Ken Loach’s work as a campaigning film director has, over decades, consistently exposed inhumanity, inequality and injustice, from Cathy Come Home (1966) and Kes (1969), to I, Daniel Blake (2016). The vitriolic attacks mounted against him treated his contribution to combating social injustice with complete contempt.
More insidiously the attacks on Ken Loach and Michael Rosen were complemented by pressure behind the scenes on the charity itself, including from Government; pressure on football clubs who partner with SRtRC; and threats to jeopardise SRtRC’s charitable status.
As pressure on SRtRC mounted Ken Loach received overwhelming support from more than 200 eminent public figures, including Eric Cantona, Sir Alex Ferguson, Sir Mark Rylance, John McDonnell MP, Dame Marina Warner, fellow filmmaker Mike Leigh, ex-minister for education Baroness Blackstone, Kenny MacAskill, former justice minister of Scotland, and over 30 national executive members of the National Education Union.
In letters sent to the charity’s Trustees they said: “In our fractious and still deeply racist society, their work [Ken Loach and Michael Rosen] promotes decency, understanding and kindness.” The signatories said that the calls, made by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, for Ken Loach’s removal as a competition judge “clearly reflect political differences, including over Israel-Palestine”. “Legitimate political differences” they said “must not be allowed to undermine unity against a common threat from the far right and racists.”
On March 4th SRtRC’s Trustees reaffirmed the choice of judges, and endorsed the earlier statement by chief executive Ged Grebby that Rosen and Loach were both ideally qualified to choose the competition winners. However, the charity was then subjected to further intense behind-the-scenes pressure, which threatened to wreck not only the competition and Ken Loach’s reputation, but the charity’s very existence.
In discussions between Ken Loach and SRtRC, it became clear that the charity has been the subject of an aggressive campaign to persuade trade unions, government departments, football clubs and politicians to cease funding or otherwise supporting the charity and its work (for example, training teachers to deal with racism in the classroom; and working with football clubs around the country to involve more young Asian men and women in the game). Threats were also made to its charitable status. The priorities of those involved in this campaign – which threatened to destroy an important and admirable anti-racist charity – deserve critical scrutiny.
It also got personal. Members of the charity’s staff were insulted and threatened, and 83-year-old Ken Loach and members of his family were subjected to personal abuse online. This is the background to the statement today announcing his withdrawal as a competition judge. SRTRC paid tribute to the work Loach has done over many years in combating racism, which has led to him being a member of their Hall of Fame.
The allegations made against Ken Loach lean heavily on a deeply controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance document that attempts to redefine antisemitism so as to conflate it with criticism of Zionism and of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Ken Loach has publicly supported pro-Palestinian Labour Party members who have been accused of antisemitism for such criticisms.
In recent weeks, there has been a further wave of pressure on Show Racism the Red Card to break its links with Ken Loach, based on a response he had made in February 2019 to a request for support from Peter Gregson, a member of the GMB union. Gregson claimed that the GMB was victimising him for his opposition to the IHRA version of antisemitism, and he asked Ken Loach’s advice on a video he had made in support of his appeal against expulsion from the union. Loach responded briefly by email, commenting on the video’s technical short-comings and affirming that its political case was sound. Ken Loach was unaware at that time of some disturbing behaviour and other comments attributed to Peter Gregson that were antisemitic.
Loach said: “I find Peter Gregson’s views and behaviour utterly reprehensible and I unequivocally reject his antisemitism. His misogynistic bullying of a young Jewish woman in the GMB union was also appalling. Had I been aware of these views and behaviour when he approached me, I categorically would not have engaged with him. I entirely support the GMB’s decision in expelling Peter Gregson.”
Ken Loach explained that his film company, Sixteen Films, has a small staff of five people who are frequently overwhelmed by requests for support from a range of campaigns and worthy causes. “Our day job is making films,” Loach said. “We try to help and respond to people in good faith. This leaves us vulnerable to giving support to those to whom it should be denied. This has clearly happened in this case. An error on my part, for which I have apologised.”
SRTRC has made clear that they do not believe that Ken Loach is an antisemite, nor that he supports antisemitic views. The campaign of vilification against Ken Loach, Show Racism the Red Card and those who supported them, has involved damaging and distressing online abuse that should have no place in anti-racism work. It is completely unacceptable that Ken and members of his family, and Michael Rosen too, have been subject to abuse. SRtRC is a small organisation with an unparalleled record of promoting anti-racism within schools and football clubs. It has reached tens of thousands of young people around the country, every year for the past 25 years. This educational work is more vital than ever in face of the threat posed by the growth of far-right movements in the UK and internationally. The attacks reveal the priorities of those willing to put all this at risk.
These attacks on SRtRC and Ken Loach are dangerously divisive. They carry the danger of pitting minorities and their diverse community organisations against one another. This cannot be afforded and should not be tolerated at a time when society stands in urgent need of unity in fighting all forms of racism, discrimination and bigotry, together, wherever they occur.