Image Credit: Garry Knight
On 29 October, after an 18-month investigation, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published its report on antisemitism in the Labour Party. It emerged after several years of disputed allegations of antisemitism against the party from Labour MPs, staff and members under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. The issue of antisemitism has become an ingrained factional issue within the party between supporters and adversaries of Corbyn’s leadership.
Essentially, the report highlighted two important findings. Firstly, that the Labour leadership failed to act decisively against individual instances of antisemitism or successfully discipline antisemitic individuals. Secondly, it found that the complaints process for cases of antisemitism was insufficient and disorganised.
The report found no evidence that the leadership was antisemitic, nor that the Labour Party was institutionally antisemitic, both of which had been widely alleged by various media sources and political groups.
In response, Corbyn issued a statement welcoming the recommendation of the report, but asserting that ‘the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons’. His comments drew criticism from the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who proclaimed that ‘those who pretend it is exaggerated or factional are part of the problem’.Corbyn appeared in a TV interview the same day to clarify his commitment to tackling antisemitism, but retained his stance that the number of antisemitism cases were “exaggerated”, and that the issue had been “dramatically overstated”. Consequently, Corbyn was also criticised by many in the Parliamentary Labour Party, particularly by those on the right of the party, politically opposed to Corbyn. Within hours, the Labour Party had suspended Corbyn and removed the Labour whip.
Many of Corbyn’s allies on the Labour left stated their discontent with the suspension, including former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey, emphasising the factional issues provoked by the suspension. This is evidence of the widespread dissatisfaction with Starmer’s leadership by prominent figures in the party. Momentum, the left-wing grassroots organisation heavily supportive of Corbyn, echoed similar concerns stating that it was “a massive attack on the left by the new leadership”.In recent weeks, there have been issues of Labour members being suspended for passing motions criticising the suspension in their constituency Labour parties, such as the case in Bristol West. This has raised concerns about democracy within the party and the ability of members to scrutinise the leadership’s decisions.
On 17 November, Corbyn’s Labour membership was reinstated. While regarded as a welcome reversal for some, the Jewish Labour Movement, the Jewish affiliate to the party, raised concerns about the message it sends to Jewish members, stressing that Corbyn’s response was “grossly offensive as it downplayed the reality of antisemitism in the Labour party”. Likewise, Starmer disagreed with the move, stating that it was ‘another painful day for the Jewish community’. As such, amidst pressure from more right-wing leaning Labour MPs, the Leader of the Opposition refused to restore the whip to Corbyn. On 19 November, Labour announced the decision to suspend the former leader from the Parliamentary Labour Party for three months, pending a Labour Party Parliamentary investigation.
This latest development has exacerbated existing factional conflict within the Labour Party and threatened the stability of Starmer’s fragile coalition of support. Many of those on the right of the party remain frustrated by the lifting of Corbyn’s membership suspension, and are adamant that he has got off lightly. Meanwhile, many left-wing MPs in the Socialist Campaign Group find themselves further alienated from the Labour leadership after Starmer’s refusal to restore the whip, prompting left-wing Labour MP Ian Lavery to warn Starmer about ‘the opportunity of a leadership challenge’ should this alienation continue.
Of course, this debacle distracts from the Labour Party’s tenuous task of rebuilding trust with the Jewish community and fighting against all forms of racism. This ambition should be shared by the entire party but is seemingly threatened by persistent factional infighting