There are so many people trying to use bullying and false accusations as political tools lately that when I heard Waterstones had backed out of a book launch during Labour Party conference, I went straight to my local indie bookshop and ordered it.
At the time, I didn’t even remember what it was called – ‘can you get me a copy of that book Waterstones were afraid to launch at conference,’ I said. A principle is at stake, but also, curiosity is a strong motivation. If you are doing your politics by trying to scare off your opposition’s supporters, take it from me – it’s not just immoral, it also doesn’t work.
There were several events that bullies tried to see off at Labour Conference, and this isn’t just a Labour problem. Just as neighbours are finding their way into the newspapers for trying to punch and kick their way to agreement over Brexit, so political groups are getting into a frenzy of attacks on their detractors. If you or yours are doing this, take it from me – it’s not just that you are doing their publicity for them, it’s also that you are apparently losing. Many of us assume that bully-tactics and abuse are the recourse of failed political groups. If they could do it by numbers and reasoned argument, we think, they would.
Amazingly, even that last piece of information has a possible spin to it – politics is currently rife with “cry bullies” – those who have realised that the bullies are seen as the failing minority sometimes, so rather than trying to drum up support by honourable methods, they arrange to have themselves bullied, so they look like the virtuous victims of a dying opposition.
Never let a bully win
Let’s solve it right now by standing up to bullies. Let’s look precisely where they are trying to stop us looking. To follow my own advice, here is a review of the book Waterstones backed out of launching. (To be scrupulously fair, they did apologise and James Daunt said their attitude at the time was a mistake – but he said it after the book was safely launched elsewhere so…)
So: when asked how many Labour members had been reported for anti-semitism, responders in a national poll went for between 14% and 40%. When asked why they thought this, a common response was “because of the amount of media coverage about it.”
What the media do
And indeed, between 15 June 2015 and 31 March 2019, the national newspapers have carried around five and a half thousand articles about anti-semitism in the Labour Party – and that’s before you start on the TV news. Well there you go – there’s no smoke without fire, and why would reporters and writers keep bashing on about it if it wasn’t true?
If you ever did media studies or sociology in school, you are probably coming up with some “yes buts” by now. If you didn’t, please take a moment to read about moral panics and media amplification. In short, billions, trillions of “events” happen every day. What you see in the newspapers and on TV is not “the news” it’s what reporters choose to look at and, if they’re profit driven, choosing virulent stories that get attention is the way to sell their product – and if they have a political bias, well those stories don’t need to be true…
Never let a fact get in the way…
We know from government and independent studies in recent years that all of our society, political and otherwise, has problems with racism, sexism and classism and we know that among political parties, Labour (although not brilliant) does better than most in dealing with those things. We even know that Labour (although not 100% innocent) has a membership that is somewhat less anti-semitic than the general population. The true figure for members who have been investigated for anti-semitism is something like 0.1%.
Self fulfilling prophecies
The trouble is, if you go on about a thing like that for long enough, and if you search obsessively enough for problems, you risk infuriating people to the point that you make the story true, and that is why Greg Philo, Mike Berry, Justin Schlosberg, Antony Lerman and David Miller have written this book, Bad News for Labour: antisemitism, the party and public belief. In it, they study what has actually happened, how Labour came to adopt a draconian set of rules and examples which many believe will do anything but help to resolve the situation, and what the consequences might be.
Happily, they also “offer suggestions on a way forward for Labour as a key progressive force and … point to the need for unity against all forms of racism in the times that lie ahead.”
This is a useful book – buy it, read it – not least because there are people who don’t want you to.
or if you’re in Hastings, get the book (in fact all the political books you could want!) from