I must, I fear, express and explain my guilt over all this.
I wish I were not guilty, but I know I am.
And that guilt is over the fact that, by about 2002 or so, people in my political position had come to the conclusion that, because Jews were treated better within the Mail-reading mainstream than they ever had been before, and because they might be aligned with an international geopolitical position to which we were antipathetic, it didn’t matter what we allowed to be said and thought about them. It didn’t matter who we took as allies of convenience, who we aligned ourselves with.
In time of war, we thought it didn’t matter. Hadn’t people like us been forced to take sides, twenty years earlier, with as horrific a military junta as has existed anywhere in modern history, simply because its victory was necessary to facilitate ours? If we could align ourselves with a regime like that, nothing was beyond or beneath us in our fight to get our party back, and in a sense to get our country back as well. Didn’t we unequivocally mean Attlee’s Britain, rather than Churchill’s, when we used the latter phrase? And so we stopped caring.
No matter that the places which have become more and more threatening for Jews to live in partially as a result of people like myself taking our eyes off the ball, the places which had once been their only places of safety in Britain – London, Manchester and Glasgow, basically – are still, unlike the places in the Shires which have undoubtedly become more philosemitic as a result of Thatcher’s legacy, the places where most British Jews actually live.
No matter that we could remind ourselves without hesitation or argument – just by reading something on the Times Digital Archive, or watching or reading some (obviously not all) of the films and books I had grown up on – that many of the attitudes that Thatcherism threw on the fire were just as bad as Thatcherism itself, and never deserved to be saved or protected in any way. Didn’t we recognise how bad anti-ITV snobbery – Shire Tories honestly believing that the ITV of 1975 was what the Sky of 2005 would end up being – had been? But at the same time, we wanted and needed those views back; for pop, in particular, to be the playground we thought we were being denied we needed Hyacinth Bucket to rise from the grave. And anyway, if someone was against the Iraq war it didn’t matter. Hadn’t Churchill taken sides with Stalin? “You play by different rules in time of war”. I internalised those words as a mantra. I didn’t know the dangers. None of us did. If anyone warned us, they could be safely dismissed as a “neocon” or “imperialist”.
And anyway, if Thatcher had taken a side that automatically meant it was bad. If those she had thrown on the fire had held a view, that automatically made it good. And didn’t I want to create a dominant Left-wing tradition where none had existed (it could have done if all the potential Hammetts and Lovelesses hadn’t gone to South Wales, but those events had ensured that they did)? The only way to do that, I thought, was to bring the disillusioned old guard from the other side over, to convince them that their true interests lay in our hands. And if they were poisonously, hatefully anti-Semitic, what did it matter? They weren’t the mainstream of their side any more, so it didn’t matter what they hated. The Sun and Sky News would come through for Israel. Anything else was fluff in the wind.
People like myself started using “nuance” as a pejorative, just as The Sun itself did.
People like myself stopped caring. We didn’t think it mattered any more. The other side would look after them, so who cared what we did?
And so we made some disgusting friends. I personally was far, far too tolerant of an active BNP member who talked about “kikes” and “a special oven”, simply because he used the words to denounce Paul Wolfowitz. I was told to delete his comments. I thought the person telling me was a weak centrist and did nothing. If someone hated the neocons, he must be one of us underneath, right?
I thought the Palladium show was driven by a hatred of British tradition because those who built ATV would have thought the latter would lead to another Holocaust, and had rendered us indifferent to the first one. Rhetoric worthy of the Colin Jordan of 1962. Except it was coming from the mouth of a 21st Century “anti-imperialist”, for whom Chomsky was a God.
I insinuated that Jack Rosenthal’s Your Name’s Not God, It’s Edgar denounced the puritanism and fear of pleasure of the Old Left because its writer was Jewish, and therefore not quite one of us, not built into this land. Hadn’t ’68 simply set the stage for Thatcherism, created an emphasis on self-satisfaction which could go to any side? I didn’t realise what “could go to any side” actually meant, i.e. that its ending up on that side was never inevitable, never certain, never ordained. I thought any kind of “socialism of pleasure” was Thatcherism by other means. Hadn’t Blair proved that? And wasn’t Iraq invaded for Israel? Didn’t that prove that everything, everything, was all a Jewish conspiracy?
I witnessed people of the ostensible Left defending Quentin Letts, and didn’t do a thing to speak out against it, and to make clear that he was everything we should be against. I actively imbibed the view that if he didn’t like the people who created neoliberalism and invaded Iraq, he must be one of us underneath.
When Momus backed away from any hint of philosemitism, I cheered him along.
When someone sarcastically suggested on my blog that the real reason why I didn’t like Amy Winehouse’s music very much was because she was Jewish, I thought they were a Murdochian troll. Now I think it was fair comment, and far closer to what the Left should have been.
But still I posted outrageous, conspiratorial shit about football because I wanted Steve McClaren to fail.
I saw people on the same forum using phrases like “Zionist bastards” and thought the only thing wrong with it was that I wasn’t allowed to use the same phrases because I didn’t go to the same pubs. I saw people relativising away the use of the word “kike” – because after all Rupert Murdoch’s against it, isn’t he? – and nodded along. When people admitted that they knew that the USA was a fairer society, for all its faults, than Iran even when they were pleased that the latter had beaten the former in the 1998 World Cup, I thought they were giving in to the enemy.
Once I had changed sides and realised how dangerous a place I had been going to, I had to suffer for it. I was verbally abused and attacked in all kinds of unreasoning, resentful ways. Over and over again, they were all as I had been. It didn’t matter. It’s not our quarrel. The other side can look after it. The other side care so much that we don’t need to.
And then they took over the party, and the commanding heights stopped caring too.
And this was always going to happen.
And, I regret to say, it deserves to happen.
No allegiances of convenience, no horrors of war, no changing of sides on the Right, nothing can justify what people like me were accepting, excusing and encouraging.
And until that recognition – the one I made just in time – is total and universal, until all hints that “it’s all being made up by the Zionist Neocon Media” are removed, we will deserve to fail.
At a time when, more desperately than ever, we need to win.
But people like myself saw the people on anorak forums who attacked anti-Semitism and Ahmadinejad from the Left also appearing to defend, or at least make allowances for, Murdoch from the Left, and thought they were scum, beyond belief, beyond argument, beyond reason.
We identified opposition to anti-Semitism with “the wrong side”, and lost everything we had ever stood for, became everything we had ever said we were against.
And so we have given ourselves the threat of defeat when, at least in certain places, victory had looked certain.
And we don’t, really, deserve anything better.
It is an insult to all who have suffered from anti-Semitism to say that pointing attention to it is invariably, and by its very nature, tabloid exploitation and manipulation. I once believed it was. We all did. But it isn’t. These are questions to answer.
And if the only way to answer them is to move away from certain posturing manifestations of what “socialism” has become, then maybe it has to be.
Because socialism was never this, or meant to be this, or anything like this.
But Corbyn did not grow up in one of its heartlands; he grew up in a Shropshire where anti-Semitism of the Quentin Letts variety would have been casual, unthinking, unremarked.
And just as being against Thatcher didn’t make the Argentinian military junta good, being against Thatcher didn’t make those attitudes any good either.
But we thought it didn’t matter.
And at the one time when we needed it not to bite us, it has, and it would have deserved to bite us whoever was responsible and whoever had created it.
A “socialism” which believes that concerns about anti-Semitism are the stuff of an elite conspiracy is the antithesis of socialism.
And, even if others are not prepared to say it, I’m sorry.