Over the years, the anger of grieving relatives and a sickened city has been restrained - their most aggressive tactic was boycotting The Sun. The emotional response to the verdict, which has been shared well beyond Liverpool, was essentially one of vindication ("we were telling the truth") rather than vengeance. There is a determination that those guilty of negligence and cover-up will be punished, but none of the blood-lust that disfigures campaigns orchestrated by the tabloids. The campaigners were not only "exemplary" in playing by the state's heavily-biased rules of engagement, they exhibited the democratic decency that is often claimed to reside in "Middle England". Conservatives love to quote Chesterton on "the people of England, that never have spoken yet". In the case of Hillsborough, the people were speaking articulately and loudly all along, but they were callously ignored, not just by South Yorkshire Police and the Murdoch press but by successive governments.
Chesterton's 1907 poem, The Secret People, from which that famous line comes, is a historical narrative that proceeds from a lament over the destruction of the old social order by the Reformation (he was an ultramontane Catholic), through the Puritan delusions of the Civil War and the disappointments that followed the Napoleonic Wars.
Our patch of glory ended; we never heard guns again.The offhand antisemitism is typical of both conservative and liberal writers of a century ago (Kipling, Eliot, Shaw, Wells etc), but it is worth noting that Chesterton was not an unthinking antisemite but a highly instrumental one. In 1933 he would opine that "Hitlerism is almost entirely of Jewish origin", his motive being to ridicule the idea of a "Chosen Race", whether Jewish or Aryan, in support of his belief that what really mattered was religion (and specifically fealty to Rome) rather than ethnicity. A not dissimilar instrumentalism, in the service of anti-nationalism, has often informed leftist reservations about Zionism. For example, George Orwell wrote: "many Zionist Jews seem to me to be merely antisemites turned upside-down" (context is important, so I'd recommend you read the entire essay, an example of intellectual honesty that can only deepen your contempt for those who claim to be his inheritors).
But the squire seemed struck in the saddle; he was foolish, as if in pain,
He leaned on a staggering lawyer, he clutched a cringing Jew,
He was stricken; it may be, after all, he was stricken at Waterloo
Which brings us neatly to that other public figure who delights in paradox, Ken Livingstone. I doubt the most famous newt-fancier in Britain is a real antisemite, just as I doubt Boris Johnson has a visceral hatred of Kenyans or Liverpudlians. What both are guilty of is using notional groups of people, essentially defined through media caricatures, as means rather than ends ("the pro-Israel lobby", "whingeing scousers"), which is an occupational hazard for both politicians and journalists. Significantly, both have shown that offensiveness is no bar to becoming Mayor of London. A paradox is that the current contestants for that office seem to doubt this. Zac Goldsmith has been trying to smear Sadiq Khan through a non-existent connection with Islamic extremism, while Khan's prompt condemnation of Livingstone surely reflects a worry over electoral impact as much as genuine dismay.
Goldsmith's tactic, which most observers attribute to the influence of Lynton Crosby, was coming under increasing criticism in recent weeks. The story about Naz Shah's 2-year old Facebook comments, which appeared out of the blue in the Guido Fawkes blog (a well-known conduit for Tory leaks), was providential in the manner of one of Crosby's signature "dead cats". The principle that cock-up is a more likely explanation than conspiracy holds good for most areas of life, but not for the realm of political news management. Whatever the truth of the matter, it has been fascinating to see how, once Livingstone dropped his trousers and helpfully mounted the dead cat in full public view, sentiment has shifted in respect of Naz Shah. She is now being described as the sort of MP that Labour needs more of (she's a centrist who supported Yvette Cooper in the leadership election), who has shown "a genuine engagement with the anti-Semitism that has found a happy home on parts of the left, and a desire to stamp it out". Apparently her re-education is nearing its completion.
The standout feature of l'affaire Shah is the way that politicians and media commentators who are normally critical of political correctness have adopted an attitude, and indulged in theatrical behaviours, that could justifiably be called "political correctness gone mad". This is the irony of myths such as "baa, baa white sheep" and "winterval": the extremism of imagined PC madness stimulates an equally extreme response, to the point that madness becomes institutionalised (that's the history of the US Tea Party in a nutshell). That right-wingers and authoritarians of various stripes are so good at performing political correctness is telling evidence that it is in fact a right-wing invention. In the case of John Mann, with his handy camera crew and Michael Moore-style ambush, it has been raised to the level of performance art. I genuinely think his "Nazi apologist" tirade at Livingstone should be submitted as an entry to this year's Turner Prize.
As a plausible narrative that went with the grain of wider social change, such as increasing tolerance and respect for individual rights, and wider intellectual currents, such as the linguistic turn and postmodernism, various PC tropes were adopted by their targets in the 70s and 80s as a strategy for advancing the social acceptance of minorities, notably a concern with verbal propriety (things that cannot be said) and correct labelling (taxonomy is structurally conservative). This inversion of ideas that were intended to be a source of ridicule highlights a problem with political expressions that depend on codewords and ambiguity, which is that irony is easily missed. People who deprecate "dog whistles" often fail to appreciate that many of the intended audience are functionally deaf, not because they're stupid but because they haven't been taught the codewords (e.g. what "North London" meant in the case of Ed Miliband) or because other associations cause a short-circuit (every time I hear the American phrase "super predator" I can't help thinking of Arnold Schwarzenegger, before remembering that it was a Clintonite euphemism for "violent black").
In the context of Israel, the employment of political correctness is most obvious in the insistence on its "right to exist", with the suggestion that anyone who questions the state's behaviour beyond a conventional agenda (free elections, the rule of law etc) is not just voicing an existential threat to the country but challenging a universal right and thus insulting us all. This is not merely an extension of the traditional ideas of sovereignty or "state's rights", which boil down to a contest over power between different institutions, but part of a wider trend to both raise "rights" to the level of a supreme good and extend them to non-democratic entities, such as corporations. This allows one claim of rights, the Palestinian demand for self-determination, to be countered by another, leading to the inevitable impasse of "irreconcilable rights". Of course, there is no equivalence. People have a right to political self-determination, but no state has a "right" to exist (neither Israel nor Palestine nor the UK) because a state is simply a contingent territorial jurisdiction that may or may not have been established by consent.
The danger for British Jews is that the current focus on antisemitism, whose actual incidence is rare within Labour (hence the very few proven cases and the triviality of much of the evidence), will normalise the idea that it is far more prevalent, to the point of alienating Jews from the party. Similarly, the deliberate conflation of anti-Zionism with antisemitism is a high-risk strategy as it suggests that Zionism is a matter of faith (or ethnicity) and therefore beyond political debate. There is also a danger that already-primed Muslims interpret the media prioritisation of antisemitism negatively, encouraging "Jew-trolling" as an obstreperous response to islamophobia. This fear is evident in the anxiety of many Jews on the left. The problem is that most British Jews with a high media profile have identified with the Blairites since the 90s, with the result that they are now shackled to a faction bent on confrontation with the elected leadership.
The right of the Labour Party are using antisemitism to advance their project to depose Corbyn with little regard for the collateral damage this causes British Jews. Naturally, the media are only too happy to encourage "We're not welcome, it's time to leave" articles, though they remain coy about asking Blairites why they don't resign if they're that miffed at the left turn. Instead, the Jews must flee (oh dear, I hope Livingstone doesn't spot that historical irony). The influence of the Jewish community within the party is in relative decline for a variety of reasons, but it's hard to imagine that the current nonsense will do anything other than accelerate that trend, which would be a loss both for the community and the party, and for the wider civic life of Britain. As the Hillsborough campaign proved, there is a deep fund of tolerance and decency in the country, but it needs support and celebration, not marginalisation by metropolitan egos.