An optimist would say it was an unintended risk. A pessimist would say it was their hope all along. Either way, over the last few days something very troubling feels like it might be on the verge of happening: Labour’s antisemitism risks becoming so normalised as to be almost unremarkable.
Consider the aftermath of Panorama‘s serious and detailed investigation last week. What aftermath? Exactly. The usual MPs, shadow ministers, unions and so on have expressed how ‘unacceptable’ this racism, and the failure to tackle it, is. But then for the most part they’ve simply continued to accept it. Barring the three peers who quit the party, all the others are still waving the flag, campaigning for a Labour majority and, presumably, willing to vote in a way that would install Jeremy Corbyn and his advisers in Downing Street.
Worse, the ‘outriders’, apologists and personality cultists have become ever more bold in simply shrugging about the issue. Just look at the way awkward silence was succeeded by attempts at minimisation, then by attempts at rationalisation, and now all too often slips into the far more blunt, far more worrying, denunciation of criticism as somehow wrong and dismissal that “it isn’t working”. “It” in that phrase is an implication that complaints of antisemitism are a tactic – not just that they are bogus, cooked up to inflict political damage on Labour, but that if Labour can weather them then they can be ignored.
In other words, whether it was a deliberate strategy from the outset, or a discover by unhappy accident, the worst elements of the Opposition appear to conclude increasingly that the solution to this scandal is simply to pull their collars up against the storm and keep going. Bad news is in itself an enemy to the project, and anyone talking about it is likewise an enemy. Therefore, to take it seriously or seek to address it is to weaken the cause, and even to aid hostile forces. Hence the denunciations of the BBC and its investigator, and the attempts to have the documentary expunged from iPlayer.
This is a Trumpian approach: ignore, denounced or even mock the shock and disgust your actions inspire, in the confidence that if the row goes on long enough then in time what was once awful will be accepted as normal. Rebrand concern about that as a marker of political bias and hostility. Push the boundary between decent and indecent back and back, on the basis that people will eventually forget which is which.
Such relativism does not change facts, of course. There is still truth and untruth, racism and anti-racism, decency and indecency. Those who believe so must never tire of saying it; those who wish it were otherwise certainly never will.