Dame Louise ‘traumatised’ by leaving the Labour Party

TRAUMATISED but defiant, Liverpool Riverside MP Dame Louise Ellman remains as committed as ever to her constituents.

It has been nine days since she decided to resign from Labour after 55 years’ membership, citing the constant antisemitism in the party and the prospect of a Jeremy Corbyn-led government.

She puts it as succinctly as anyone when describing Labour leader Corbyn and his acolytes, stating that they have “established a centralised control and crushed dissidents”.

Having seen fellow Jewish MPs Luciana Berger and Ivan Lewis quit the party, Dame Louise was determined not to follow suit.

“I was agonising over what to do, but the tipping point was the imminence of a General Election and the possibility of Jeremy Corbyn becoming prime minister,” she told me from her Liverpool home.

“I did not feel I could ask people to vote Labour, knowing it could make him PM.

“Since he became leader, antisemitism has become mainstream in the party — and I hold him responsible for it. It is like a cult.

“Leaving the party has been a very difficult thing to do, and I feel traumatised, but it was something I felt I had to do.

“I was in Parliament on Saturday for the Brexit vote and most Labour MPs told me how sorry they are that this has happened.”

Much of the antisemitic vitriol has been directed at Jewish Labour MPs such as Ruth Smeeth and Dame Margaret Hodge.

And while they, as well as Ms Berger, have spoken about the psychological impact the hatred has had, Dame Louise shows a resilience which propelled her to leader of Lancashire City Council at the age of just 36.

She said: “I will keep speaking out about antisemitism in the Labour Party.

“The abuse has been unpleasant, but I am a stoic person and you have to be tough in politics.”

Earlier this month, she was subjected to a no confidence motion by her local Labour party on the night of Kol Nidrei — when they knew she would not be present.

“They were trying to jump the gun on a formal reselection process,” a dignified Dame Louise explained.

“Was the decision to hold it on Kol Nidrei wilful or ignorance? I don’t know, but people in politics should have known that it was Kol Nidrei.

“The whole thing was appalling.”

But not everyone in her constituency has been discouraging, as she said she has received “lots of supportive emails and phone calls which I have been touched by”.

Dame Louise (nee Rosenberg), 74, was passionate about politics from an early age.

Raised in the Crumpsall area of Manchester by parents Ann and Harold, her maternal grandparents came from Lithuania and the German-Polish border, while her paternal side of the family were Lithuanian and Russian.

There were always political conversations around the dinner table, too.

“I had an awareness and interest in politics and knew I wanted to do something with that, but I just didn’t know what,” the former Manchester High School for Girls pupil recalled.

She went on to read sociology and history at the University of Hull, before receiving a Master of Philosophy in social administration from the University of York.

Involved with the Habonim Dror youth movement as a teenager, she spent a year in Israel following her studies, which is where she met pharmacist husband Geoffrey, a fellow Mancunian who was working at a hospital in Tiberias.

The pair married in 1967 and have two children, Sean and Yvonne, as well as five grandchildren.

Soon after their wedding, they moved to Skelmersdale, Lancashire, which had been designated as a “new town” by the government in 1961.

“My husband worked there and it was a town that was still developing,” Dame Louise said.

She was elected as a councillor on Lancashire City Council in 1970 and became the Labour group leader seven years later before being elected to lead the council in 1981.

“There was a lot of hostility towards me, as I was the youngest member and female,” she added.

“Some members told me to ‘go home, woman’, but I loved local government and I had a terrific team of people working with me.”

Dame Louise was behind the idea to set up an office in Brussels in 1990, which aimed to establish and maintain a working relationship with European institutions, secure the take-up of European grants and promote initiatives for Lancashire’s economic, social, educational and cultural development.

It came after a decade in which prime minister Margaret Thatcher and her government were fiercely criticised for not caring about local communities.

“Europe was our salvation and it brought in millions of pounds to support industry in Lancashire,” Dame Louise explained.

“Thatcher decimated communities and I was deeply opposed to her — she didn’t care about people. She was cruel, uncaring and hard.

“The government, too, was not interested in the north of the country, so I set about doing all I could to protect the people I represented.”

She co-founded Lancashire Enterprise, which brought millions of pounds of European funding into the county to support businesses, and worked closely with the region’s minorities, helping to set up the Lancashire Council of Mosques.

Dame Louise was elected to Parliament at the 1997 General Election for the safe seat of Liverpool Riverside.

“I was asked if I was interested in putting my name forward,” said Dame Louise, who had unsuccessfully contested the Darwen constituency at the 1979 General Election.

“I wasn’t keen at first, but then I thought I would have a go.

“Liverpool was seen by some as a place with a lot of trouble, but I felt it was not being treated with proper respect.”

One of the most politicised cities in the UK, Liverpool had been through the mill in the 1980s, with the Trotskyist group Militant taking control of the council for much of the decade.

Liverpool also lost 80,000 jobs as the docks closed and its manufacturing sector shrank by 50 per cent.

And then there was the Hillsborough Disaster, which saw 96 Liverpool Football Club supporters crushed to death.

“When I was elected, Liverpool was coming out of its difficulties,” Dame Louise remembered.

“There had been massive unemployment, and people were leaving the city, with fewer people coming in.

“I would be in London from the Monday until the Thursday night, so it was difficult to balance family and work life.

“Thankfully, I had an extremely supportive husband who I could not have done it without.”

One of the issues she is most proud of during her time as MP is playing a pivotal role in securing a Royal Pardon for Liverpudlian Michael Shields, who had been convicted in 2005 of attempted murder in Bulgaria.

“I like helping people whose voices are not being listened to,” she added.

Chairman of the Jewish Labour Movement for 10 years and current chairman of Labour Friends of Israel, she has regularly stood up in the House of Commons to fight Israel’s cause.

Last year, footage was released which showed pro-Palestinian Corbyn allegedly dub her the “MP for Tel Aviv”.

“When people talk about Israel in an unfair way, I would stand up and say my piece,” Dame Louise continued.

“The halcyon days were under Tony Blair, as he was very pro-Israel and pro-Jewish.

“I actually found that there was more pro-Israel sentiment among the Labour side of the house.”

She knew Corbyn “would be a problem” as soon as he was elected Labour leader in September, 2015.

“When there were debates in Parliament to do with Israel, he was always there, on the opposing side,” Dame Louise said. “He has an obsessive hatred of Israel’s existence.

“Whether he is antisemitic I don’t know because I don’t know what is in his heart, but what I do know is that since he became Labour leader, antisemitism has become mainstream in the party.”

She has even sat down with Corbyn to try to explain British Jews’ fears.

“He is very polite and appears to listen, but just repeats what he has said before, about being an anti-racist and how is he against antisemitism,” Dame Louise added.

“He promises robust action, but nothing ever changes.

“I also suspect he would find it hard to believe that Jewish people would leave the country should he become prime minister.”

But does she genuinely believe that Corbyn could be handed the keys to Number 10?

“It is a real possibility but, at the moment, as our politics is so volatile, it is difficult to predict what is going to happen,” she said.

“The usual order is breaking down. I do share Jewish people’s concerns and it is a terrible position the Labour Party has got itself in, having to deal with it all.”

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