Luciana Berger and 6 other Labour MPs have announced their resignation from the Labour Party. The line-up consisted of well-known Blairites, whose distaste for Corbyn and his divergence from New Labour policy style was made clear from the start. In a slightly dishevelled press conference each minister read a short speech explaining the reasons for their departure. They all blamed their leaving, at least in part, on how they feel the party has turned towards more socialist-leaning policies, with Chris Leslie claiming the party had been ruined by the “machine politics of the hard left”.
The only MP who did not cite this same cause was Luciana Berger. Berger is the MP for Liverpool Wavertree, my home constituency, and she has been so for nine years, probably as long as I’ve known what an MP is. Berger has one of the safest seats in the country. Indeed, for many people in Liverpool voting anything other than Labour is not an option. However most, from my own experience, have never felt that she, a privately educated, southern Blairite, represents the constituency. Her voting history is consistent with her centrist colleagues, while the historically working-class city of Liverpool has long since been held together by a strong leftism. Many in the area would find her difficult to relate to (there is only one private secondary school in the whole city) and it would be a task to find many people in my neighbourhood who hold any strong positive feelings towards her.
I have met Berger a few times, once in my constituency Women’s Labour Forum meetings, (as I am a card-carrying Labour member), and when she has spoken in my high school on several occasions. I felt disappointed and angered by her resignation for a number of reasons. For one, the people of Liverpool Wavertree did not vote for her because they like her, or her choices made on their behalf. Instead, she was elected because she was the Labour MP and Liverpool votes Labour. With her act of leaving the Labour party, she has shown how little she cares for her own constituents and their wishes. She has shown she cares solely for her own interests and has no desire to represent those who allowed her the seat in Parliament in the first place.
I was not surprised to see many friends from home saying things along the lines of ‘fuck Luciana Berger’ when I scrolled through my social media not long after her resignation, and I wouldn’t disagree with the sentiment. However, as a woman who has grown up in Liverpool’s Jewish community, I find it extremely difficult to not have a strong respect for her and her career, having, as I do, something of a shared cultural identity with her.
When trying to decide what I thought about this whole situation, I was reminded of a speech she gave in Parliament last April that affected me greatly. She spoke of the torrents of anti-Semitic and misogynistic abuse she has been made victim of since her political career began 18 years ago. Hearing her read aloud the names she has been called: ‘filthy Jew bitch’ ‘dirty Zionist pig’, and how she has had threats made against her life and multiple people imprisoned for abuse directed at her for the sole reason of her being Jewish, brought tears to my eyes. I find her resilience inspiring and admire her strength and courage deeply and have even gone as far as to defend her among peers and email her to say thank you for her words on that day, despite our ideological differences.
This is one of the reasons why her leaving the party has disappointed me so much. As her reluctant constituent, I was pleased at her departure, but as someone with deep ties to the Jewish community, and someone who has been supportive of the fight to eradicate anti-Semitism from the Labour party and the left in general, I was deeply upset by her choice.
She left the party alongside fellow Blairites, all of whom were united in their reasoning, except her. She blamed her resignation on the anti-Jewish racism she has experienced from members of her own party, accusations I do not doubt for a second. However, the manner in which she left gave those who believe the anti-Semitism scandal to be a ‘smear campaign’ all the validation they needed. This is because, since she is ideologically aligned with her fellow leavers, it would have made perfect sense for her to blame her leaving on the changes to Labour’s policy style: instead, in explaining that she left due to the abuse she’s received, she has left herself open to claims that her accusations of anti-Semitism are little more than an excuse.
It is very uncomfortable for me to admit but deep down, I don’t fully believe her reasoning for her departure. Instead, I believe it far more likely that she is leaving for the same reasons as the others. Therefore, for all those who doubted her, and other Jewish Labour members claiming anti-Semitism, this whole topic can now be swept under the rug, as arguably Berger was at the forefront of the movement to eradicate it. It seems to me that if she really wanted to support the Jewish community, and specifically Jewish Labour members, she should have resigned alone, to ensure the statement is felt as strongly as it should be, not simply as a side note to a bigger political drama. My fear now is that since her departure, the issue of anti-Semitism will no longer be addressed, or even worse, dislike for Berger personally will make other Labour members and supporters less likely to accept the very real issue, or even join those who are claiming it to be nothing more than a hoax from those disloyal to Corbyn’s Labour, or a centrist plot made in the hopes of riling up the party.
It has been difficult for me to understand my own feelings on this complicated topic, but the one thing I feel sure of is that this is likely to be in vain. Knowing my fellow constituents, there is no way Liverpool Wavertree would cast their voting history and party affiliations aside to elect her as an independent runner in future by-elections, and whoever comes to take her seat will, as usual, win by a landslide. And from outside the party, and possibly outside of Parliament, there will be very little she can do to help stamp out anti-Semitism in her now former party.
Image: Adrian Pingstone