Campaigner of the Week: Lord Mann
Lord Mann talks to Georgina Bailey about his new role as Independent Adviser on Antisemitism
Mann, until recently Labour MP for Bassetlaw, has started his role as the government’s Independent Advisor on Antisemitism (“Not a tsar, that’s a media term”, I am firmly corrected). Mann was chair of the APPG on Antisemitism for 15 out of his 17 years in the Commons, and was known for his outspokenness – and for calling Ken Livingstone a “f**king disgrace” and “Nazi apologist” on TV in 2016. Mann has joined the Lords as a non-affiliated peer, with his new position sitting within MHCLG.
Mann clearly sees his new role as one of working with all strands of society to tackle antisemitism. “Opposing antisemitism: to me the only odd thing is why everyone doesn’t do it”.
“The notion that anyone feels unsafe in this country, feels that they don’t have a future in this country because of antisemitism is abhorrent to everything that is British, everything about our country, everything about our values, everything about our Parliament.”
And the role of Parliament in this? “The definition of leadership is to stand up against injustice and intolerance. And therefore, every MP should be standing up against antisemitism… that’s why I get so angry when people choose not to…. You don’t pick and choose which bits of antisemitism you stand up against – you stand up against all of it.”
Mann’s appointment came following conversations with Jewish community leaders, No 10 and Theresa May about the need for such a role, and for it to be held by a prominent non-Jewish antisemitism campaigner. Imam Qari Asim was appointed to a similar role advising on Islamophobia this summer; they are currently fixing a date to meet to discuss how they will work together.
One of Mann’s priorities will be ““making sure there are consequences for the antisemites” in every facet of society. He wants to see the IHRA’s working definition of anti-Semitism adopted across the world “not just by governments and political parties but by football clubs, by universities, by employers” allowing for practical policies to tackle antisemitism at all levels.
He’ll be travelling “to every Jewish community across the country” in the next few weeks, listening to their experiences and delivering “a very clear message”, he says: “you will not be left to fight antisemitism on your own”.
“One of the things that I will be doing in the next week is writing into every political party represented in here asking if they will publicly sign the declaration of antisemitism during the general election,” Mann says as we meet two days after the election is called.
What does he think then of Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain’s letter encouraging tactical voting to prevent a Corbyn-led government, stating ‘it would pose a danger to the Jewish way of life as we know it’? Mann, still a member of the Labour party, pauses. “It is a sad state of affairs that a respected Rabbi feels it’s appropriate to be writing such a letter… the leader of the Labour party should reflect on why it’s got to this appalling situation and work with me to turn it around.”
His relationship with the current Labour leader has been fractious to say the least. Is secure in his position after an election? “It’s a five-year contract… it’s a prime ministerial appointment. Only a prime minister can sack me.” A wry smile spreads across his face, “I’m sure that whoever is prime minister will want to give at least as much backing as the current prime minister and their predecessor have to this.”