Labour MP John Mann is standing down as an MP to become a Tory adviser. He will take up a full-time role as the government’s “antisemitism tsar”.
Mann’s record on other issues is so bad that his elevation is likely to do more harm than good to the fight against antisemitism.
A Bassetlaw constituent of John Mann’s got it right back in 2016, writing on an internet chat forum: “[Mann] could probably be mistaken for UKIP most of the time. He’s pretty awful, though I did enjoy him shouting and swearing at Ken Livingstone a few weeks ago.”
Theresa May appointed Mann as her adviser on tackling antisemitism in one of her last acts as prime minister. Boris Johnson has now “upgraded” the role (to “antisemitism tsar” — a most unfortunate title given Russian history) and offered Mann a seat in the Lords.
Mann told Sky News that he was going to retain his Labour membership, but sit in the Lords as an independent peer:
When Frank Field resigned the Labour whip last year to sit as an independent MP, he also expected to keep his Labour membership in spite of his decision, but was told that resigning the whip had immediately terminated his personal membership of the party as well.
Mann first came to prominence as a leader of the National Organisation of Labour Students in the mid and early 1980s. He figured then as a “Bennite” left-winger and an organiser behind Labour Students in 1982 taking the National Union of Students leadership from the Communist Party/ Liberal “Broad Left”. That was a shift to the left, made on the back of a well-organised wave of campus occupations.
Activists from the forerunner of Workers’ Liberty disputed with Mann and his cothinkers week by week in Manchester University Labour Club back then. From those debates of that time, it seems, he learned about antisemitism, but little else.
He was always a careerist, and long ago became a vicious right-winger and Brexiteer. He was the only Labour MP to react positively to May’s offer to northern Labour MPs of extra money for their constituencies in return for support for her Brexit deal – widely denounced even by many Labour Brexiteers as a “bribe”.
Many on the left hate him because of the one issue where he has taken a principled stance: antisemitism. He has been accused of using the issue to attack Corbyn, and he has certainly done that.
But his record shows him raising concerns about antisemitism for years before Corbyn became leader. There is no reason to doubt that Mann’s strong views on antisemitism are entirely genuine. His much-publicised public denunciation of Ken Livingstone was not just a stunt: Mann was clearly outraged by Livingstone’s crass comments about Hitler (supposedly) supporting Zionism and was quite right to confront Livingstone, even if his – Mann’s — rant was pretty incoherent.
Mann’s opposition to prejudice and racism does not seem to be consistent.
In October 2016 details of an “offensive” legal advice booklet emerged — produced and distributed by John Mann.
The Bassetlaw anti-social behaviour handbook was written by John Mann and contains sections of advice for his constituents on how to deal with “loitering by youths”, “graffiti”, “neighbours from hell”, “alcohol”… and “travellers”. In the section on “Travellers”, which mainly deals with the civil offence of trespass, there is a big, bold strapline saying “the Police have powers to remove any gypsies and travellers”.
Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers are legally recognised ethnic minorities in the UK and are protected by Equalities laws from discrimination.
A Romany Gypsy constituent of John Mann, who sent a copy of the booklet to The Travellers’ Times, said: “It’s outrageous from a man that likes to give the public the impression that he’s against race hate and prejudice.”
A legal expert in Traveller law and police powers around trespass, contacted by The Travellers’ Times, has described the legal advice in the section on Travellers as “wrong.”
Mann’s move will also be seen (rightly) as an act of betrayal towards the Labour Party. That will give ammunition to those who seek to dismiss all talk of antisemitism as a right wing conspiracy, probably organised by the Israeli embassy.