On the Response to Terror

I am not going to comment here on Donald “please tell me he doesn’t have the nuclear codes” Trump or the outrageous lies and distortions told in his support by the Alt-Right media in the States.

Instead I want to address the, by contrast, very reasonable response many have to such events as occurred in London last night, and so recently in Manchester too.

It is the response that it is time we did something about these people that hate us. Suggestions include internment without charge (a British Guantanamo?); deportation; removal of citizenship; refusal of entry to people who have fought or trained with Islamists.

I have news. And believe me, I do know what I’m talking about, having worked in National Security litigation.

These powers already exist. And they are already being used.

The British government can already

detain without charge for a limited time;

revoke a British passport, even from a person born in Britain of British parents, and for far less than terrorism (unless it makes the target stateless. This is illegal under international treaty, and the British government will not do it intentionally);

– refuse entry into the country, even to a British citizen;

deport a foreign national;

– impose a TPIM (terrorism prevention and investigation measure) on an individual which bans them from accessing the Internet, meeting or contacting other named people, attending named mosques, even travelling outside a very small area around their home (among other things).

ALL of these powers are used and are effective, but please bear in mind the following before you call for additional powers…

1. Even the Security Services and the anti-terror police are subject to the rule of law. And thank heaven they are. You can’t simply remove someone’s nationality (for example) unless you can show in a court of law that a) there is good evidence to show that the person is a threat and b) that the measure proposed is proportionate to the threat and justified. Yes, this is a pain. But no – it does NOT prevent them from taking urgent action when necessary…

I was directly involved in a case in which certain powers were exercised over a certain person within 24 hours of the Security Service’s decision that it was necessary – during Christmas. Literally. I was in work on Xmas Day with a barrister, and a judge on call, sorting it out. It can and does work.

2. The Security Services and police are not infallible. Mistakes are made. But hindsight is always 20/20. There are literally hundreds of thousands of people “known” to security services. Most are just a name – maybe someone who once met a person being investigated, or attended the same mosque, or visited a particular country. It is financially and practically impossible to surveil ALL of those people all of the time, and most people would agree that it’s not desirable to do so either.

3. Even IF the Security Service knows (and can demonstrate in Court) that a person has travelled to, say, Syria AND while there has fought for or trained with an Islamist terror group, AND is now seeking to return to the UK with the intent to cause Britain harm, they may still decide NOT to bar their entry.


Well, for operational reasons, they may consider an alternative strategy to be more effective.

To refuse entry would alert that person – and his network – that they are under scrutiny, so may endanger sources and/or shut down a useful route of information. Also, they sometimes decide that it is more effective to let this person in, as it is far easier to keep a close eye on them and potentially intervene if they are here at home than overseas.

4. Except for the individuals caught up in these abominable events, this is NOT a zero sum game. When these things happen, we all want to BLAME someone. Be it a government’s domestic policy, liberal lefties, Islamophobia, foreign policy, Muslims in general or Islam itself. But even if we get everything right and everyone does their jobs perfectly, it is still possible for someone to slip through the net.

Sorry to bring the tone down, but most Tottenham fans would say that Pochettino did a very good job in this past season, despite the fact that he “failed” in all 5 tournaments in which they played.

Can we please be mature enough to recognise that the security services are doing a fantastic job in difficult times, despite the “failures” to stop the attacks in Westminster, Manchester and London Bridge?

So what’s my point? It’s simple.

Be wary of people who use the emotional time after a terror attack to propose new, stronger powers for the police or security services. They may mean well, but that is not necessarily constructive or effective.

More resources? Yes. Absolutely. Like the health service and education, there can NEVER be enough money, physical and human resources in this area.

But don’t believe them if they tell you “we let them back in”, “we invited them here to kill us” or any of the other alarmist statements being made.

We really do have among the best, most professional and dedicated police and security set ups in the world. I, for one, am very proud of them and trust them to do their absolute best to keep the average UK citizen safe.


There is necessarily a balance to be found between respect for human dignity, privacy, freedom to live ordinary lives and even hold unpleasant opinions on the one hand and the imperative of preventing terrorists from carrying out their plans on the other.

Things aren’t perfect, of course, and I reserve the right to be critical of certain people, policies or speeches, but I believe the UK has this difficult and delicate balance more or less right.


On the death of fun

Screenshot_20170515-080723.jpgI am not alone in my conclusion that this season now ending has been the most miserable in recent times to be a Gooner.

But I doubt that my reason for being so miserable is the same as most. Allow me to explain…

I used to love being a Gooner. Rocking up to the turnstiles in miserable weather (was it ever sunny in the 80s?); having to battle through aggressive opposition fans in Arsenal station; the smell of those greasy burgers and most of all smoke; crammed in on the North Bank where I couldn’t see a bloody thing and didn’t care; counting the mysterious stains and holes from ciggies on my clothes on the way home; singing without irony about how awesome players like Martin Hayes and Tony Woodcock were; having a genuine rivalry with Them from up the road, and genuinely having no idea in August where we’d be in May.

OK – I was young, but my joy and pleasure of being a Gooner survived not only my transition into adulthood but also the ups and downs of the Graham years and the bizarre Rioch interlude.

Then came Arsène Wenger and suddenly the fun was doubled (get it?) and, while our early forays into the Champions League were far from smooth, by 2004-6 supporting The Arsenal wasn’t just fun, it was exhilarating and an absolute privilege.

I got my first season ticket when we moved to the Emirates and, for the first 5 or 6 years, had a great deal of fun attending games, getting to know my neighbours and sharing a lot of craic with them – win, lose or draw.

I’ve always been a glass half full supporter – giving every player the benefit of the doubt, always believing we could come back to win and highlighting the good things. I even made up a chant for Philippe Senderos (he’s Swiss. He’s bald. He’s awesome and he’s called Senderos! Senderos!)

I used to point out that the atmosphere at Highbury/Emirates was so much nicer than at WHL (where I attended frequently, my ex-in-laws having season tickets there), as 90% of our songs were in support of our team, whereas 90% of theirs were negative about the opposition (even when it wasn’t Arsenal).

I was part of an email group with a bunch of miserable sods who always saw the negative, but our arguments were all friendly, and we would always hug and laugh when we met in the railway tunnel on Hornsey Road after the match.


But in the past few seasons all the fun of supporting Arsenal has been sucked away.

Now you can’t cheer the manager in the ground – when was the last time you heard “Arsène, give us a wave” at the Emirates; every match – win, lose or draw – is accompanied by a protest, banners or even a ridiculous plane banner (“Out means out”? Lol!); and you can’t say anything positive or optimistic either in the ground or on social media without being shouted at and told you are a puppet or a Wenger rent boy or similar.

As for the atmosphere at home games – well I know They used to talk about the Highbury Library, but that was always rubbish. But there’s no denying the lack of passion in the stands now.

Why can’t fans simply be just that – fans? People who sing the club’s name, the players’ names AND the manager’s name, wating them to win every match, but loving them none the less for their foibles and weaknesses?

Why spend a fortune following your club, then suck all the fun out of doing so?

On Improving Refereeing

Some might say that posting a blog criticising referees on the day after an embarrassing Arsenal defeat is … curious, but believe me, dear readers, my motives are pure as Donald Trump’s conscience!

There is a little known rule in football called Rule 14. I say it is little known, by which I mean referees seem never to have read it.

It is the law which describes the procedure to be applied when a penalty is given.  Now it is not my intention to talk about diving, simulation, handballs – intentional or otherwise – or any of those other hot potatoes the media love to mash to death.

Those issues are always ones of split second interpretation by human beings of circumstances that often develop very quickly, and on the whole, I do think referees in the Premier League get most of these decisions right.

No, my (vegetarian) beef is with another aspect of Rule 14 which is far less controversial, far easier to enforce and universally ignored by pundits, commentators, players and officials alike.  It is this…

The players other than the kicker and goalkeeper must be:

  • at least 9.15 m (10 yds) from the penalty mark

  • behind the penalty mark

  • inside the field of play

  • outside the penalty area

Well that’s pretty clear. It says that, before the ball is in play (i.e. before the taker kicks the ball) everyone other than the keeper and the taker must be outside the penalty area.

Entering the penalty area before the kick is taken used to be called “encroachment” and, if my memory serves, used to be enforced.

No longer. Last night, two penalties were awarded in the Premier League – one for Chelsea (hilariously missed by the hideous cheat Diego Costa) and the other for Middlesbrough.


From this still of the former, you can clearly see a Liverpool player well inside the penalty area (and another inside the D) at the moment the ball is kicked.

Rule 14 states: “If, before the ball is in play … the goalkeeper or a team-mate infringes the Laws of the Game:

  • if the ball enters the goal, a goal is awarded
  • if the ball does not enter the goal, the kick is retaken.

So, much as I laughed at Costa’s distress, the above kick SHOULD have been retaken.

The other penatly, taken by Alvaro Negredo, is an even worse (or should that be better?) example.


Here, you can clearly see players of BOTH teams two or three paces inside the area as the ball is kicked. This penalty, too, SHOULD have been retaken, whether it was scored or not.*

I have been pausing Match of the Day all season, and around 75% of all penalties taken involve significant encroachment by one side or the other or both.

Yesterday’s were far from the most egregious examples. This one, from Grimsby v Dover in 2015 is particularly impressive.



How the referee, whose view of the penalty taker was actually obscured, missed this encroachment is beyond me!

Actually, it’s not. In both the Grimsby and Boro shots, you can see that the referees are watching the goalkeeper – yellow arrows – presumably to ensure they don’t advance off the line.

Very commendable, you might think, but actually, no. It isn’t. Though the FA is not prescriptive, FIFA helpfully assigns jobs to the referee and his (or her) assistant.

According to FIFA, it is for the assistant to watch the keeper. The ref’s job is …


… so in all the cases above, the ref should have been looking across the area, should have seen the encroachment and awarded a retake.

I’m well aware that encroachment is far from the most pernicious of the evils currently infecting the beautiful game, but a simple, unambiguous law exists to deal with it, it’s an easy one to enforce and it’s only a matter of time before a rebound is either cleared or scored by a player who was yards inside the area to settle an important match.

Sort it out now, please, FA.

Speak soon

Labenal (@Labenal1)

* To cover all bases, I should point out that the consequences of an attacking player encroaching are …



Not My President

I have been meaning to post my thoughts about The Donald, when I read the following from an old friend, Jacqueline Nicholls. She expresses it so well, I think it needs no further comment from me…


“He’s not my president. It has bothered me a lot why, as a British citizen, the American election has disturbed and bothered me so much. Whoever won the USA election, they were never going to be my president. The domestic and foreign policies of the USA do have an effect globally, but it feels more personal than that. And it started here in the UK.

In May 2016 I was doing a daily drawing project, The Bestiality of Fears, taking inspiration from marginalia in medieval manuscripts, I turned the things that frighten me into little beasties to be conquered. One of the fears was the Fear of Foolish Kings. I wrote,

“This is not a fear of my internal flaws. I am no king. But looking out into the world, I want to find leadership, vision and guidance. Or just the simple trust that the big things are being decided by intelligent, thoughtful people who are responsible and have compassion to the vulnerable. And I just don’t see it. I look at the current political climate both here in the UK, in the USA, and in Israel, and I feel a grinding paralysis of despair. We are being dominated by fools and tyrants, maniacs and corruption. Power hungry fools who control and bully the conversation. There is no king.”

This was back in May 2016. I was hearing the language used in the Brexit debate, in the London mayoral elections, the presidential nominations, in the corruption scandals, and it terrified me.

There may well have been some good arguments for leaving the EU, as it is an imperfect political body, with tons of flaws. But the popular rhetoric of the Leave campaign was one of racism, dodgy data and a casual relationship with facts and informed opinion. The distrust of experts. The dehumanising of refugees. The fabrication of facts. And the inability of a media to robustly address all these issues.

Nigel Farage become a public figure because he is ridiculous. He was the fool to laugh at, would say outrageous statements, that weren’t properly examined because no one took him seriously. There was an assumption that fools will be exposed by ridicule alone. He will be hoisted on his own petard.

But giving someone who has no fear of ridicule or shame disproportionate amount of airtime, has no effect. He was entertainment. A readily available rent-a-gob. But he bided his time, became a household name and took the conversation to the right. Since the Brexit vote I have been rereading Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta. He thought it would take a dramatic nuclear holocaust, and subsequent environmental disasters, in order for the western world to embrace fascism. But he wrote V for Vendetta when he was profoundly disturbed with what Thatcher and the Tories were doing to the UK. How they were speaking about the miners, and those who were not white, straight, British-born, and that people switch off the news and didn’t want to engage with complex reality.

This time last year there was a debate in Westminster to ban Trump from entering the UK based on his use of hate speech, and incitement to violence. The tone was fairly light-hearted, although serious concerns of his racism and bullying were discussed. But it was agreed that the British way of dealing with him should be one of ridicule, to point out he is a fool. To quote David Cameron from that time “the UK will unite in opposition to Trump.” All said with a jovial smugness.

Roll on a year and we have Michael Gove, a Tory MP, conducting the most fawning interview without any challenge or journalistic standards. David Cameron’s many confident (arrogant) statements have been proved wrong in so many ways, and so too with this. The UK is not uniting against Trump. Far from it.

(And I’m not going to go into the incompetence of the Labour Party, and Jeremy Corbyn in particular. They are failing to be an effective opposition party and challenge what the Tory party is doing to the NHS, education system, welfare, and how they are handling the Brexit process. And I’m also don’t have the energy to go into Theresa May’s ridiculous Brexit means Brexit rhetoric, and the nonsense language of “friends” when trying to sound tough on how Britain will negotiate with the EU. Corbyn and May are just more foolish kings.)

Post the American election, there was much naive hope floating around that it couldn’t possibly happen. The electoral college vote. The inauguration should be postponed while the links with Russia are properly investigated. Could he be impeached on the ethical conflict of interests with respect to his businesses? There has to be some way of stopping this foolishness… Perhaps we’ve all seen too many movies or high drama political thrillers, and we can’t separate entertainment from grim reality. Today sees the swearing in of a person, of an attitude, so counter to how the world ought to work and what should succeed. There is an anti-intellectualism and distrust of education. It is really happening. And if there is any accountability, checks and balances in the political systems, then now is the time for them to kick in.

But I can hear myself thinking that I am being foolish. So alarmist. How much destruction and damage can really happen… But it is shocking what has unfolded over the last year. To lose the outrage, and just take an attitude “wait and see, and lets ridicule what is going to happen, and that will protect us” assumes that we can be seperate, and that there will always be time to say stop. So before the corruption, the lying, the bullying, are so normalised that they fail to shock, or I turn off the news because I can’t take the realities unfolding on a global scale, and just focus on my own little bubble, perhaps I need to making a last stand on how absurd the world is. And realise that there is still an alternative vision of how the world could be.

Due to family commitments, I can’t attend the Women’s protest tomorrow in London. But I am fasting today. The Talmud in tractate Ta’anit, discusses the practice of a communal fast, to alert the people that there is a crisis and a threat to life. Some American rabbis have called for an inauguration fast. Fasting focuses the mind to the fact that things are not normal. The suffering of the body that is not eating or drinking is to personalise and feel that things are not ok. I am reminded of a teaching from Rebbe Nachman of Breslav. There is a kingdom that had a diseased crop of wheat. If you ate it, you would go mad. But if you don’t, you will starve. The King and his adviser discuss what to do. They decide to eat the wheat, but first they would place a mark on their bodies to remind themselves that they are now mad. We are stepping into the time of fools, and we are not immune from becoming foolish ourselves.

Last night Raymond Simonson, my fellow Rebbetzin DJ, posted a brilliant playlist on spotify. It included the Billy Bragg song ‘Accident Waiting To Happen.’ It is the song for our times, a summary of what has been building both here in the UK, and over there in the USA. “Goodbye and good luck to all the promises you’ve broken. Goodbye and good luck to all the rubbish that you’ve spoken. Your life has lost its dignity, its beauty and its passion. You’re an accident waiting to happen. You’re a dedicated swallower of fascism. You’re an accident waiting to happen.”

This has been a long, rambling rant. thank you for reading to the end. I wish there was a more positive conclusion. And in writing these mess of thoughts down, I had hoped to have reached some sort of understanding as to why the election of this president has brought together so many of my fears for the future. I have spoken a lot of rubbish, been full of resolve on how I can resist, made promises that I hope not to break. We are all accidents waiting to happen. Mindful of that, I will prepare to break my fast on the corrupted wheat.”

Speak soon

Labenal  (@Labenal1)

On a True National Hero

I have just had the pleasure of (finally) watching The Imitation Game. A simply stunning film about an incredible true story of perseverance, heroism, sickening prejudice and … erm … maths.

Yes, the acting – especially by Benedict Cumberbatch – is remarkable, but what stays with me most is the wretched injustice of the treatment of Alan Turing. He died alone, persecuted for the “crime” of being gay and chemically castrated by a state – the United Kingdom – which should have celebrated him as a national hero almost without compare.

You may remember that in 2002, the BBC ran a poll to find Britain’s “Greatest Person”. Alan Turing came in 21st behind such luminaries as John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Princess Diana and Michael Crawford.

Lovely and talented people as I am sure they all were/are, it is (in my humble opinion) undeniable that, by virtually single-handedly shortening World War 2 by two years (this saving an estimated 14 million lives) and effectively inventing the computer, Turing had rather more of a positive impact on the world than any of them.

On another point, Turing also placed behind 3 monarchs who, lest we forget, only had the opportunity to become “great” due to the fortunate status of their parents. And as for Margaret Thatcher (who appeared at no 16 on the list), well, you can guess my views on her!


Now I know these polls are meant for entertainment and can be over-analysed – and this particular one is almost 15 years old – but it is indicative of public sentiment.

Thankfully, homosexuality was legalised in 1967, wartime records were declassified in the 1970s, and society has become generally more tolerant.

Add to that the disgracefully delayed posthumous pardon granted to Turing in 2013 and the worldwide success of this film, and I am sure that Turing would occupy a higher place on the list should such a poll be repeated.

I, for one, would happily cast my vote for him.

Speak soon

Labenal (@Labenal1)

On annus bloody terribilis

“Democracy has spoken”. “It’s the will of the people”. “The establishment has failed”. “Voters feel left behind by traditional politics.” “We’re sticking it to the liberal elite.”

Anyone with any interest in politics in 2016 has heard these phrases repeated ad nauseam to explain the objectively bizarre popular successes of Jeremy Corbyn, Brexit and Donald Trump.

There is an undeniable momentum (yes, the word is appropriate) behind the feelings articulated above, and that many feel that it is time for change.

I have sympathy with those who feel “let down” or “forgotten”, but I have a number of observations about this phenomenon which inform my anger and despair.

Are there no more red lines?

One thing the disaffected millions have right is that there is, most definitely, one rule for “them” and another for “us”.

In recent weeks, sportspeople such as Louis Smith and Tyson Fury have been told that their views (or ignorance) are unacceptable as they are “role models”.

I have no doubt that most of us would find our employment in serious risk if we said the things that Trump said in our workplaces. And rightly so. There should be no place for misogyny and racism in 21st century society .

There was a time when being caught fiddling your expenses, cheating on your spouse or uttering explicitly racist, sexist opinions would render the position of cabinet ministers and others in political life untenable too.

But no longer.

Now, it seems, the more inflamatory and illiberal the rhetoric, the more popular it makes you, because you speak “for the common voter” and you “say it like it is”, refusing to be “silenced by the liberal media elite”.

What must a politician say or do to put themself beyond the pale? Assault women? Brand an entire nation as rapists? Nope. That gets you elected President. Support the IRA in the 80s, Hamas in the 90s (and beyond) and reactionary regimes such as Assad’s Syria and Chavez’ Venezuela in this century? Nope. That gets you the leadership of the biggest force for liberal tolerance in the UK.

Why does this matter? Well. I’ve heard plenty of people say when challenged “Yes Trump has said some uncomfortable things about women, gay people, blacks, immigrants etc, but that’s not important. He’s said he’ll bring back jobs and make America great again, so he’s got my vote!”

As this man pointed out, this sort of logic has been used to justify electing demagogues before, which didn’t work out too well.

The “common man” fallacy

I don’t know about you, but when I go to the doctor, I don’t want them to say “Oo your knee does look a bit dodgy, you’ve probably pulled something.”

When I ask a barrister to represent me, I don’t want her to say “look Judge, it’s just really unfair. It’s obvs, innit?”

I want them to look, sound and act like the experts they are. Why should this be any different when it comes to whom I should trust to run the economy, conduct delicate diplomacy or negotiate complex trade negotiations?

I don’t want Joe Public in No 10 or the White House. I want someone who knows how politics work, both domestic and foreign, and who can use that system to get good things done.

The return of the scapegoat

In Germany in the 1930s it was Jews. In the American 1950s it was “commies”. In Marxist circles it’s always been “imperialist bourgeoisie”. The targets vary, but the message is the same.

Something wrong in your life? Lost your job? Is your community poorer than the one next door? Blame the “Other”.

Yes, Trump’s rhetoric is the most obvious sign that this philosophy is alive and well, but it’s far from unique. Perhaps you have a criticism of Corbyn? You are merely falling for the “smears” spread by the “traitors” in the PLP and the “establishment” who hate him.

Perhaps you want to ensure that Brexit is conducted according to law and not by dictat? You are obviously one of the “liberal elite” who are just itching to overturn “the will of the people”.

Or maybe you actually believe that Trump means  what he says about women, Hispanics, Muslims etc? You are an “ignorant libtard” (yes, I have been called that) who is “out of step” with the American public.

There have always been social problems and there always will be. Some sections of society will always be worse off than others.  That’s a shame, and I truly have sympathy with those who find themselves at the back of the queue and will fight for a fairer allocation of the limited resources we have.

But I am a realist. I want my government to do its best to make the lives of those in Britain as good as possible, but I don’t expect bloody miracles.

No government can wave a magic wand and return the US (or the UK) into the manufacturing powerbases they once were. The world has moved on.

I want a government that deals with the world as it is, with all its complexities and flaws, not one that feeds fantasises about how the Other is conspiring to do me harm.

The Tyranny of the Majority

What’s so great about the “will of the people” anyway?

Ah, I hear you cry, so you admit it. You ARE anti-democratic!” Well, first, I don’t buy for a second that any of these democratic results give anyone a “clear mandate” for anything (two of these results were so close they may as well have been 50/50 and the other was only possible due to the most suicidal, imbecilic voting rule change in political history).

And since when was any democratic decision final and irreversible? The EU referendum only happened after 40 years of campaigning by Euro-sceptics. Every General Election, on either side of the Pond, is followed fairly swiftly by another. Losing an election simply means trying harder to win the next one.

So when people say I have to “accept” the results and stop “moaning”, I say just one thing … no.

Secondly I will never be ashamed to say that something is not necessarily Good or Right simply because he majority have voted for it. History abounds with examples of things that are very popular at the time but turn out to be disastrous. Even Hitler won an election after all.

Messianic lunacy

I mention Hitler deliberately.  It’s not just that it’s now  become acceptable to blame “the establishment”, or the EU, or immigrants for everything wrong with the world.

That sort of scapegoating is bad enough.

Just as disturbing is that passionate adherence to the idea that all we need do is vote for Trump, Brexit or Corbyn and all our problems will be gone.

This utter faith in people and events is so simple-minded it barely merits consideration, but the Corbynistas, Brexiteers and Trumpeters (?) have invested so much in their idols that they are unable to process even the slightest suggestions of fallibility.

In this year’s Labour campaign, we were told that all the good things of the first year of Corbyn’s leadership were to his credit and anything bad (dreadful poll ratings etc) was caused by the negativity of the media and the dastardly Blairite MPs.

Likewise, Brexiteers crow about every good piece of economic news since June 23, and blame all the bad news on “Remoaners” and of course the dastardly EU.

And you can bet that if nothing improves for working class Americans under  Trump, the blame will be placed squarely at the door of the “establishment” in the Senate and Congress, who refused to accept the “will of the people” by allowing him to enact every crazy idea he has.

In summary, if the zeitgeist of British and American society is truly expressed by people like Corbyn, Farage and Trump, then I am absolutely delighted to be “out of step”.

I pray that the West wakes up very soon. Preferably before the lurch to extreme populism becomes too embedded to stop and it reaches what I fear could be a horrific conclusion.

Speak soon (I hope)

Labenal  (@Labenal1)

P.S. This is worth a read

On Being a Bad Loser

Anyone who takes an interest in the competitive fields of sport and politics quickly has to learn what it’s like to lose.

Even serial winners like Tony Blair, Maggie Thatcher or Usain Bolt do/did lose sometimes, and their reaction to those setbacks are usually very revealing.

In commmon with many others, I’ve suffered more than my share of defeat this year.

I’m not talking about the personal here.

I’m not even talking about Arsenal (for a change) because on the whole 2016 (so far) has been fairly successful.

I do refer to the two big political defeats of the last few months – on Brexit and Corbyn. These twin body blows have many things in common.

They both followed bitter campaigns in which personal abuse was more prominent than sober analysis.

They both involved unprecedented levels of interest from the traditionally politically uninterested British public.

And they were both results that I don’t understand and believe, with every fibre of my being, were a huge blow to the moderate, liberal tolerance for which Britain is justly famous.

But there is one other thing these results had in common. They were immediately followed by crowing from the victors and demands that the losers “respect the result” by setting aside all objection and uniting to make the new order work.

Now glee is at least understandable, but I would argue it’s best kept to dare I say it, less crucial matters such as sport, and kept well clear of issues as important as the future of the country.

But since when must losers accept defeat?

What was the response of Man United, Chelsea, City, Arsenal etc to Leicester’s league triumph? Did they acknowledge the new reality of foxy superiority and settle in for long periods simply battling for Champions League qualification?

Of course not. They graciously congratulated Leicester, then got down to the serious work of ensuring that next time the result is different.

Should Labour and the other opposition parties “respect the mandate” the Tories won in 2015 by uniting behind Theresa May?

Of course not. They continue to campaign as hard as possible to oppose the Government where appropriate and to position themselves to win power at the next election.

So why should the very large minorities who voted Remain and/or Owen Smith simply shut up and bow down?

Were the Euro-sceptics (as they used to be called) silent because they lost the referendum in 1975? Of course not. They moaned, whinged and blamed everything on Europe for 40 years until they annoyed a lily-livered Prime Minister so much that he risked the nation’s future because he couldn’t handle his own back-benchers.

OK. I get that, in theory, Labour members such as myself are on the same side as Corbyn, McDonnell et al. We are all Labour members and share many feelings about policy etc and don’t want the Tories to destroy the country as they did in the 80s and 90s.

We have managed to co-exist within Labour for decades. So why is this such a crisis?

Well so far the “efforts” to unite the party post-election include the vice-chair of Momentum (who now de facto run the party) denying yet again that there is ANY problem with antisemitism, at the same time as, yet again, casting antisemitic “dual loyalty” slurs against those who disagree.

They include Ken “Hitler” Livingstone being trotted out on programme after programme to laud Corbyn and call for “unity”.

They include the threat of deselection against MPs who had the audacity to criticise the Dear Leader.

They include absolutely no let-up in the abusive and threatening manner of Corbynistas on social media and on television, with talk of “Zionist conspiracy” and “whinging ex-Blairites” continuing unabated. (Whatever happened to being gracious in victory)?


And they include the strong inference from everyone at the heart of the Corbyn camp that “unity” means “getting behind Corbyn 100% and agreeing with all his positions”.

Many have decided that in the light of all this, enough is enough, and have resigned their sometimes life-long membership of the Party.

I have not yet decided whether to take that step, but if in the coming months there is no sign of humility, compromise or recognition of fallibility from the Corbyn camp, it is highly likely that I will.

Either way, to date the concerns that led 172 (nearly 4 in 5) Labour MPs to vote no confidence in Corbyn’s leadership have simply not been acknowledged, let alone addressed, so why should they now simply put up with the very same state of affairs?

Finally, it cannot be ignored that the man now calling for loyalty and recognition of his democratic mandate has, since his election as an MP in 1983, made a career of consistently voting, briefing and campaigning in direct opposition to every single democratically elected Labour leader and most of the party’s democratically decided policies.

The hypocrisy is just outrageous.

Speak soon

Labenal (@Labenal1)



On The Man In The Mirror

20160907_232046It is the month of Ellul – an annual time of reflection. And given the 4 year Olympic cycle, there is further opportunity to take stock.

4 years ago (not to the day) I was enjoying the Paralympics opening ceremony at the London olympic stadium, having been uplifted by the special atmosphere which surged through my home city as Olympic host.

I know one is supposed to focus on the blessings in life, but as I watch the Rio Paralympics open, I can honestly say that the intervening years have been an utter disaster.

I barely recognise Britain as the bright, open, progressive country I thought I lived in, my Labour Party has descended into utter farce, it has become impossible just to enjoy the ups and downs of being an Arsenal fan (you have to defend every comment and view to the nth degree) and my personal life has effectively evaporated. The only adults with whom I now interact on a regular basis are my older sons.

Even Kylie has betrayed me by getting married (or has she?) – and worst of all, if you Google Kylie now, you get news of something called a Jenner.

The only good thing I can say is that the few high points shine bright – largely because they were so few.

Honestly, other than the wonderful progress my gorgeous boys (of whom I could not be more proud) have made in their lives, the only “good news” I can recall is trivial and external – things like victories for Arsenal, England (cricket & rubgy obv, not football) etc.

Here’s hoping that the coming year of 5777 marks the start of the turnaround.

Speak soon

Labenal  (@Labenal1, formerly @GoonerEll)

An Open Letter to Jeremy Corbyn

Dear Mr Corbyn

I write to you as a sincere, lifelong Labour supporter, voter and sometime (and current) member of the Party.

I can’t hide the fact that I did not want you to win the 2015 leadership election – I fundamentally disagree with you on many many issues and, given your consistent stance (for which you must have tremendous credit), that is not likely to change.

But I hope you do not dismiss my letter on this basis. I hope you acknowledge that I, and many of your critics, are just as passionate in our support of the Labour Party as you are, and sincerely hold as our dearest wish that a strong, united Labour Party wins power in the next general election.

I am not an MP, a Councillor, a banker, a journalist or member of “the establishment”, or any organisation other than the Labour Party.

I am a grass roots Labour member – currently unemployed – and I fear that your actions in the last weeks have been nothing short of disastrous for the Party and indeed for the UK.

Whatever your sincerity, whatever your policy positions, it is inescapably clear that the Parliamentary Labour Party has lost confidence in you as leader. That is, whether you like it or not, a fact which you have – quite unbelievably – ignored.

That vote ultimately makes one of two things inevitable. Either your position as leader is untenable, or the position of 172 of your MPs is untenable.

There is no third way. Even if you convince some or all of those 172 to change their mind, how can they campaign in support of a manifesto and a party led by you in 2020 (or before) without having their credibility utterly shredded by their opponents and the media.

It is simply inconceivable that Labour could win an election in these circumstances.

I recognise that you won last year’s election fairly and with a strong mandate from Labour supporters, and that there are many in the grass roots who are passionate supporters. But the problem I have set out above is not personal, it is not about your policies, it is not even about your (in my view) utter lack of leadership quality.

It is a simple statement of political reality, and – on behalf of the millions of ordinary people in Britain (including your supporters) who desperately need a strong, functioning opposition to this awful Tory government and a clear electoral victory for Labour – I beg you.

The future of the Party – and the country – is in your hands. You can continue with your leadership and consign Labour to at least 5 years, probably many more, of opposition.

OR – you can stand aside for the good of the Party, and allow us to heal and to move forward under a new leader … and hopefully to oust the Tories at the earliest opportunity.

I pray that you make the right choice.

Yours desperately

Elliot Cohen



I have just read this piece by Dan Rebellato. It gives me heart to know that some natural “Corbynistas” are also thinking about what’s best for the Party.

Chakrabarti – Worthy, but a missed opportunity

In case it has slipped beneath the radar of the media, given the all-encompassing chaos swallowing British politics at the moment, today saw the publication of the report of Shami Chakrabarti’s investigation into antisemitism and other forms of discrimination within the Labour party.

I have read the report carefully, and would encourage anyone who intends to comment to do so too – you can see it here – but I have not yet read anybody else’s response to it, so these thoughts are entirely my own and may be better expressed elsewhere.

I should say that, as a Jew (I hate that phrase), my primary focus here is on antisemitism rather than any other form of prejudice to which Chakrabarti refers, although it is important to note that she reports that many BAME (black and ethnic minority) members, “including those from Afro-Caribbean, Muslim and Sikh communities in particular” have not found “a welcoming environment” within the Labour Party.  Indeed, she describes various types of direct racism against BAME people which are disturbing and, as she says, should have no place in the Labour Party.


The Labour Party is not overrun by antisemitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism.” That, as the opening sentence of the report, will inevitably be the headline.

However, Chakrabarti goes on to say “…as with wider society, there is too much clear evidence … of minority hateful or ignorant attitudes and behaviours festering within a sometimes bitter incivility of discourse” .

This exemplifies Chakrabarti’s approach, which is to encourage discussion, free expression, constructive debate and “disagreeing well” with a due appreciation of sensitivity to the feelings of others.

As such, Chakrabarti has deliberately NOT been drawn into what she describes as “an age-old ultimately fruitless debate about the precise parameters of race hate” but acknowledges that the standards of discourse within Labour must be “higher than merely not being or intending to be antisemitic, Islamophobic or otherwise racist”.

So is nothing explicitly stated as antisemitic?

Whilst she does not offer any thoughts as to a general definition of antisemitism, she does make some general comments.  She also specifically condems:

  1. Use of the racist epithet “Zio” (and other epithets, such as “Paki”).
  2. Use of Hitler, Nazi or Holocaust words and images as comparators in general, or to criticise Israel or Jews.
  3. Minimization of, or excusing the Holocaust or “attempting to blur responsibility for it”.
  4. Accusations of collective responsibility.
  5. Stereotyping, use of racial or religious tropes, or presumptions of views based on background or ethnicity.

She also comes out clearly AGAINST:

  • holding people to account for the views of others with whom they may have shared a platform;
  • automatic suspension from the Party upon receipt of complaint. Indeed, she argues for a presumption against suspension and proportional use of this, and other sanctions.
  • permanent expulsions from Labour (she proposes that 5 years should be a minimum term, but that people should be re-admitted where they have demonstrated a change of mind or clear remorse)
  • box-ticking, top-down anti-racism training.  Instead, she recommends the creation of a working group to consider a more comprehensive education program on Labour values.

What about the conflation of antizionism and antisemitism?

Chakrabarti admits that this is a complex matter, that the term “Zionist” is sometimes used abusively as a euphemism for “Jew”, and she does conclude thus:

My advice to critics of the Israeli State and/or Government is to use the term “Zionist” advisedly, carefully and never euphemistically or as part of personal abuse.

I would heartily agree with this advice (which I note does not make the list of 20 “key recommendations she gives at the conclusion of her report).  However, she points to different definitions of Zionism – used by groups and individuals of various backgrounds and motivations – and therefore comes to the conclusion that:

“It is for all people to self-define their political beliefs and I cannot hope to do justice to the rich range of self-descriptions of both Jewishness and Zionism, even within the Labour Party, that I have heard.”

For example, she refers to “left-wing British Jewry … becoming increasingly critical of, and disenchanted with, Israeli government policy in relation to settlements in the West Bank and the bombardment of Gaza in particular.” [This is not the place for this argument, but I’d be interested to know what you mean by ” the bombardment of Gaza”, Ms Chakrabarti? Are you suggesting that this is an ongoing event, or just to the 2014 conflict which, I am sure you know, was a two-way affair]. “This has led to some people personally redefining their Zionism in ways that appear to grant less support to the State of Israel and more solidarity to fellow Jewish people the world over.”

I am sorry, Ms Chakrabarti, you can tinker round the edges of the definition, but at its core, Zionism is the belief in the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in (at least part of) its ancient homeland.  And to pretend that all definitions of Zionism have equal merit is patently absurd and, I am afraid to say, rather cowardly.

It is sometimes alleged (it has been said to me on many occasions on social media) that to be a socialist is to support Hitler’s Nazi party, as they self-described themselves as “National Socilaists”.  I am sure, Ms Chakrabarti, you would agree that this is absurd.  As a Zionist, it is equally absurd to acknowledge a definition that focuses on “solidarity with fellow Jewish people the world over”.

Ms Chakrabarti, you have missed a massive opportunity to say clearly and loudly that Zionism is NOTHING WHATEVER TO DO with the policies or actions of any given Israeli government, and that therefore, to declare yourself “antiZionist” is not to be critical of such, or even to support the Palestinian claim to self-determination, it is a direct denial of Jews’ right to self-determination.

It is also notable what she doesn’t discuss.  Nowhere in her report does she mention:

  • the spreading of provable lies about Israel, her government or army (e.g. the lie that Israeli medics harvested the organs of Haitian earthquake victims); or
  • the demonisation of Israel, most specifically the offensive representation of Israel as being “the worst” human rights abuser in the world, an “apartheid state”, or uniquely responsible for all unrest in the Middle East or even the World.

There can be no question that these issues were raised to her by at least some of the contributors, and they ought not simply be dismissed as matters of complexity.  Any Jew who has any experience on campus or on social media will confirm that these tactics DO seriously impact on their lives as Jews, and DO make them feel unsafe and/or unwelcome, so they are not to be dismissed merely as “foreign policy” questions.

Ms Chakrabarti has missed a huge opportunity to say loudly and clearly that the spreading of malicious lies and gross exaggerations about Israel have the effect of being antisemitic and are therefore unacceptable within the Labour party.

If she’s not into definitions, what does the report recommend?

Chakrabarti’s main focus is on procedure. She recommends:

  • a Code of Conduct
  • appointment of in-house Counsel
  • a thorough and fair disciplinary procedure

I do not pretend to have examined these procedures in any detail, and therefore won’t comment on the specifics.

However, I do commend the general approach that if all this is in place, it will enable Labour to continue to be “a place where you feel comfortable and safe even and especially when things are more difficult on the outside. A place where people of shared values can disagree with kindness and civility and where difficult issues are resolved without resorting to abuse.”


I support Chakrabarti’s attempt to take the fury and bile out of the situation, and her general desire for all concerned to conduct themselves in a less divisive and hateful way, and in a spirit of constructive criticism.

However, I do feel she has fudged the issue which was, perhaps the major driver behind the need for this report – the overlap between antiZionism and antisemitism.

Finally, I understand that Chakrabarti did not see her role as to comment on specific incidents or individuals.  And yet, while some individual incidents (of exclusion of BAME people) are referred to, I can see no reference at all to the incidents in the Oxford University Labour Club, the report on which has STILL not been published, but whose author, Baroness Royall, was thanked as a contributor by Shami Chakrabarti.

I find this puzzling and concerning.

The Labour Party still has a long way to go.

Speak soon

Labenal (@Labenal1)


Since I published this, I have seen and read what occured at the launch event:

Jeremy Corbyn’s statement that “our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslims friends are for those various self-styled Islamic States”, was at best, incredibly ill-judged and at worst, does indicate his view that Israel and ISIS share a place in the world as being evil wrong-doers.

Either way, it merely adds to the clamour for his removal as leader of the Labour Party at a crucial time in British history, when a strong opposition is desperately needed.

I have also read (and seen) what was said to Labour MP Ruth Smeeth. What can I say?

Putting the world to rights – one blog at a time!