John Mann, the combative and indeed outspoken Labour MP who sits for the constituency of Bassetlaw, made a contribution to the Commons debate on anti-Semitism earlier this week that has been lauded by the easily impressed, but is now being questioned by an increasing number of those uncomfortable at its potential lack of veracity, and Mann’s use of Parliamentary privilege to say things he might not say outside the Chamber.
Might be best to keep that North and South shut more often
Let’s first consider what he said. “I didn’t expect today, when Labour members stand in solidarity with our Jewish colleagues and the Jewish community, for not just no solidarity, but to be targeted by an organisation called Momentum, which has happened to all of us who stood in solidarity. But worse than that, explicitly targeting Jewish members of the Parliamentary Labour Party because they are Jewish”. There was more.
“That is what is going on at the moment. I didn’t expect when I took on this voluntary cross-party role, for my wife to be sent by a Labour Marxist anti-Semite a dead bird through the post. I didn’t expect my son, after an Islamist death threat, to open the door in the house on his own, as a schoolboy, to the bomb squad. I didn’t expect my wife, in the last few weeks, from a leftist anti-Semite, in response to the demonstration, to be threatened with rape”. And there was yet more.
“I didn’t expect my daughter, similarly, and have to be rung up in the last few weeks by Special Branch, to check out her movements in this country, no I didn’t expect all of that”. There was much more, but this is the part of Mann’s speech which is causing disquiet.
There are good reasons for that disquiet. Momentum, whatever one’s view of it, was founded by Labour NEC member Jon Lansman - who is Jewish. He is a ferocious opponent of any tendency to excuse anti-Semitic behaviour. Yet Mann has asserted, using Parliamentary privilege, that Momentum targets Labour members who are Jewish, because they are Jewish. The dead bird incident has caused further disquiet.
Mann’s wife Jo White was sent a dead bird in the post back in 2012, more than three years before Momentum was formed, but the MP has clearly inferred that Momentum is somehow connected to the incident. The culprit, Roger Dyas-Elliott, was a longstanding Labour member and indeed attender at Conference, but there was no allegation of anti-Semitism or indeed Marxism levelled at him. Nor, at the time, was the incident connected in any way to Mann’s work to combat anti-Semitism.
Nor, indeed, does the “Islamist death threat” appear to be. Mann has claimed to have been in receipt of death threats from pro-hunting campaigners, and two years ago claimed “I have had three death threats which have been taken seriously during the last 15 years … I have had Islamic death threats, extreme right death threats and one from a drug dealer”. But until that Commons debate, not even a mention of anti-Semitism, or “Leftists”.
Mann has not done his cause any good by responding to those uneasy at his accusations, and use of Parliamentary privilege, with threats and abuse. And as he has responded via an open Twitter feed, he has, indeed, left himself open to more than just criticism. Here is his opening salvo: “These anti semites from Momentum can’t help themselves in their desperate attempts to rubbish Tuesdays debate. Time now to sue each and everyone of them for libel. You cannot say you were not warned”.
I can say with a significant measure of confidence that John Mann will not be suing anyone, whether in Momentum or elsewhere, for libel any time soon. Nor will the Labour Party be taking any action after he responded to a Tweeter who asked him three questions with “Anyone have an address for this man so the writ can be served and his expulsion from the Labour Party Fast tracked?”. There will be no writ. Even if it’s a Labour member.
Nor will Mann do his cause any favours by responding to a perfectly reasonable question from Kevin Maguire of the Mirror with “Disgusting, smearing, and of course entirely uninformed speculation. I suggest you delete it and apologise now. How dare you add insult to my family in this way”. Maguire had shown sympathy for Mann’s wife.
Nor will Mann take legal action following his bullying response to another question: “Let me give you the opportunity to withdraw your libel and apologise”. The litany of bluster goes on, with another Tweeter receiving the response “Suggest you actually listen to my speech then remove this libel”. We have. And that Tweeter won’t. Because there isn’t one.
There may, though, be grounds for one of Mann’s targets to take legal action against him, after he doubled down with “A man who didn’t bother to listen to the speech or to find out the facts of the case. Apologist for anti Semitic attacks. Oh and factually wrong”. His target is not an “Apologist for anti-Semitic attacks”. Mann has defamed that person.
John Mann has, by his thuggish and intemperate behaviour, turned the whole debate on anti-Semitism into a laughing stock, the situation summed up by Crispian Wheldon who replied to him “Momentum was formed in 2015. Corbyn became Labour leader in 2015. Your wife was (horribly) sent a dead bird by a disgruntled local in 2012 (widely reported as relating to council matters not antisemitism). Seems to me you twist the truth to suit your agenda. Sue me. I'd win” and then added “In fact, call me an anti-Semite again and I'll sue you”. He would, whisper it quietly, win that one too.
Anti-Semitism is a serious matter, serious enough not to be left to self-promotion artists like John Mann. Labour members, politics watchers and sceptical pundits not only have a right to question the veracity of his contribution to the Commons debate on anti-Semitism, but a right to be answered, honestly and civilly. He has no right whatsoever to use his position to defame and indeed threaten those who question his claims.
John Mann should withdraw his threats, apologise for any defamatory behaviour, and then answer the questions put to him. But he won’t. Because he’s a spineless coward.