While our free and fearless press continues to creatively reinterpret what Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn did and said, while not noticing that they did not bother even taking notice of it before August 2015, they might not want to be reminded of one infamous example of past anti-Semitic behaviour, mainly because they all but gave it a free pass at the time.
The 2005 General Election campaign was when the politics first threatened to turn truly vicious: this was two years after the Iraq war had begun, trust in the then Labour Government and especially Tony Blair had taken a knock as voters realised they had not been told the truth about the rush to invade. And the Tories were regrouping.
The Blue Team had united behind Michael Howard, perhaps relieved that they had managed to dispose of Iain Duncan Cough without too much damage being done. Also, the Lib Dems under Charles Kennedy were looking to post gains. Into this combustible mix had been pitched a number of prospective Labour election posters.
Cathy Newman, then chief political correspondent at the Independent, had told readers “Two election posters have been dropped by Labour over a row over anti-Semitism. The party said it would not be using images of Michael Howard, the Conservative leader, superimposed on a flying pig, and dangling a pocket-watch on a chain”.
While the then editor of the Jewish Chronicle believed the images - another used the face of Oliver Letwin, who, like Howard, is Jewish - were anti-Semitic, with echoes of Shakespeare’s Shylock and Dickens’ Fagin, Ms Newman notes “The Labour MP Louise Ellman … said the pocket-watch poster was insensitive”. Only “insensitive”?
Worse, as Matt Black has discovered, is Tone’s former chief spinner Alastair Campbell was behind the offending posters, his diary entry for January 28, 2005 reading “I worked from home most of the day. I’d done a flying pig poster about Howard and Letwin which was causing a row, with some Jewish groups calling them anti-Semitic for putting Howard’s and Letwin’s heads on pigs. The fact both were Jewish had not crossed my mind”.
Although the artwork has apparently not survived, it is not difficult to (a) imagine what the posters might have looked like, and (b) conclude that they could be readily judged to be anti-Semitic. All of which raises three important questions.
One, the right-leaning part of the press wastes no opportunity to come down on Big Al like the proverbial tonne of bricks, especially the Mail. It did not do at that time. Did the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre manage to miss the furore?
Two, the idea that Labour didn’t veer across the anti-Semitism line before Jeremy Corbyn took over the leadership in 2015 is clearly bunk.
And three, if what Corbyn said about a group of disruptive protesters in 2014 is worthy of wall-to-wall condemnation, then mocking up two posters with clear anti-Semitic overtones must surely outrank it. But it didn’t. Why that might be I will leave to others.
Of course, at the time the Murdoch press backed Blair and Labour. I’m sure that’s a complete coincidence. I mean, to have double standards on this issue would never do.
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