Image Credit: Jason
On 29 October, Jeremy Corbyn became the latest victim to Sir Keir Starmer’s tougher approach to rooting out anti-Semitism within the Labour party. Corbyn’s suspension from the party resulted from his utterance that the Equalities and Human Rights Committee’s findings in its investigation into anti-Semitism in the Labour party were “dramatically overstated for political reasons”. Starmer had to deal with an individual who has consistently denied that the party had suffered from ineffectively combatting anti-Semitism, despite first-person testimonies and an apolitical investigation now showing otherwise.
In the run up to the 2019 General Election, the BBC released a Panorama entitled “Is Labour Anti-Semitic?” which included allegations from whistleblowers that Corbyn’s top team had actively interfered with the party’s internal investigations into anti-Semitism. Corbyn’s response to the BBC’s decision to run the Panorama was not dissimilar from his most recent response to the ECHR’s findings, labelling the BBC’s evidence of anti-Semitism in the party as simply a “one-sided authored polemic”. Nick Cohen from The Spectator has indicated that Corbyn’s most recent behaviour was predictable, as the former Labour leader increasingly likes to challenge any criticism of him as part of coordinated conspiracy against him in the media.
Starmer justified the decision to suspend Corbyn to LBC’s Nick Ferrari by clarifying that he wouldn’t tolerate with any greater leniency the “argument that there isn’t really any anti-Semitism”. It is likely that Corbyn’s reluctance to acknowledge the depth of the problem stems from a determination to not let the issue leave a stain on his record as Labour leader, but unfortunately for Corbyn, it looks as though any defence of his approach to dealing with the problem is too little too late.
In the wake of Corbyn’s suspension, most mainstream newspapers incited that the suspension of Corbyn concealed a civil war beginning to intensify within the party. However, the chances of Labour MPs leaving the party to become Independent MPs, as Ian Lavery suggested was a possibility, is unlikely. The suspension is part of Starmer’s drive to emphasise to the electorate that his Labour party is a different political ‘organism’ under his leadership. Starmer served a long stint as Shadow Brexit Secretary under Corbyn, and therefore this latest decision helps to distance himself from a leader who is now widely viewed as an electoral liability.
To interpret the suspension of Corbyn as a personal attack from the new Labour leadership team fails to appreciate that Corbyn isn’t the only victim of the party’s harder stance on addressing the party’s association with anti-Semitism. Rebecca Long-Bailey, the protégé of John McDonnell, was sacked as Shadow Secretary of State for Education back in June, as she retweeted an interview in which actress Maxine Peake put forward the allegation that the US policemen involved in George Floyd’s death had been trained by the Mossad. Starmer’s response to Corbyn’s comments can therefore be seen as part of a consistent no-tolerance approach to anything that further entrenches the image of the Labour party being soft on instances of anti-Semitism.
Far from Corbyn’s suspension indicating that the party is experiencing radical ideological change under their new leader, it is most likely that the National Executive Committee will choose to end the suspension in the near future. Corbyn tweeted in response to his suspension that he would “strongly contest the political intervention to suspend me” and he clarified that he would “continue to support a zero tolerance policy towards all forms of racism”. In the event that the National Executive Committee decide to extend Corbyn’s suspension, The Times recently reported that Corbyn has up to £360,000 at his disposal to fight his suspension through the courts. Starmer won’t want Labour and its past failings with anti-Semitism to be given continuous media coverage and distract the electorate from the changes he is making to the party, meaning that the “grave injustice” which Len McClusky referred to Corbyn’s suspension as isn’t likely to last long.
Starmer has faced criticism for not making a stand against anti-Semitism during his time sitting in Corbyn’s shadow Cabinet, as ‘better and braver politicians’ did speak out at a cost of their political careers. However, it is easy to criticise from the sidelines in politics and it is unknown what conversations were had during those shadow Cabinet meetings.
The Atlantic newspaper in recent months titled an article ‘Corbynism will outlast Jeremy Corbyn’, and Corbyn’s suspension doesn’t mark an end to the presence of the distinctive Corbynite philosophy that continues to gather traction amongst its members and MPs. It simply shows that the Corbynite ‘gang’ are no longer in control. Starmer’s decisive action shows that the scourge of anti-Semitism that has grown within the Labour Party is finally being dealt with.