Ken Loach and the cowardice of the left

You calling me a prick? I’m a married man with six kids! — Chris Coleman, former Sunderland manager

In October 2020, the Equality and Human Rights Commission published its investigation into antisemitism in the Labour Party. Amongst the findings were “serious failings in the antisemitism complaint handling system”, “significant failings in the way the Labour Party has handled antisemitism” and “serious failings in leadership”.

The report also named two individuals whose antisemitic conduct led to a charge of unlawful harassment against the party. One of the named individuals was Ken Livingstone.

Ken Livingstone is also a sponsor of Labour Against The Witch-Hunt, an organisation which was set up in 2017 to oppose what it saw as “the purge of pro-Corbyn supporters” from the party, and to counter what they perceived as “exaggerated allegations of antisemitism”.

Jackie Walker, a founder member of LATW, was suspended from Labour in 2016 and eventually expelled three years later for claiming Jews were the “chief financiers of the slave trade” and wrongly criticising International Holocaust Day for ignoring other genocides. One of her more prominent defenders was Ken Loach, who said in 2017 that Walker should be readmitted to Labour to become a “significant figure in the party”. Loach, too, is a sponsor of LATW.

Last month, LATW was one of four organisations proscribed by Labour’s National Executive Committee, meaning that any members would be automatically barred from the party.

If you believe Labour needs to meet its EHRC obligations, tackle antisemitism within the party, and make Labour a safe space for Jews, it’s difficult to see how you can argue against expelling an organisation founded on the notion that claims of antisemitism were politically motivated to damage Corbyn supporters and critics of Israel.

So, as a sponsor of LATW, Loach was formally expelled from the party this weekend. No doubt Loach will go back to organising and campaigning for micro left parties, as he did in the years running up to 2015.

What has been more depressing — yet also entirely predictable and very illuminating — has been the online wagon-circling from the left over the last day or so.

I opened this article with a hilarious exchange involving Chris Coleman. During his time in charge at Sunderland, a fan called him a prick; Coleman retorted that he was married with six kids. Well, okay, but that’s just an absurd non-sequitur. In no way is that a relevant response to what’s been said. And I was reminded of that with the Ken Loach defences this weekend, so many of which attempted the Coleman Gambit.

The first thing to note about all of these tweets is that there is no meaningful defence of Loach’s beliefs here, or his actions. There is talk of his films, how he has supposedly inspired millions, his calibre, which may or may not be true, but is all completely irrelevant.

Does Chris Coleman having six kids mean he can’t be a prick? If Ken Loach makes great films, are his actions beyond reproach?

None of the prominent leftists here are willing to defend Loach’s time with LATW, the actual reason for his expulsion. This is sophistry but it’s also cowardice. Intellectually dishonest. Lazy. Playing to the crowd.

Either these people think LATW shouldn’t be expelled, or they think Loach’s back catalogue means he should be exempted from the proscription. But they are not willing to assert either point.

Instead we have hand-waving beatific nonsense about Kes and Daniel Blake.

The second thing is, watching this display this weekend is an absolutely crystal clear demonstration of how antisemitism in the left blew up into such a big problem. Because someone’s socialism is immediately placed ahead of anything else. When Loach goes on the BBC to say that there is no validity to claims of antisemitism in the party, and that Labour MPs were just trying to destabilise Corbyn’s leadership, that just gets ignored. Swept under the carpet.

The left is defending its own here, first and foremost.

Which might be easier to stomach if the left were not so keen on lecturing everybody else about racism all the time.

It’s easy to be an anti-racist when the racism you’re finding is on the other team. It’s a cost-free exercise. Harder when you’ve got to confront it amongst your own.

But also; this is where your value as an “anti-racist” comes in. If you genuinely believe in being an anti-racist, you fervently oppose it wherever it is found.

The figures on the left who imagine themselves as such doughty campaigners have been found sorely wanting on this point, putting factional loyalty ahead of everything else again and again and again.

This weekend is just another reminder that they vacated any moral anti-racist high ground a long time ago, and if they’re serious about opposing bigotry, a period of introspection is sorely overdue.

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Rob Francis

I write blogs about the Labour Party, in an attempt to stop myself from screaming.