FRESH AIR

Is suspending Corbyn a decisive step for wounded UK Labour party?

Oct 30, 2020 | Ariel Zohar

UK Labour leader Keir Starmer has made a public apology and accepted all recommendations of the new EHRC report.
UK Labour leader Keir Starmer has made a public apology and accepted all recommendations of the new EHRC report.

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been suspended from the UK Labour party following his refusal to take down his tone-deaf statement regarding the the 130-page Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report,  ‘Investigation into antisemitism in the Labour Party,’ which was released yesterday.

“One antisemite is one too many, but the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media,” Corbyn brazenly posted on social media.

Corbyn will now sit in the Parliament as the Independent Member for Islington North as a result of the ‘the whip being removed’, pending the conclusion of a party disciplinary investigation.

Party leader Keir Starmer explained why this happened, “I made it clear that we would not support antisemitism or the denial of antisemitism through the suggestion that it is exaggerated or factional and that is why I was disappointed by Jeremy Corbyn’s response and that is why appropriate action has been taken, which I fully support.”

As only the second political party in British history to be investigated by the EHRC, (the first being the far-right British National party over alleged membership restrictions based on ethnicity), the Labour party must now, by law, produce an action plan to address the EHRC’s findings and recommendations by December 10. Starmer has committed to do this in full.

It is worth noting that the decision to suspend Corbyn by Labour’s General Secretary David Evans for refusing to take down social media posts had a clear precedent earlier this year.

In June, Rebecca-Long Bailey was sacked from her position as Shadow Education Secretary and removed from Shadow Cabinet after refusing to take down her tweet praising an interview where it was suggested that the choking death  in the US of George Floyd was linked to alleged training of US police by Israeli law enforcement – a false and antisemitic claim.

Corbyn presumably therefore knew exactly what he was doing by defying the party’s request to remove his post attacking Britain’s independent racism watchdog, the EHRC. His desperate attempt to position himself as the victim in a story in which he is, by all measures, the villain, was clearly premeditated.

Corbyn’s radical allies, including union leader and factional ally Len McCluskey, are warning the suspension will “create chaos” and leave Labour “doomed to defeat” at the next election. Yet it was Corbyn and his followers who led the party into an unprecedented wipeout in the 2019 general election.

A war chest initially established to fund any efforts required to defend Corbyn from potential legal action from Jewish party members has grown to £350,000 due to hundreds of new donations in the wake of the EHRC findings. However, Corbyn himself has so far ruled out seeking a direct legal challenge to the party’s decision to suspend him.

Of course, behind these dramatic events are the findings of the EHRC report itself, which has finally given vindication to many former and current Labour party members for the painful experiences and deep hurt they often suffered – and whose complaints, as the report itself found, too often fell on deaf ears under Corbyn’s 2015-2019 leadership.

Among the damning findings in the report are three alleged breaches of the Equality Act 2010. The report found evidence for “harassment, discrimination and political interference” in the party, as well as “a lack of leadership within the Labour Party on these issues.” It also says that Labour had inadequate training and capacity for dealing with antisemitism cases.

Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone was alleged in the EHRC report to have committed harassment against Jewish party members, as was Labour councillor Pam Bromley.

While there is little doubt repairing the relationship between the British Jewish community and the UK Labour still has a long way to go, at this point, no one could accuse Labour under Starmer of attempting to sweep the damning EHRC findings under the carpet.

Indeed, the Board of Deputies of British JewsCampaign Against Antisemitism, the Jewish Labour Movement amongst other UK-based organisations have all released statements welcoming the decision and the partys’ overall reaction to it.

Since Starmer has taken over as Labour leader, the party has shown a willingness to declare a “zero tolerance of antisemitism” policy and build a healthy dialogue with the UK Jewish community. The suspension of both Long-Bailey and now Corbyn serves as strong evidence this is more than lip service.

The full EHRC report can be found by clicking here.


To view AIJAC’s Jeremy Jones discussing the leaking of the EHRC’s findings earlier this year
click here.


For a thoroughgoing discussion of the Labour party’s antisemitism problem under Corbyn, view AIJAC’s Live Online webinar with former Labour MP Joan Ryan and academic David Hirsh
here.

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