The Brexit Party narrowly lost yesterday’s Peterborough by-election by 683 votes.
For a brand-new party registered only four months ago, that was a significant achievement. What a pity, though, that it didn’t actually win the seat.
According to national polling by YouGov, the Brexit party has opened up a staggering six point lead over Labour and the LibDems, suggesting that more than a quarter of voters would back it in a general election.
To do that, however, voters need to be persuaded that the party has a credible chance of wining seats and that their vote will not be wasted. And for that to be believed, there has to be some concrete evidence.
In Peterborough, Labour threw absolutely everything at keeping the seat. The fledgling Brexit Party couldn’t begin to match Labour’s organisation on the ground. Which is probably why it didn’t win. But its failure to break through and thus shatter the credibility problem once and for all is a definite setback.
Of scarcely less concern, however, is the Labour candidate Peterborough has now elected, Lisa Forbes. For during the campaign, she was outed as having “liked” antisemitic posts on social media.
She had “liked” a claim that the prime minister, Theresa May, had a “Zionist Slave Masters agenda”. In addition, beneath a post whose author championed conspiracy theories that Islamic extremists were created by the CIA and Israel’s Mossad, Forbes wrote: “I’ve enjoyed reading this so much”.
Forbes has already apologised, terming antisemitism “abhorrent” and saying of the “slave masters” post that she had merely “liked” a video of children praying about the atrocities that had happened in New Zealand and “hadn’t paid much attention to the text above it”.
“I apologise for that and I’m really sorry and I just hope that people will understand that I don’t have a bad bone in my body towards any race of people and antisemitism is something that I condemn completely”.
This all sounds remarkably similar to Corbyn’s own explanation, when confronted with his support for a rabidly antisemitic mural that had been destroyed because it depicted grotesquely caricatured Jewish capitalists making money on the backs of the poor, that he hadn’t noticed the picture because he was only concerned with the issue of freedom of speech.
Jewish groups had called for Forbes to be deselected. The Jewish Labour Movement refused to canvass for her. In a joint statement, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Community Security Trust questioned her suitability for public office, saying her claim not to have seen the words “stretches the limits of credulity”.
“Ms Forbes also says she will seek antisemitism training. This is somewhat ironic given her previous rejection of the IHRA definition of antisemitism. We are fed up hearing that Labour opposes antisemitism while repeatedly hearing excuses that its members accidentally missed the racism that was staring them in the face”.
And yet Forbes has now been elected. Indeed, Labour actually increased its previous slim majority by 76 votes.
From which we can arrive at certain unattractive conclusions.
First, it shows that the Labour Party will continue to turn a blind eye to the antisemitism rampant among its supporters. But we know this already, don’t we. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has launched a formal inquiry into the huge number of complaints of antisemitism by its members and its failure to address the problem.
A few days ago a Corbyn ally, Pete Willsman, was suspended after being recorded claiming the Israel embassy and 68 London rabbis were behind a conspiracy to engulf Labour and its leader with antisemitism claims. While the party immediately expelled its grandee Alastair Campbell for voting LibDem in the European parliament elections in order to register his support for Remain, Willsman was merely suspended – thus demonstrating once again how low the party leadership ranks unhinged, paranoid anti-Jewish hatred.
Even worse, however, than the Labour party’s indifference towards or connivance with the Jewish-conspiracy ravings in its ranks is the attitude of the British public. For the by-election result shows that the stench of antisemitism is failing to repel the voters. Either they don’t care or, worse, they may actually be sympathetic – perhaps because they don’t like what they perceive as people ganging up on someone. That’s a very British thing.
And heaven help us, too many do view the antisemitism furore as the Jews ganging up on Jeremy Corbyn. How can they possibly believe that, you may ask, given the unambiguous hatred, fear and loathing of the Jews that party members are either directly expressing or, in their supposed myopia or absent-mindedness, appearing to endorse?
The answer is probably that, in addition to those who actually do believe this poison, there are many who don’t notice it to be poison. And that’s because too many don’t think antisemitism is unambiguously bad.
They know nothing about the Jewish people or their history, nothing about the unique characteristics and historic reach of anti-Jewish hatred, nothing about the moral sickness of any society that fails to stamp it out. They don’t understand why the Jews always seem be going on and on about it. Doesn’t this mean, they ask themselves, that they must be doing something bad to attract so much dislike?
To them, these antisemitic remarks are just background noise, no different from all the other insults and aggression and vile outbursts that have now come to define public debate and which they mainly just tune out. Many have never even met a Jew. So why should they care about them any more than anyone else?
Before yesterday, British Jews could hardly have been in any greater dismay about the toleration of Jew-bashing on the left. The Peterborough by-election will have increased it, however, still further.