Louise Ellman: ‘So happy to be home in the Labour Party – I’m pretty emotional’

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Labour Party Conference

Louise Ellman: ‘So happy to be home in the Labour Party – I’m pretty emotional’

JEWISH NEWS INTERVIEW: "I felt things were changing. I always wanted to come back, I was waiting for the party to change," reflects veteran politician at party conference.

Labour leader SirKeir Starmer welcomes Louise Ellman to the Labour Party conference in Brighton.
Labour leader SirKeir Starmer welcomes Louise Ellman to the Labour Party conference in Brighton.

Dame Louise Ellman has said the only promise made to her by Keir Starmer ahead of her decision to rejoin Labour was that he would “continue his mission to eradicate antisemitism” and to make the party “a better place.”

Speaking to Jewish News, the former Liverpool Riverside MP  flatly rejected suggestions she had been promised a place in the House of Lords to secure her sensational return to the party she quit two years ago over Jeremy Corbyn’s failure on antisemitism.

Ellman, who travelled to Brighton to attend Labour’s conference after confirming her return to party said: “I haven’t been promised anything except that Keir will continue his mission to eradicate antisemitism.

“That’s the only promise that I have been given. And that’s what I have been watching.

“I did speak to Keir after I made the decision myself to return. I felt things were changing. I always wanted to come back, I was waiting for the party to change.

Dame Louise Ellman at LFI’s stand

“When I spoke with Keir he did ask if was considering rejoining. I told him that I was. I’m back in the Labour Party because I feel that it is on the way to becoming electable again.”

Ellman, who was elected as MP for Liverpool Riverside in 1997,  served as Chair of the Transport Select Committee for nearly a decade, having previously been leader of Lancashire County Council for 16 years.

She said she had first joined the Labour Party over 55 years ago “because I wanted to change society for the better.”  The former Labour Friends of Israel chair said her political beliefs have not changed today, and that she did not want her decision to go back into the party to be “all about me.”

The 75 year-old added: “I want an anti-racist society, a more equal society, a society that treats people more fairly. That is something that has never changed for me. Under the Corbyn years they (Labour) became something very different.

“Now I feel that is coming back  and I want to be part of it – changing society for the better.”

Ellman said she was under no illusion that the problem with anti-Jewish racism had been eradicated entirely.

“There are still antisemites in the party, I suspect there always will be,” she said. “But there are many good people in the party.”

Recalling how “devastated” she was to leave the party ahead of the 2019 election as a result of the abuse she received from activists and Corbyn’s failure to deal with the problem Ellman said “it was a terrible time.”

She says it “took its toll” both on her own mental health and that of fellow Jewish MPs Dame Margaret Hodge and Luciana Berger.

MPs Margaret Hodge (second left), Jess Phillips (third left) and Luciana Berger (second right) at a demonstration outside a Labour party disciplinary hearing
Photo credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

But as she walked around the Brighton conference centre on Tuesday, Ellman was repeatedly greeted with genuine warmth from Labour MPs, members and councillors over her return.

She was photographed in conversation with Starmer inside Brighton’s Hilton Hotel. And Ellman was also the star attraction at the Labour Friends of Israel conference event on Tuesday evening.

“I know I’ve made the right decision.”  she said. “So many people have come up to me to welcome me back.”

In her speech on Tuesday night  Ellman said: “I’ve always been proud to be a Zionist and a member of LFI. And you know, bigots, that’s what they are, tried to tell us there was no place in the Labour Party for LFI.

“They could not be more wrong and they have been defeated.”

She said Starmer was in her opinion a man “of principle who the British people and British Jews can trust.”

Starmer had “demonstrated leadership and not just sincerity – he has showed action as well,” she added.

Within the Labour Party, Ellman said there “clearly remains a great deal more to do to tackle antisemitism – to repair the damage inflicted on the Jewish community.”

She added: “The rule change vote on Sunday marked a real watershed in the party facing up to what happened and being resolute against the bigotry and racism we have faced.”

Dame Louise Ellman embraced by Dame Margaret Hodge at the LFI event of Labour Party Conference

Ellman remarked that “too many people who claimed to anti-racists couldn’t see their own racism – and isn’t an anti-racist at all.”

Referring to the failure to tackle antisemitism under Jeremy Corbyn, Ellman said the only time cases were dealt with where when “they reached the national headlines and Labour were exposed for protecting the friends of people who were in power.”

Looking at Sunday’s vote on the EHRC rule change Ellman said it was “appalling” that 25 per cent of delegates opposed them.

She criticised those trade unions that had failed to support the rule changes.

Ellman said the “terrible motion” passed at Labour conference on Israel showed there were “people obsessed with demonising Israel then reaching a solution to a conflict between two peoples.”

Explaining her own political views, Elllman hit back at those claiming she was “on the right.”

Louise Ellman addressing LFI

This was “not so”, she said. “The left should never become party of antisemitism – the left has a proud history against racism and antisemitism.”

Recalling her 55 years in the Labour Party, Ellman hit out at the “treatment I received personally” from some Liverpool Riverside members.

Many cases were, she said, examples of “antisemitic anti-Zionism and tackling that is important.”

She paid tribute to Dame Margaret Hodge and Luciana Berger who also had to “bear the brunt” vicious abuse.

Recalling her upbringing, Ellman said she recalled the days most Jews were Labour and some were “even in the Communist Party.”

She said she wanted to see the return to the days Labour became that popular party for UK Jews.

“I am happy to be home, and I’m pretty emotional to see all of your here tonight, she told those at the LFI conference reception at Brighton’s Hilton.

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