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A soap-box venue in the heart of our borough

06 September, 2018 — By John Gulliver

Jeremy Corbyn supporters on the widened pavement near Camden Town tube station

WHEN the pavement was widened outside the Camden Town branch of HSBC, turning it into a little town square, I wondered how long it would be before it became another Hyde Park Speaker’s Corner.

Perhaps unfairly, I assume the business group Camden Town Unlimited, which had persuaded the council to widen the pavement, had never thought of the possibility.

Since it emerged a few years ago it has been used regularly by buskers. But now the pro-Corbyn group, Momentum, has cottoned on to it – and hold regular soap-box meetings at midday on Saturdays attracting large crowds.

They have a membership of several thousand in Camden – and are thought to be one of the biggest branches of Momentum in the country – not surprising when you consider the radical tradition of the borough. Also, hundreds of Labour Party members in Camden who fled from the party during the Blair years – mainly over the Iraq war – took up their party cards again when Jeremy Corbyn became leader.

Since its inauguration, Camden Momentum, which meets in Kentish Town, appear to have been more interested incestuously in inner-party squabbles. The row over alleged anti-semitism in the party has dominated meetings. At their last one, they passed a motion condemning the attack on Corbyn which referred to the rights of Palestinians “under Israeli apartheid”.

I thought that was going a bit too far. The word “apartheid” has a special meaning and emerged from the politics of South Africa where black people were regimented, forced to use certain facilities – as they were in the southern states in the US – and were cruelly persecuted, their leaders jailed and killed. I am pretty sure this form of political persecution doesn’t apply to the nearly two million Arabs who live in Israel though in many ways they may feel they are treated as second-class citizens.

As for so-called anti-semitism in the Labour Party I have never met any in the many years I have known Labour supporters – on the contrary they have always opposed any form of racial or ethnic discrim­ination.

And, surely, legally the word “anti-semitism” has a special meaning and is, among other things, a form of “hate speech” and there­fore can become a criminal offence. In which case, shouldn’t the libellous allegations bandied about so loosely by anti-Corbyn Labour MPs be more carefully used?

Meanwhile, the adoption by Labour’s ruling body, the National Executive Council, on Tuesday of the full definition of anti-semitism should draw a line under the controversy – but it probably won’t.

The NEC clearly contains many of Corbyn’s critics holding down old seats. This would account for the NEC’s rejection of the leader’s “addendum” to its resolution.

Here in Camden Town, Momentum’s soap box will delightfully stir up debate.


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