This post is not directly about whether Londoners should vote for Ken Livingstone or for Boris Johnson or for anyone else in the mayoral election, although it may have some implications for that choice. Rather, it's about a set of prior questions: who has an interest in this issue; who is affected by it; for whom might it be important enough to form a view; whose views are allowed to count as significant? And the reason that I'm raising these questions is that they were raised to me by a Londoner friend who told me he intends to vote for Livingstone. When I mentioned the problems with Jews, the deploying of anti-Semitic tropes, and the embracing of those who think that Jews, including children, should be killed, and so should gays; suggesting that these might be good reasons for not voting for a candidate, my friend pointed out that he was voting purely on what was good for London. That was the only consideration that mattered, he felt, and there was just no question in his mind but that Ken was better for London than Boris. At this point I did murmur something about the importance or otherwise of making the trains run on time, which admittedly was a provocative thing to do, and in response my friend firmly said that the views of outsiders simply didn't matter, because they didn't have votes in this particular election. It was pointless and uninteresting for people without a vote to form or voice a view: it simply couldn't count.
This got me to thinking about whether outsiders should have views on the London mayoral election, and if so, why. (Declaration of interest here: I am not now and never have been a resident of any part of London.) Obviously anyone can if they wish have a view on anything, but not all views are significant: to be honest, my own views on issues such as the economic situation in Peru, or the chances of Rick Santorum becoming the Republican candidate for the American presidency, really aren't worth having, and I know it. They simply don't count for anything - the issues are too distant for me, and/or I'm too ignorant about them. But the London Mayoralty seems a lot closer to home, and the opinions which I or others outside the capital might form may have some significance for that election.
There are two principal reasons for this. The first one is that London is a big place, and part of the most affluent area in the country; its taxes help to support other poorer regions of the UK, so what happens in London is likely to affect the provinces as well as the metropolis. The second reason (which is perhaps just a specialized example of the first) is that the Mayor of London is a very public figure, and any attitudes he displays, particularly controversial ones, are likely to get very wide coverage in the media. Hence they're likely to influence, in one way or another, the attitudes of other people throughout the country.
Now anyone, anyone at all, who deploys anti-Semitic tropes, who publicly embraces a Jew-hater and who suggests that widely available information about that Jew-hatred has actually been confected by past agents of Mossad, is doing something to normalize and legitimize anti-Semitism, whether or not that's his intention. If that person were to be the Mayor, the normalizing and legitimizing effect of such behaviour would be very greatly magnified. It's not unreasonable for Jews to think that this is a serious consideration. In fact it's not unreasonable for anyone to think that this is a serious consideration: every person in the country, Jewish or not, is affected by the amount of anti-Semitism that's in the air. An increase in levels of racism isn't good for anyone; the whole body politic suffers if the quality of civic and political discourse is degraded by creeping hostility to Jews or any other ethnic group. But of course Jews would be particularly affected by the normalizing of anti-Semitism. So they have a direct interest in the outcome of the London mayoral election, and have good reason to form a view about it.
But should that view really be dominated by the problem of anti-Semitism? That's a hard question, because the domain of politics encompasses various distinct and important values, and different people will prioritize different sets of these. For some people, the question of whether the Tube trains run on time really will strike them as the most important consideration in the Mayoralty election. I don't think that everyone is obliged to prioritize anti-racism, at least not in present conditions, although this could change. But similarly no one is obliged not to prioritize it – it's an important issue, and it's not unreasonable to make that issue one's priority.
It's sometimes suggested that Jews shouldn't take anti-Semitism so seriously – that it's objectionably selfish or narrow-minded of them to do so, and that those Jews who rise above such concerns are specially to be admired. But this is a pernicious piece of moral grandstanding, especially at a time when anti-Semitism seems to be on the rise in Britain and elsewhere. Those who are the targets of racism may reasonably object to its manifestations, nor is it particularly selfish of them to do so. There's nothing that's morally illegitimate about women objecting to manifestations of sexism, and those women who refuse to do so aren't especially unselfish or in an especially admirable moral condition. Anyone who has ever claimed that we should display zero tolerance for racism has effectively said that that issue should come first (though of course those making this claim don't always really mean it). Jews and non-Jews alike may make anti-Semitism their political priority if they so choose; insidious suggestions that this represents some kind of moral failure are themselves a further manifestation of discriminatory attitudes.
All-in-all, I conclude that my friend is mistaken: outsiders can have good reason to form views about the election for the London Mayoralty, and even though they don't have votes their opinions may be relevant to the debate, and can reasonably be taken into account by those who do have a vote. Jews and others throughout the country who think that it's damaging and dangerous to normalize anti-Semitism can reasonably say so, and Londoners can reasonably listen to their voice. (Eve Garrard)