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Pat McFadden: Anti-Semitism goes to the soul of where we are as a party

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Pat McFadden, the Labour MP Wolverhampton South East and Shadow City Minister, says his party has a long road ahead in the battle to root out anti-Semitism.

Pat McFadden, the Labour MP for Wolverhampton South East

When Keir Starmer took over as Labour leader a few months ago he was clear that big changes were needed. After such a heavy election defeat for Labour, who could argue?

He was clear that one of his first priorities would be to root out anti-Semitism.

That was followed by an early meeting with the Jewish Board of Deputies. And when a Shadow Cabinet member shared an article peddling an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory and then refused to take it down he asked her to step aside.

This was an important signal of change. He wasn’t just talking about the need for change. He acted too. And it was vital to do so because the anti-Semitism which appeared in Labour in recent years goes to the soul of who we are. We have to be a party for all faiths and none. If we are not such a party then we are not living up to our values and voters understand that.

Acting on anti-Semitism is not about going on a training course or tweaking a complaints system. It’s about a deep seated change – led from the top – that says legitimate sympathy for the Palestinian cause or criticism of Israel should not tip over into anti-Jewish conspiracy theories about some shadowy connected elite ruling the world.

Six months ago Labour suffered its worst defeat since 1935. Here in the Black Country where a decade ago there were 12 Labour MPs, there are now just three.

There is no single reason for those losses but they are a stark illustration of the need for the party to change course. Changing Labour’s culture is part of that but much more will need to be done to restore trust and credibility in the eyes of voters.

Over coronavirus Labour has sought to be a constructive and credible opposition, understanding that this would have been difficult for any Ministers and that no one was going to get everything right, but also speaking up strongly over failings in testing, PPE, protection for the social care system and the need for help to get the economy through these tough times.

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I have been in Labour for 35 years. I saw how hard it was to rebuild trust and credibility after our defeats of the 1980s. I saw the courage shown by leaders from Neil Kinnock to John Smith to Tony Blair to make Labour electable again.

They all understood there is no natural pendulum in politics. They understood it’s not about polling policies one by one but a much deeper bond between a party and the country that says you can lead and govern. You can’t sit back and wait for victory to come to you because the other side might be unpopular.

You have to work for every vote and show people every day that you want to earn their support. You can’t afford to duck difficult issues or take the easy path.

Where change is needed you have to show you have the courage to face up to it.

The rebuilding task is a huge one. It doesn’t come with a single act or a single speech. It takes years not weeks. But Keir Starmer’s early actions show it has at least begun.

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