There was no need to push him: as the Guardian has reported, “A senior Labour MP has used his exit from the Commons to criticise Jeremy Corbyn’s record as leader and blame the party’s current antisemitism crisis on him. John Mann is set to stand down after 18 years in parliament to take up the full-time post as the government’s antisemitism tsar”.
The mouth is open, but is the brain engaged?
Someone who has been voting with the Tories - he voted against the “Benn bill” last week, for instance - is now joining the Tories. John Mann talks the talk on anti-Semitism, but as has been demonstrated in the past, often has problems with walking the walk, or indeed following up on his frequent threats to sue those who displease him.
But back to the Guardian: “He said he could not campaign for Corbyn knowing that he could become prime minister, and told the Sunday Times he would ‘never forgive’ his leftwing leader for allowing the party to be ‘hijacked’ by antisemites”. Mann went as far as to describe campaign group Momentum as anti-Semitic. Its founder is Jewish.
He also said, in those parting shots at Jezza, “The Jewish community is the canary in the cage for the health of everybody else and society. That has been the case throughout history. I have no fear in challenging antisemitism wherever it needs challenging, and will introduce effective systems to do that”. So let’s see how his record stacks up.
For starters, there is the leaflet distributed around his constituency which provoked a complaint of hate speech, because of its statements regarding travellers. Roma, Sinti and Gypsies were murdered by the Nazis in their hundreds of thousands during the Holocaust. Yet here was an anti-Semitism campaigner seemingly stirring up hate towards them.
It gets worse: John Mann was a witness in the employment tribunal case Fraser v University and College Union, and the judgment suggests that Mann did not possess a clear understanding of what constituted anti-Semitism. Two passages stand out.
At Paragraph 84, we read “The Parliamentarians did not provide any detail and did not genuinely respond to that inquiry at all. Mr Mann led for them and the more conciliatory tone of Dr MacShane gave way to a somewhat hostile display in which Mr Mann made no bones about his view that the union was operating in an anti-Semitic way and that those at its head must address the problem. He did not explain what the anti-Semitic behaviour was supposed to have consisted of besides referring to the boycott debate and characterising any boycott of Israel or Israeli institutions as itself anti-Semitic”.
The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism states “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic”. Which suggests that the judgment’s conclusion was right. So let’s move right along to Paragraph 148.
“We did not derive assistance from the two Members of Parliament who appeared before us. Both gave glib evidence, appearing supremely confident of the rightness of their positions. For Dr MacShane, it seemed that all answers lay in the MacPherson Report (the effect of which he appeared to misunderstand). Mr Mann could manage without even that assistance”. Ready for the next bit? Because you need to be.
“He told us that the leaders of the Respondents were at fault for the way in which they conducted debates but did not enlighten us as to what they were doing wrong or what they should be doing differently. He did not claim ever to have witnessed any Congress or other UCU meeting. And when it came to anti-Semitism in the context of debate about the Middle East, he announced, ‘It’s clear to me where the line is …’ but unfortunately eschewed the opportunity to locate it for us”.
One reading of that judgment should have been enough for anyone vetting candidates for the post of “anti-Semitism tsar” (an unfortunate title, given the behaviour of Tsarist Russia towards its Jewish population) to throw out the owner of that particular CV. All of which tells us why John Mann has been awarded this role. And it isn’t for his anti-Semitism expertise.
Alleged Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson has clearly given Mann the job because he has a visceral hatred of Jeremy Corbyn, and is capable of shooting off his North and South on the subject of anti-Semitism - without always knowing what he is talking about, and indeed being prepared to call anti-Semitism where it does not exist.
But credit to Mann for clearing out Labour’s dead wood without the party having to lift a finger. Hopefully he won’t let the door hit him on the way out.
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