Private Eye on Luciana Berger

Remember Luciana Berger? She is, or was, the Blairite MP for Liverpool who joined the chorus of Jewish MPs screaming that Jeremy Corbyn was an evil anti-Semite and a threat to British Jewry because he criticised Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians. Oh yes, and he wanted to ditch Thatcherism. She was one of the lynch mob of angry White women who turned up at the kangaroo trial of Marc Wadsworth demanding that he should be expelled for the dreadful crime of embarrassing Ruth Smeeth. For which Wadsworth, a long-term anti-racist activist who had worked with the Board of Deputies of British Jews in passing legislation to deal with real anti-Semitic attacks by the BNP, was labelled an anti-Semite. Berger seems to have turned up amongst the intake of new MPs in the 2010 parliament, and so Private Eye ran a feature on her in their ‘The New Boys and Girls’ column in their issue for the 18-31 March 2011. She comes across as fiercely ambitious, opportunistic and with scant interest or understanding of the ordinary Liverpudlians she supposedly represented. The article runs

She may recently have been voted the most fanciable member of parliament, and since being elected as Labour MP for Liverpool Watertree last year she has developed a drooling fan club of sad, middle-aged men in the Commons – but looks deceive.

Twenty-eight year old Luciana Berger is what the comrades used to describe as a “right operator”. Within a few months of her arrival, Ed Miliband had already promoted her to the frontbench as a shadow minister for energy and climate change.

Her swift climb up the greasy pole began soon after she left the Haberdasher Aske’s School for Girls and went to Birmingham University, where she became an executive member of the National Union of Students, convening national anti-racism campaigns. She resigned in 2005, accusing the NUS of taking a lax attitude to anti-Semitism on campus.

She later took up a “public affairs” post at Accenture and went on to advise the NHS Confederation, but not before the rumour mill had come alive with talk of a relationship with Euan Blair after the pair were pictured at a party. Denials came thick and fast, not only from Blair but also from the Labour party, which took it upon itself to issue an official statement saing that young Luciana “was not, and had never been” romantically linked with Euan Blair.

One of her predecessors in the Liverpool Wavertree seat, the late Terry Fields, might have doffed his fireman’s helmet to her for the way she managed to get selected in the first place, for it came straight out of the old Militant Tendency’s instruction manual. While Labour was choosing its candidate, Berger lived for a month at the home of Jane Kennedy, then the sitting MP, whose partner was the Labour official who ran the selection process, Peter Dowling. The completed ballot papers were then returned to Kennedy’s home address for counting.

A furious Frank Hont, secretary of the regional branch of the Unison trade union, lodged protests with party bosses, to no avail. Although veteran Liverpool Walton MP Peter Kilfoyle branded her a “student politician” who lacked the experience to do the job, Berger went on to beat Liverpool councillors Wendy Simon and Joyce Still by a margin of around 2-1 to win the candidacy on an “all-wimmin” shortlist. By this time, Berger was in a relationship with the MP and journalist Sion Simon, who was shortly to stand down from parliament to devote his energies to becoming mayor of Birmingham. The pair were talked of as a new “power couple”.

Berger didn’t improve her stock with incandescent Scousers by committing a series of gaffes that would have sunk a less shameless candidate. In January 2010, the Liverpool Echo tested Berger with a four-question quiz on Liverpool life and history. She scored two out of four, not knowing who performed “Ferry Cross the Mersey”, and not recognising the name of former Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly.

In her defence, Berger said that “you can’t ask a girl a football question” and added: “I’m not new to the city. I’ve been coming here for the past decade through all different jobs.” It is difficult to know what caused more offence, Berger’s failure to have heard of Shankly or her reference to coming to the city “through all different jobs” – jobs, after all, being a commodity in short supply on Merseyside.

For a while it looked as though she would be given a run for her money at the election by Scouse actor and former union activist Ricky Tomlinson, who announced that he would stand for the Socialist Labour Party under the election slogan “Berger – my arse!” – but then wimped out because of “personal and contractual commitments”.,

Once in parliament, Berger’s ability to upset local sensitivities continued. Last October she infuriated Liverpudlians by appearing on a Radio Five Live show with Kelvin McKenzie, who was the editor of the Sun at the time of the Hillsborough disaster and whose coverage of the story led to a boycott of the paper on Merseyside that last to this day. Berger’s lame defence was that she “didn’t know who the other guests were”.

With yet another little local difficulty somehow shrugged off, Luciana has also shrugged off Sion Simon and is now romantically involved with an equally ambitious Labour MP, Chuka Umunna, who has been dubbed “the British Obama”. With the pair already being talked of as a new “power couple”, let’s hope the Labour party doesn’t go and spoil things against by issuing a denial.”

From this, it seems that she won her selection as Labour MP through knowing the right people, and is less interested in representing Liverpool than using it as a base to get her rear end in parliament. Which describes any number of Blairite MPs, male and female. As for saying that it was unfair to expect a girl to know about football, this sounds less persuasive ten years later when there’s a campaign to get more women and girls playing sport and women’s footie has been a regular fixture on the box with the men’s. As for Berger’s commitment to anti-racism, while I’m sure it was genuine enough at the time it was clearly outweighed in the Wadsworth’s case by her determination to defend Israel and purge the party of Corbyn and his supporters anyway she could. I also wonder about her complaint that Birmingham University wasn’t doing enough to tackle anti-Semitism. It’s possible it was all as she said it was, and there was real anti-Semitism on campus. But the Blairites deliberately conflate anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism. Was the anti-Semitism she was so upset about simply other student activists, equally determined in their opposition to racism, condemning Israel’s persecution of the Palestinians?

And it is, in my view, too bad that Tomlinson didn’t stand against her and win. If he had done so, it was have done much to demonstrate to the Blairites, and particularly Starmer, that the Old Labour they despise has the power to defeat them by being able to create its own, independent party outside their control.

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