UK Labour and the ALP: very different beasts

UK Labour and the ALP: very different beasts

Burns: 'The Australian Labor Party is not about to follow British Labour into electoral irrelevance or into the dark fringes of antisemitism'.

Jeremy Corbyn during the declaration of his Islington seat. Photo: AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali
Jeremy Corbyn during the declaration of his Islington seat. Photo: AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali

THE dark cloud over British politics that was the Jeremy Corbyn experiment is over. Boris Johnson’s crushing win over Corbyn and British Labour, reduced to their lowest seat tally since 1935, has finally caused Corbyn to announce that he will be stepping down as Labour leader in the new year.

Johnson was the Conservatives’ third leader in a five-year period and the second in a row to call an early general election. 

Boris’s approval ratings were low, and a string of his offensive comments about women and minorities were used against him in the campaign.

Given his personal unpopularity and the chaos around the Cameron/May/Johnson era since the shock Brexit referendum, the Conservatives, asking to be re-elected for a fourth time, should have been eminently beatable. 

But instead, Jeremy Corbyn will go down in history as one of Labour’s worst, most unsuccessful and unpopular leaders in its history. 

Corbyn inspired a cultish following locally and around the world. 

On Twitter, he was a messianic figure that was to bring an end the era of centrist “Third Way” politics that had dominated when Tony Blair and Bill Clinton were leading the free world. But in reality, Corbyn was a deeply unpopular figure and an incompetent party leader whose followers viciously targeted their opponents inside the Labour movement, even more than those outside it.

A lifelong maverick backbencher, Corbyn seized the leadership by popular vote as a wave of new members joined the party and began driving out those who refused to join their “Momentum” faction.

The casualties though, were not just moderates but Jewish Labour members and voters. An unforgivable wave of antisemitism overcame the party – hundreds of serious cases against party members surfaced and were not dealt with properly. 

Perhaps it was more incompetence than maliciousness, but regardless of the cause, the fact that the once mighty UK Labour Party was stoking fear in UK Jewry is enough of a reason to celebrate the Corbyn defeat. Ultimately, Corbyn’s biggest electoral failure was his inability to deal with Brexit. We saw massive swings away from Labour in “leave” areas. 

Seats that have been safe Labour for decades are now held by the Conservatives.

Yet in both his handling of Brexit and antisemitism, Corbyn seemed incapable of dealing decisively with these matters. Polling showed that above all else, it was Corbyn that caused the collapse in Labour’s vote. One DeltaPoll showed that 46 per cent of people who changed their votes from Labour this year did so because of Corbyn.

Ultimately, he was unelectable and lacked the leadership required to be the prime minister.

This piece is difficult to write as a proud Australian Labor Party Member of Parliament. It’s pretty rare and difficult for any Australian Labor figures to criticise a sister party, but I am duty bound to do so in this case and I am far from alone. Many Australian Labor Parliamentarians, activists and officials have been horrified watching Corbyn’s Labour implode morally and electorally.

I take no joy in watching what my colleagues and fellow Jews went through under Corbyn but I am heartened knowing that UK Labour is a very different beast to our Australian Labor Party.

I acknowledge that many of us have been concerned by motions put to various ALP conferences, but our actual policy platform has not changed through any of these non-binding motions – we support a two-state solution and our commitment to Israel’s right to safety and security remains steadfast.

You may not have heard much about recent state conferences this year because Israel motions simply aren’t coming up. I certainly enjoyed being at Victorian State Conference last month debating the key political issues that matter to Victorians – healthcare, education, transport and workers’ rights – not divisive foreign policy.

It’s no accident that Daniel Andrews’ Victorian Labor Government – a steadfast friend of Israel and the first state government in Australia to open its own trade office there – has been the country’s most successful Labor team – because it is focused on exactly the issues that matter to Victorians and building the nation’s strongest state economy.

The other thing this country has which Britain does not is a significant Greens party – a political home for the sorts of supporters Corbyn’s Momentum stacked out British Labour with. Their Australian counterparts find themselves in the Greens party of Adam Bandt. It is no accident that Bandt’s 2019 election slogan was exactly the same as Corbyn’s. 

And while it’s impossible to imagine any bipartisanship between British Labour and the Conservatives on Israel; in recent months alone there was bipartisan support in Australia’s Federal Parliament not only for Dassi Erlich and her sisters’ fight for justice; but for a new tax treaty between Israel and Australia.

Just a few months ago, I received support from the top echelons of the party when I moved for the expulsion of Trevor Poulton – an ALP member with a history of Holocaust revisionism who was pursuing Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s citizenship status – prompting him to quit the party ahead of a disciplinary hearing.

This move of upholding the Australian Labor Party’s long history of support of the Australian Jewish community had the full support of Anthony Albanese and the rest of the leadership of our party.

While British Labour dragged its heels on hundreds of complaints against members for antisemitism, Australian Labor deals with the very rare cases that arise swiftly, and there is no question that antisemites have no place in the ALP.

It is worth remembering that at the same time Corbyn was meeting with allies of Hamas and Hezbollah and decrying Israel on Iranian state TV, Albo was campaigning against the Marrickville Greens for adopting an anti-Israel BDS policy. 

So our party is not about to follow British Labour into electoral irrelevance or into the dark fringes of antisemitism. 

On the contrary, we are a party that boasts three proud Jewish Australian federal MPs. In fact, we are a party that has had more Jewish federal representatives than all the other parties combined. 

We are a party who proudly helped establish the State of Israel. And we are a party who has boasted leaders such as Bob Hawke and Julia Gillard, Daniel Andrews and our current leadership team of Anthony Albanese and Richard Marles.

And now, the challenge for British Labour is to try to do the same – to regain the trust of working class Britons and of its Jewish community.

Centre-left parties around the world are losing elections as they struggle to retain the support of their traditional base.

And for British Labour, those all-too-familiar challenges coupled with its antisemitic crisis proved a fatal combination in the eyes of voters across the country.

So it is with a sigh of relief that the dark Corbyn chapter is now closed. But it is with a sense of optimism that the arc of justice bent the right way and together we can now work on building a better and fairer future for both our great nations.

Josh Burns is the Federal Member for Macnamara.

read more: