SIMON JOHNSON

I HAVE written in this column about how I believe the debate within Labour about whether to adopt the IHRA definition against antisemitism was largely ideological.

An otherwise dry and technical issue, it exploded into the news last week when the Labour Party’s failure to adopt it in full prompted the Jewish Telegraph and the two other mainstream community papers to publish the same front page and editorial.

I have a theory that part of the ideology behind Labour’s reluctance to adopt the IHRA definition is driven by Jeremy Corbyn’s key adviser, Seumas Milne, and, in particular, by something relating to his father.

I am no psychologist, but I know that it is possible for someone’s views, prejudices and biases to be influenced by events that happened to their parents. And a son is likely to be very affected by events suffered by his father, especially if they had a close relationship.

I can vouch for this personally. When I was a teenager, my dad’s business became embroiled in a legal action with the owners of department store Debenhams.

My dad believed that Debenhams had breached a contract with him and he began litigation against them.

I followed this action closely and shared my dad’s annoyance and anguish when Debenhams used their deeper pockets and infinitely better legal resources to crush my dad’s legal action. It cost him personally and hurt him very deeply.

As a result, I too was hurt and, in a futile act of retaliation, I avoided even entering any Debenhams store for at least the next 30 years.

Eventually, I relented as it became clear even to me that my grudge was in vain, as the owners and staff of Debenhams bore no relation to those who ran the stores when I was 15.

Seumas Milne’s father was the former director-general of the BBC, Sir Alasdair Milne.

The Telegraph, in its obituary of him, described him thus: “He enjoyed the melancholy distinction of being the first director-general of the BBC to be dismissed from office, and in consequence did not receive a knighthood”.

It is clear that this sleight had a deep impact on Seumas, who, when his father was dismissed in 1987, was already 29 and had gone through Winchester School and Oxford.

I know this from a book review that Seumas wrote, when he was a journalist with The Guardian, of a book about the BBC in the 80s called Pinkoes and Traitors.

In this review, he lambasts the author for glossing over and inaccurately describing the cir-

cumstances that led to his father’s dismissal as D-G.

He argued that the decision to fire his father as D-G was taken by the chairman having consulted Victor Rothschild.

Victor Rothschild is described by Milne as “a security adviser to Thatcher (and one-time associate of the Cambridge spies)”.

Thus he undermines his credentials and covers up the fact that he is a Rothschild, and therefore a Jew and a member of the Rothschild banking scion, a favoured source of financial conspiracy for many on the hard left.

Milne writes : “According to Hussey’s memoirs, it was Rothschild who proposed firing the director-general. That was finalised over lunch with the Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd.

“Within three months, it was done. No explanation was given. And Hussey used a threat to my father’s pension to persuade him to resign for ‘personal reasons’ — and prevent him speaking out in public. This was a No 10 coup by any other name — and one from which the BBC has never fully recovered.”

It is patently obvious from this that, even 28 years after the events in question, Seumas Milne harbours a deep-seated resentment against Victor Rothschild for sacking his father as director-general.

It is legitimate to ask whether this resentment for the role played by Victor Rothschild in the sacking of his father has any impact on Seumas Milne’s politics.

Does it have any impact on his supposed colour blindness to conspiracy theories about Jewish control of the banks or of the capitalist system, as evidenced by that famous mural in the East End of London, which started the whole “enough is enough” campaign?

Does it explain his lack of sympathy for the Jewish community’s calls for Labour to do more to tackle antisemitism?

I thought this as I sat opposite him at two meetings at the end of April — the first being a pre-meet in advance of the community’s infamous meeting with Jeremy Corbyn after the “enough is enough” demonstration.

He did not seem to have any sympathy for our arguments relating to Jewish conspiracy theories. But he waxed lyrical for nearly 10 minutes on the fact that many in the Labour Party DID regard the creation of Israel as a racist endeavour, and talked of the ethnic cleansing of the “Nakhba” in 1948.

He clearly feels extremely strongly about the rights of Palestinians. He subscribes to the colonialist, imperialist view of Israel.

But something causes him to not be able to empathise with the Jewish community’s views of antisemitism in the party, and I wonder if this story involving his father has anything to do with it?

It is interesting that the attention on the antisemitism story has focused on the detail of the IHRA definition and the extent to which Labour’s own code differs from it.

As we were planning how to move forward the debate, we felt that the minutiae of the IHRA definition would be too detailed and esoteric for most of the media.

But the unprecedented joint editorials of the three newspapers were all about these details, and that attracted widespread media coverage.

And the fact that the Labour Party has taken action against Dame Margaret Hodge MP and Ian Austin MP, who complained that the party was not taking antisemitism seriously enough because they had not adopted the IHRA definition, has also kept the political journalists intrigued.

This story is set to run throughout the August “silly season”. I am not sure that this works to our best advantage, but what do I know?


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