                      40.0        262                        247   2 Deputy Speakers
SNP                            3.0          35                          35
Lib Dems                   7.4          12                          19
DUP                           0.9          10                          10
Sinn Fein                    0.7          (7)                         (7)   Refuse to attend
Plaid Cymru               0.5           4                            4
Green Party                1.6           1                            1
Independents                              1 (Hermon)          34 +Defected/Removed
Change UK                                                              5   Defections
Speaker                                      1                            1   Only casting votes
Resigning                                                               (1)  PM's brother
(Source of percentages -

Initially Conservatives with the support of the DUP (and less their Deputy Speaker) enjoyed 326 potential votes to the oppositions 313. However the DUP's support on Brexit issues could not be guaranteed over the backstop issue.

Currently with the Conservatives taking the whip away from 21 MPs and with two resignation, then even with potential support from the DUP on most issues the Government are technically in a minority position of 343 to 295 over a hard Brexit. But even on other matters where those Conservatives who have lost or resigned the whip could still go into the lobby with them, they still (even with DUP support) only have a maximum of 316 votes with a possible 322 against them.

Luciana Berger and Angela Smith have moved their party attachments no less than four times each in the current parliament. Each from Labour to Change UK to Independents and now to the Liberal Democrats. 

                           Parliamentary Arithmetic on Brexit
When it comes to having any future votes in the Commons on how to leave the European Union, it is difficult to see how a majority vote can be carried. Other than a possible vote of no-confidence in the Government. For there are blocks of MPs in at least four different camps, which make it almost impossible to cobble together a simple majority on any position.
    1. There are those who wish to leave the European Union without any agreement. Their main numbers are within the Conservative Party as expressed via the European Research Group which at one time was discovered to have at least 55 members. But there are many others who also adopt its approach, at least as a fall-back. Boris Johnson's current tactics aid their stance.
    2. The SNP, the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, the Green MP, Change UK, Independents and sections of the Labour Party generally favour a fresh referendum. Most hoping that it will then determine that we will remain in the EU. Others claiming that any plan to leave the EU should require endorsement or rejection via a Referendum.
    3. Then there are those who still look for a departure deal with the EU , even if time for this is running out - unless we can again get them to further postpone the date for our departure. Yet even here the hoped for options differ. There is still the existing EU deal with Theresa May, especially if progress could be made to overcome its problems concerning the Northern Ireland backstop.
    4. Then there is even the claim that a fresh deal could be pursued on say our operating a Customs Union with the EU.
But there is no conceivable majority in parliament for any of these or any related options. Unless, perhaps, a procedure was adopted to engage in an exhaustive ballot to decide which road to pursue. But to give parliament time, that would still require Boris Johnson to get the EU to seek to get an extension for our proposed date of departure. This is now most unlikely.

                                         Constitutional Conundrums

With Boris now arranging to end the parliamentary session and have a fresh Queen's Speech just a few weeks before we are due to embark on the process of leaving the EU, we are driven back to the significance of the very decision which initially set this ball rolling.
After the result of the referendum on 23 June 2016 the Commons first voted on 1st February 2017 to implement the UK's use of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty in order to start the procedure for us leaving the EU. With Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader and with his support, the initial vote on this proposal was carried by 498 to 114. There were 47 Labour MPs who rebelled on the issue. The only Tory rebel (plus five who abstained) being Ken Clarke. The date for our departure from the EU was then invoked by Theresa May on 29 March 2017 in order it provided for our leaving by 12 April 2019. When her proposals for that departure failed to get parliamentary approval, she made arrangements  with the EU to put the final date for our departure back to 31st October, which is just three parliamentary weeks after the coming Queen's Speech. Then in the limited time available parliament has now decided to try to get the EU again to push back the final date for our departure.
Time is running out fast for options other than leaving without a deal. Then will a fresh general election emerge to lead on to any later change of direction? Or would it just produce a new parliament which merely repeated the current divisions on the issue ? Then what if Boris wins the election comfortably? The latest YouGov Poll with its field work done over the last two days gives Conservatives 34%, Labour 22%, Lib Dem 17%, Brexit Party 13%, Greens 8%.

Click here for a parliamentary link which covers the constitutional complexities. 

Major Treaties and Agreements.

1952 to 2002. European Coal and Steel Community.
1952  Court of Justice (which moves to the Common Market and then the EU).
(1953 European Court of Human Rights via the Council of Europe, which also covers EU nations but goes beyond covering some 47 nations).
1958 Treaty of Rome – EEC and EURATOM (i.e Common Market and Customs Union).
From 1967 to 1999 Merger Treaty (a collective defence alliance).
1987 Single European Act (towards a single market).
1993 Treaty of Union – the Maastrict Treaty (goes beyond economic matters to security and justice, with some joining its Euro).
1999 Treaty of Amsterdam.
2003 Treaty of Nice.
2009 Treaty of Lisbon – a clause which the UK is currently acting upon to depart the EU by the end of October. 

EU Members from their years of access.
1958 (6) Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands.
1973 (3) Denmark, Ireland, UK.
1981 (1) Greece.
1986 (2) Portugal and Spain.
1995 (3) Austria, Finland and Sweden.
2004 (10) Cyprus, Czechia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia.
2007 (2) Bulgaria, Romania.
2008 (1) Croatia.

The significance of the UK leaving the EU is seen from the fact that we are its third largest nation in terms of population, out of its 28 member states. Our population being larger than 15 of its member states added together. The current EU's total population is only exceeded by those of China and India, being more than that of the USA. We are 13% of its population. 

Added 12 September : see this link for the relevant Yellowhammer information which the Government have recently been pushed into publishing, although it has a redacted section which is said to read “15. Facing EU tariffs makes petrol exports to the EU uncompetitive. "Industry had plans to mitigate the impact on refinery margins and profitability but UK Government policy to set petrol import tariffs at 0% inadvertently undermines these plans. This leads to significant financial losses and announcement of two refinery closures (and transition to import terminals) and direct job losses (about 2,000).”

Added 15 September ; the Liberal Party Conference has now voted in opposition to our using Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty under which the UK can make arrangements to withdraw from the EU.  Yet back on the 1st February 2017 Liberal MPs (less three abstentions) voted in the Commons in favour of our Government making use of Article 50.  So we now seem to have many MPs who have flip flopped and many others who have been consistently incorrect. But will a general election resolve matters ?

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Natascha Gets It Wrong Again

Image result for Zero Carbon Target

On 28 June the following item appeared in the Times newspaper from Natascha Engel the former MP for NE Derbyshire and former Shale Gas Commissioner. I then give my criticisms of her stance.         
Net-zero carbon target is reckless and unrealistic
natascha engel

As Theresa May takes to the G20 stage in Japan to urge her fellow leaders to follow the UK’s moral leadership on climate change, she should hope that their parting gift is, politely, to ignore her.

As impressive as the target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 sounds, other countries will recognise the capacity it has to destroy UK plc for generations to come. The lack of scrutiny of what would be the most expensive and socially disruptive public policy since the Second World War is truly remarkable.

The announcement and cross-party self-congratulations last week were short on any ideas about how we get there and who picks up the tab. The chancellor has estimated that the cost would be more than £1 trillion. That’s £1,000 every second for the next 30 years.

That may please our international competitors but it’s unlikely to be a domestic vote winner. Given that the UK contributes just 1 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, it’s also unlikely to have any effect on climate change.

The problem with putting targets into law is that no amount of legislating can make magic happen. In fact, we have seen too often how setting a target distracts us from what we are trying to achieve and results only in the time-honoured massaging of statistics.

Recently the Department for Business published the impressive fact that in 2018 “total UK greenhouse gas emissions were 43.5 per cent lower than in 1990”. This sounds remarkably like we are on track (or very nearly) to meet the 100 per cent target.

A few days later, the Department for Environment published a less selective statistic which included the UK’s consumption emissions. These include, for example, the carbon emitted in the steel we now import from China after Redcar was closed (at a cost of more than 2,000 jobs) and our doubled coal imports from Russia, with a fivefold higher carbon footprint compared with coal mined in the UK. Added together, our actual carbon reductions since 1997 are 3.4 per cent.

So our carbon emissions over the past 20 years have dropped by less than 5 per cent — and we think we can reduce them by 100 per cent in the next 30 years?

About 80 per cent of the world’s energy use still comes from oil, coal and gas. If we want global emissions to fall we need to decarbonise, to capture and store carbon dioxide. Developing the technology and making it pay is what other countries might buy from us. Meaningless targets and virtue signalling, on the other hand, will simply be ignored.

Natascha Engel was the UK’s first commissioner for shale gas.

Natascha ignores the fact that the UK is in a key position to seek to lead the world in moving away from the considerable dangers of greenhouse gas emissions. And thus be able to press other nations (especially via international institutions) into following our proposed pattern. We can lead by example.

We have (a) a huge coast line for our size which experiences masses of tidal waves, (b) with numerous running rivers down to the sea, (c) persistent winds which are growing due to the results of the world's gas emissions and (d) periods of record sunshine. Under modern technology we are in a position to expand considerably on our use of such power sources.

In terms of greenhouse gas emissions we are, in fact, in 17th position out of the world's 187 nations. If we take a lead in removing greenhouse emissions, we begin to be in a key position to influence developments in much large nations such China, the USA, India and Russia who because of their sizes are currently responsible for 53.6% of the world's harmful emissions.
We can take a lead towards climate change (1) by example (2) by doing our bit (3) in working on and with other nations to extend our objectives and (4) using pressures inside international institutions.

We can't just sit back and do nothing if we wish to save the planet. One item would be to drop the idea of fracking.

6th October :  Just Discovered, Natascha new job from 2 months ago - see here. 
What she seemingly covers - see here.
Then there is all this about her - click here.

9th October : More on Natascha's fracking failures - see here.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Suggested Priorities for Democratic Socialists

See my proposals on the Independent Labour Publications (ILP) web-site here, where subject to moderation comments can easily be placed.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

To What Extent Does Labour Have A Problem Of Antisemitism ?

2939105950                                                                                                                                                                       In my blog of 27 March (two items below this one) I put forward the case for people pursuing the "dialectics of debate" over political issues. For in a serious discussion which goes beyond mere point scoring, sometimes a third position can be reached which is more satisfactory and deeper than the initial two opposing sides to a case. Yet it can be more than just a compromise between two conflicting approaches. And will provide a deeper understanding.

This is an approach which I feel is essential for the current labour movement, but is seldom pursued. Instead people are too often given to sloganising from their own political perspectives rather than engaging in serious discussion and debate. This often leads to people making dramatic claims for their different stances, without giving due weight to other considerations.

An issue which would benefit from the form of detailed and comradely debate which I advocate is the matter of whether there is a significant and worrying problem of strands of antisemitism within the Labour Party - and if so how this can best be tackled.  It is (hopefully) within the spirit of the dialectics of debate that I will now test out aspects of a detailed and researched document by Prof Alan Johnson which claims that antisemitism in the Labour Party is indeed a major and serious problem.

He has produced a 105 page document to support his claims, to which are then added no less than 302 references many of which can be looked into by using the internet links which he is generous in supplying. I know of no more detailed and fully researched publication on the issue. Even though it is from one side of the case only. His work (as shown on the cover above) is entitled "Institutionally Antisemitic : Contemporary Left Antisemitism and the Crisis in the British Labour Party". It is a Fantham publication which can be found here.

It is a serious contribution, but I feel that it can nevertheless be questioned in numbers of areas and that some of its sources actually point in directions which the author does not share.

He presents no less than 134 examples of claimed antisemitic practices. Yet 12 of these in one section relate to left-wing avenues outside of the Labour Party, such as the Morning Star. So these are rather being used as quilt by association. Then some others show that the Labour Party has not really been guilty of ignoring the issue. For 43 items deal with people who have experienced suspensions from membership over the matter. These include 18 who were later re-admitted, 17 who seemingly remained suspended at his time of writing, 3 who resigned, 3 expelled and two barred as Council Candidates.

The remaining 79 examples are more complicated to summarize. Some are already in the public domain. These include Jeremy Corbyn's well known position over a wall mural, Tom Watson's non-detailed claim that he knows of 50 cases, Luciana Berger's generalized claims which due to her subsequent departure from the Labour Party may mean that these will never be fully presented nor examined, plus Margaret Hodge's claim to have sent an unpublished dossier to the police. Many such examples tend to be difficult to fully cash into.

Although Johnson points to antisemitic positions which have been taken place within the Labour Party dating back to remarks by Keir Hardie, he concentrates more on claimed recent developments. In drawing his conclusion he is especially critical of the role of Corbyn and of those close to him. For instance, Andrew Murray is highlighted. He only joined the Labour Party at the end of 2016 after 40 years as a Communist and was seconded by UNITE to Labour HQ for the 2017 General Election. Corbyn's links with Murray developed  especially from the latter being a Chair of the "Stop The War Coalition" which opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Corbyn was fully active via that body. 

As both Johnson and myself eventually came to clash with Corbyn and others on developments around this matter, I will now deal with our concerns. For they may still shape Johnson's current feelings about Corbyn. Whilst I initially participated with "Labour Against The War" who were a wing of the Stop the War Coalition and I joined in the mass demonstration that was held in London, both Johnson and myself later came to be highly critical of the line the Coalition took following the actual invasion of Iraq. For me, circumstances dramatically altered once the invasion had taken place. Whilst many of the practices of UK and USA operations in Iraq needed strong criticism (along with the fact that they were there at all), it was clear that the armies were not going to be pressed into upping sticks and leaving.  Circumstances alter cases. So both Johnson and myself felt that it was then necessary to press for feasible improvements in the internal conditions in Iraq. A key group who obtained our backing (and that of the TUC) was the quickly established Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU).

The leader of the IFTU was Hadi Salah. On a visit to this country to build up practical support for their efforts he met with the TUC and I had the privilege to chair a meeting he addressed in the Commons. Later he returned to Iraq. Along with some other IFTU activists he was then murdered by reactionary Iraqis.

Johnson along with Abullah Muhsin then wrote a fine TUC publication entitled "Hadi Never Died : Hadi Salah and the Iraqi Trade Unions" - for Hadi's ideas lived on. Numbers of our Trade Unions supplied the IFTU with practical support. Earlier Muhsin had been an underground opponent of Sadam Hussain and had escaped from Iraq immediately upon voting against him in a rigged election for President. In this country Johnson, Muhsin and myself where amongst those who participated in a body called "Labour Friends of Iraq"  and supported the IFTU's development. Then on a visit to Iraq in 2006, I was presented with a prized possession - a certificate of honoury membership of the IFTU. It was in recognition of the supportive work of "Labour Friends of Iraq".

Unfortunately, the Stop the War Coalition (with Corbyn) did not see how circumstances and needs had changed after Iraq was invaded. They came up with the impractical and dangerous demand that "any methods possible" should be used to remove the occupying forces. This was just not effectively going to happen and was a harmful approach. Instead support and assistance for progressive elements in Iraq (and those working with them) was then the priority. Such was the line taken by Labour Friends of Iraq for whom I was a Joint President and which Mushin and Johnson had links with. As part of the dispute I placed an appropriate Early Day Motion on the Commons Order Paper, but Corbyn put down a hard line amendment in support of the Coalition's stance. (See here, you may need to click into the amendment at the close.)

In fact when Jeremy stood for the leadership of the Labour Party, I never voted for him (sending in a spoilt ballot paper on the second vote). There were other grounds for my actions, but when it came to the Arab world I felt that his judgment was often suspect. Although Johnson and myself have both been critical of many aspects of Isreali policy and have looked towards a two state solution to assist Palestinians, we both felt that in his own approach to such matters Corbyn had worked too closely and uncritically with bodies such as Hamas.

But Johnson and I part company in seeing Corbyn as being basically soft on antisemitism. I spent 18 years as an MP in the Socialist Campaign Group alongside Corbyn and although the situation in the Middle East provided scope for discussion, I never heard him (nor Ken Livingstone whom I shared an office with for a period) express antisemitic ideas. For instance, Corbyn fully and strongly condemned serious antisemitic actions such as the killing of 25 Jewish people and the injury of over 300 at two Istanbul synagogues in 2003. He did not choose just to ignore such hateful events. See here. 

 I also feel that in becoming leader, Corbyn has seen the need to to be much less cavalier about the avenues he uses on a whole host of issues, including tackling the plight of the Palestinian people. It is one thing having a regular go on issues in the Commons from the back benches for 32 years before he became leader and also tub thumping from public platforms. Suddenly to jump straight into the position of leader of the opposition is a massively different ball game. Corbyn had never before then seriously sort for even the most junior of Labour Government or opposition post.  The methods he now uses to further Palestinian rights need to be crafted to fit his new stance. He is in a stronger position to aid his cause, but has to work through the reality of where he now stands and try to hold the Parliamentary Labour Party together around his approach. He is now seeking to do this on some other issues. Such an approach can also help to clear away what some see as the remnants of elements of antisemitism in the Labour Party.

Labour's collective attitude to the Palestine-Israel situation needs to draw from moves which happened in Northern Ireland to achieve (the still imperfect yet dramatic) move to peace and reconciliation between Protestant and Catholic communities. Such an approach requires us to press for collective and humane developments across the boards.

A matter which concerns me from Johnson's side of the case is his stress on the use of the 13 point International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. As a rough guide the definition can, of course, have its uses. But it must not be handled in such a way that someone can just argue gleefully "we have got you on item x".  It is only when you look at the wider context in which a person's remarks are made that you can work out how relevant an HRA point is to their general stance.

I feel that a dictionary style definition of antisemitism is enough for the basis of our use of the term. My Concise Oxford Dictionary defines an antisemite as "a person hostile to or prejudiced against Jews". Then Wittgenstein (the break-through philosopher of language analysis) pointed out that the meaningful uses (especially of judgmental words) each have their own family resemblance. This means that most of us using and understanding a dictionary definition of antisemitism and also acting carefully should be able reasonably to judge whether someone is saying something that is antisemitic or not. So whilst a list of 13 examples of forms of antisemitism by the HRA may have its uses in showing the depth of the use of a term, it may not even cover every possibility. Whilst the weight of a lengthy list can over egg its useage.  It is the context, stress, depth and use of a term which relates to its meaning in a specific context. On the danger that a 13 point list may even come to miss out on a particular instance, no lengthy list can cater for every possibility of the way a word can legitimately be used. Innovations of legitimate usuage are always possible. Discourse can be both creative and informative. Yet we should still be able to judge if a usage is legitimate or not. Words are not just restricted for use for those with encylopedic check lists.

We all need to be free to employ normal language. It is not just for specialists. If someone points out that the way we have spoken could have antisemitic implications for some reason, then most of us would readjust what we have said to overcome any such danger. For with such refinements we should not be frightened to discuss Jewish issues or the activities of the State of Isreal. For we are otherwise in danger of avoiding subjects which should be solidly part of the dialectics of debate. Without discussions (which can avoid extremes) we avoid important avenues of understanding which we can arrive at via the dialectics of debate - although such debates tend to have no end.  This is all needed as much on the issue of anti-semitism as for almost on any other issue related to politics.

It is 62 years since I first joined the Labour Party where Manny Shinwell was my local MP and was of Jewish decent.  In all that time I have never (face to face) come across anti-semitic utterances in a Labour Party context. Some of this could arise from the fact my Labour Party activity at grass roots level has been in constituencies with no significant Jewish populations and I have not then heard an anti-semitic remark or concerns arising out of coversations.

In fact the only time I have came across such an anti-semitic comment face to face was in a South Yorkshire Miners Day Release Class which I was teaching. The adult student making the offensive comment was immediately challenged by another miner who had a Jewish wife. But there was no great ranchor between the two as everyone in the class were friendly with each other. Without my hammering the person responsible for the offensive remark, I encouraged a debate on the issue. Then although the person who had made the offensive remark never completely back-tracked, we finally all left for a coffee break and did the normal intermingling.  Perhaps openness and comradeship can help overcome such divisions. The person who made the offensive comment never repeated it again in our later meetings. And he was a good solid student on other issues.

Tackling antisemitism within a non antisemitic organisation should be possible via the dialectics of debate. The more Labour engages in internal debate and in the shaping of its overall policies, the easier it should be to transcend any pockets of antisemitism. But it does require people debating with each other. Some of this can be done via the internet if we move beyond its regular uses for point scoring. But the beauty of meeting and socialising is that debate can take place amongst comrades who can look into each others eyes.

I have an admiration for Alan Johnson's considerable efforts on the antisemitism issue (which we can all delve into), but I feel that his evidence and his general stance can be checked out and do not properly establish that Labour under Corbyn has become more antisemitic than during the years prior to his leadership. It seems to me to have usually been a slender problem. Any current problems which can be unearthed should, of course, be tackled. Yet (except in extreme cases) a sensitive approach might work and pull offenders away from such influences.  For the dialectics of debate can help overcome many remaining problems. It is a technique we should push for. Whilst there is always the backstop of discipline and expulsions for persistent and deep cases.      

Added 28 May.  Today the Equality and Human Rights Commission has announced that it is carrying out an enquiry into the issue of antisemitism in the Labour Party. Its terms of reference state
"The Commission suspects that The Labour Party (‘the Party’) may have itself, and/or through its employees and/or agents, committed unlawful acts in relation to its members and/or applicants for membership and/or associates."
See the Commission's full terms of reference here.  

Added 21 July . See this lengthy Wikipedia item entitled "Anti-semitism in the UK Labour Party"  which at its close provides connections to no less than 439 items, one of which is Prof Alan Johnson's publication which I deal with above. Link here.   

Then there is also today's "Labour launches anti-Semitism guide to party members". Link here.

Added 3 August. See this telling article Link here.