Church of England

C of E priest says Labour's anti-Semitism is a right-wing plot, and Tories are racist


“Best wait for the vitriolic onslaught,” tweeted Fr Simon Rundell, when he was asked politely and courteously if he would like to add anything or clarify his assertion that Labour’s anti-Semitism is a fiction of the right-wing press, and that Conservatives are racist. “I never read your blog anymore, but you have the followers & the indignation,” he explained, seemingly preferring terse vitriol with a hint of indignation to the sort of measured civility one might expect from a Christian minister and curer of souls. So, one treads carefully with this post. Fr Simon’s preference is to block those who question him (no matter how courteously), and then to whip up his Twitter followers in… well, vitriol and indignation. But perhaps it is vitriol and indignation merely to point this out? Perhaps one ought simply to convey the facts, if it is possible to do so without indignation.

Fr Simon Rundell is a “Progressive, radical Anglocatholic Parish iPriest” (that is how he describes himself: presumably it isn’t vitriolic to point this out). Yesterday, he tweeted this:

rundell tweet 17

Please note that he didn’t merely RT a comment: he explicitly endorsed this extract as “perceptive comment”, and expressed admiration for the author’s “insight”. The author says the Conservative Party is racist, and adduces as evidence for this a quotation from campaign literature used in the constituency of Smethwick in the 1964 General Election. The author also believes that Labour’s current problem with anti-Semitism isn’t a problem at all: those who believe it is are being “taken for a ride by our right-wing press”: it is, in short, a right-wing plot to smear the Labour Party. The evidence adduced for this is a reference to Palestinian children as “cockroaches” after “Israel bombed their school”, and a reluctance to comment on “the atrocities carried out in the name of Zionism”.

Setting aside the rather abundant evidence that Jeremy Corbyn appears to grasp the oppression of every minority except Jews; and the burgeoning dossier of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party, could someone please source which right-wing British newspaper referred to Palestinian schoolchildren as “cockroaches” after Israel bombed their school? Do, please, feel free to tell us in the comment thread: it would be an appalling dehumanisation if one did, but it isn’t immediately searchable on Google. Didn’t the right-wing British press report Israel’s bombardment of Gaza? Didn’t they cover, day after day, the appalling suffering and bloodshed? Didn’t they print pictures of the ruins and rubble of homes, hospitals and schools? Do, please, feel free to enlighten us in the comment thread, and name/shame those who didn’t think to make this news.

The only recent media reference to cockroaches in the British press appears to be an abhorrent remark made by professional contrarian Katie Hopkins on asylum seekers and economic migrants. What is this “perceptive” author otherwise referring to? If his insights are so admirable, please would someone explain his perceptions to those of us who are weak in understanding. And please do so patiently and courteously: there is no need at all for vitriol and indignation.

It isn’t clear why Fr Simon Rundell thinks that Katie Hopkins speaks for the Conservative Party, or even why she is considered representative of the right-wing press. He may say it’s the author who does so, but Fr Simon frames the quotation with the words “perceptive”, “insight” and “admire”, and that amounts to a fairly robust endorsement. Nor is it immediately clear why a 50-year-old piece of (unofficial?) election literature referring rather disgracefully to having “a nigger for a neighbour” establishes that the contemporary Conservative Party is racist. Fr Simon Rundell clarified this: “…but such prejudices still run deep,” he tweeted. “Remember Cheltenham,” he added, insensible to the possibility that John Taylor may have been a victim far more of his own laziness and incompetence than the colour of his skin.

But Fr Simon went further, and said the Conservative Party’s refusal to admit 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children, mostly from France, is the “heir” to Smethwick. It isn’t immediately clear how the reasoned position of not admitting child refugees from the safe countries of Europe is “heir” to “If you want a nigger for a neighbour”. Perhaps someone might explain (patiently and courteously) to those of us who are a bit dim of wit and slow of learning.

Eschewing allegations of Labour’s anti-Semitism completely, Fr Simon Rundell – an ordained minister in the Church of England – smears the entire modern Conservative Party – the party democratically elected to govern – as the true racists, based on a 50-year-old flyer and the party’s current policy on refugees and economic migrants. When he was asked to withdraw and apologise for this, he preferred instead to quibble over the term “modern Conservative”, insisting that it is an oxymoron. He appears to be prejudiced against Conservatism, and quite ignorant of conservatism (or oblivious to the distinction). But perhaps it is vitriolic to point this out? Is it indignant to ask if this is vitriolic? Are there any modern Conservative Party members who would not now balk at the 1964 Smethwick election literature with disgust? Are there any who actually applaud the term “cockroaches” when applied to a human being, let alone children?

Fr Simon Rundell is a card-carrying member of the Labour Party and an ardent supporter of Jeremy Corbyn. Indeed, this morning he threatened to resign from the Labour Party should there be any ‘politicking’ to oust their elected leader. When attention is drawn (reasonably and dispassionately) to his political affiliation as a possible cause of his anti-Tory prejudice (or theo-philosophical simplicity), he takes it as a personal onslaught: “You attacked me because of my Party membership, because of my RT and because of your inflated sense of self-importance,” he tweeted graciously, evidently oblivious to the numerous Labour Party members who receive not infrequent approbation on this blog (and, indeed, with whom any thinking Conservative could [and does] work together for the common good). “I didn’t realise to be Anglican dictated the way I vote,” he jabbed sarcastically, despite nothing so crass ever having been suggested (or even believed). But ad hom derision serves its deflecting purpose: Labour Party anti-Semitism is swamped by pious contempt.

He then tweeted that he wanted to “call a truce” as he had a homily to write and needed “to focus on the Good News of Jesus”; the inference being that he was being distracted by a racist, inflated, self-important Tory who is manifestly preoccupied with the bad news of Satan. This wasn’t an unreasonable request, so he was (courteously) bidden farewell. No vitriol. No indignation. But he then tweeted (without including a Twitter handle – ie, covertly) a reference to “Pseud Cranmer”, with an expectation of impending “vitriolic onslaught”. If surreptitiously whipping up one’s Twitter followers is Fr Simon’s concept of “truce”, it isn’t immediately clear where he derives his understanding of peace, grace and brotherly love.

Nor is it clear how any Conservative can feel comfortable worshipping in his church(es). If there are any under the pastoral aegis of the Roborough Team Ministry, perhaps they might get in touch and explain what they think about Fr Simon’s assertion that current Tory policy is heir to “If you want a nigger for a neighbour”. Perhaps some of the (currently) 27 high-profile Labour supporters who have made it clear that their party does indeed have a problem with anti-Semitism might comment on Fr Simon’s assertion that it is all a fabrication of the right-wing press.

Fr Simon Rundell boasts that he is “wildly, rabidly inclusive”. Maybe his theology of inclusion and mission praxis extend more readily to tolerance of Labour-supporting anti-Semites than they do to Tories? But perhaps it is indignant to make such an observation – or vitriolic even to suggest it.