The Ilhan Omar Controversy: Lessons for the UK

March 7, 2019

In Uncategorized

— Guest post by Jamie Stern-Weiner

Context for the non-Brits: Since Jeremy Corbyn’s election in 2015, the British Labour Party has faced a smear campaign alleging a crisis of antisemitism within its ranks. The accusations have not been empirically substantiated. But the leadership has failed to put the issue to rest while repeatedly conceding on points of principle, with the result that activist morale has been eroded and a great deal of energy diverted from the movement’s transformative project. This week saw the same tactics deployed in the US against Rep. Ilhan Omar; the successful push-back against them holds — so I claim in the twitter-thread reproduced below — important lessons for the Labour Party in the UK.


It is worth noting: had Rep. Ilhan Omar been a member of the British Labour Party, she would have been suspended.

Those who rose to her defence — Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris among them — would have risked suspension as well.

One difference between the US context and the UK, is that British political culture is more backwards when it comes to freedom of speech.

Once it was accepted that the Labour Party bureaucracy ought to surveil and police its members’ thoughts, descent into a witch-hunt became very difficult to avoid.

The disciplinarian approach is not just politically self-defeating.

It is a betrayal of the best of the left-liberal tradition.

Whatever happened to full, frequent and fearless discussion?

Whatever happened to, the truth is revolutionary?

Our basic approach in the Labour Party, and on the left, needs a re-think.

It is not the business of a Party bureaucracy to police the thoughts and speech of its members.

Where prejudices are marginal, they can be ignored.

Where they are not marginal, they ought to be subject to full and frank debate.

No speech codes.

No internal trials for causing offence.

No bureaucratic trawling through Facebook posts.

But full, frequent, fearless discussion in the context of a collective struggle, bringing together people from all walks of life, in pursuit of a shared liberation.