Lansman worked on Jeremy Corbyn's leadership campaign in 2015Devarshi Lodhia

For a life-long Labour activist less than a day after his party had seen the departure of seven of its MPs, Jon Lansman seemed rather nonplussed about the events of the preceding 24 hours. Comparing the newly founded Independent Group to the creation of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1981 by the so-called Gang of Four, it’s clear he doesn’t view this new group as a threat to Labour.

“The Gang of Four were heavyweights and the reality is none of these people are.”

In part he cites what he sees as a “lack of clear policy agenda” as being the new group’s major weakness in attracting possible voters away from either Labour or the Conservatives.

“Chuka Umunna in his closing remarks yesterday [Monday 18th February] was trying to crowdsource ideas, he was talking about not wanting to write policies, about wanting ideas and what kind of offer is that?”

What is clear though is that he, along with many other senior figures on the left of the Labour Party, saw this coming.

“I feel that we knew that such a thing was possible. Most, not all but most of those people I think had been planning this for some time. We knew they were always strongly opposed to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and programme but that’s a programme that won massive support in the manifesto and the last general election.”

“Lansman, himself Jewish, acknowledged Labour’s issue, calling antisemitism a ‘scourge’”

One of the reasons cited for the MPs resignation from the party is its response to antisemitism, which they believe has not been taken seriously under Corbyn’s leadership. Lansman, himself Jewish, acknowledged Labour’s issue, calling antisemitism a “scourge” which he was working on “purging” from the party.

“I think that we are making progress but it’s not perhaps as visible as a lot of people in the party, particularly Jewish people in the party and the Jewish community, would like to see. We’ve had difficulty progressing cases fast enough. I’ve sat on over 200 cases of antisemitism so I’ve spent a great deal of time doing that. I think as Jewish communal bodies have said a number of times they want actions not words and they actually want to see the problem challenged and dealt with.”

However, he admits that it will take a lot for Labour to win back the Jewish voters who have been alienated and did not fully answer whether or not it would be possible while Jeremy Corbyn is still in charge.

“I do live in hope that we can improve the situation, but I think that it is deep rooted and that it may take some time.”

Luciana Berger, the MP for Liverpool Wavertree and one of the founding members of The Independent Group, was one of the most prominent targets of antisemitic abuse within the Labour Party. Speaking about her decision to leave Labour, Lansman said he had “a lot of sympathy for her”.

“I think there is no doubt that she is leaving primarily because of the antisemitism issue. She’s been very cooperative with Jeremy [Corbyn]. She did good work on mental health within the shadow cabinet and I’m sorry that she’s felt it necessary to go but I recognise the feelings within the Jewish community are very strong.”

“Lansman describes himself as a “Eurosceptic” but believes the decision to leave the EU was a mistake”

While high profile defections from Labour had dominated the newscycle in the hours preceding our interview, the decision to readmit Derek Hatton to the party had also caused quite the stir. Hatton, who was expelled from the Labour Party in 1986 for his membership of the Trotskyist group Militant, had previously applied to rejoin the party in 2015 but saw his application rejected. When asked about what Hatton’s readmission to the party said for the direction in which Labour was going, Lansman argued it “doesn’t say very much at all.”

“I did not like Derek Hatton. I saw him in action in the Labour Party, I saw him in meetings with local government leaders in the mid-80s. I think he could be sexist and he was not someone who shares all the values I have about feminism and other similar attitudes but it’s 35 years on. If I was making the decision, I don’t know whether I’d have agreed with the outcome but he hasn’t been a member of another organisation that would rule him out and if he’s a reformed character then I do believe in redemption.”

As well as Labour’s response to antisemitism, many of The Independent Group have been critical of the party’s response to Brexit. Like Corbyn, Lansman describes himself as a “Eurosceptic” but believes the decision to leave the EU was a mistake, saying he was “absolutely committed to remain”. Despite this, he also believes the EU is in desperate need of fundamental reform, arguing the lack of a real left wing voice in the European parliament, and the creation of the Eurozone has condemned countries such as Greece to a decade of austerity.

“Germany has done extremely well out of it because it has enjoyed a more favourable exchange rate than it would have done otherwise but most of Europe has suffered. It’s a choice between the neo-liberalism of Merkel and Macron and the far-right and that’s the biggest threat in Europe, the growth of extreme nationalism of the far right which we have in our own country.”

“When I came here, I had a grant. I didn’t leave here with massive debts and I’m very lucky.”

Closer to home, Lansman spoke of his time at Cambridge and the differences he’d seen in student experiences since his time here, especially when it came to finances.

“When I came here, I had a grant. I didn’t leave here with massive debts and I’m very lucky. Students today will leave with big debts, but you will have had a first-class education. People who are less fortunate with the education they receive will leave with pretty much the same debt. We live in a very unequal society. People who go here have a very good chance of repaying their debts, there’s an awful lot of people who go to other universities who won’t.”

Noting the elitist nature of Cambridge, Lansman said it was up to Cambridge to reform itself rather than relying on government targets and that the University needs to do more to target working class, comprehensive school students.


Mountain View

Dr Nisha Kapoor: “We need to think about racism more deeply and more critically than is being allowed for”

“Most of the figures we see talk about the private sector and the state sector. A majority of admissions from the state sector tend to come from relatively privileged schools within the sector, I want to see more admissions from working class applicants. I think there’s got to be a change in admissions criteria and outreach. I know that more’s been done since my day when there wasn’t really much of that.”

*Derek Hatton has since been suspended from the Labour Party pending an investigation into a tweet he posted in 2012

Jon Lansman - A Lifetime on the Left was hosted by Pembroke Politics Society

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