By Anna Gray
Over the summer, the media coverage of the Labour Party has been dominated by accusations of anti-Semitism. As a result, Labour has been left increasingly divided as the gulf between the leadership and its MPs has widened.
Despite the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition, the row has continued as critics have questioned the addition of an extra statement proclaiming the definition should not restrict freedom of speech over Israel. As a result, the Party is struggling to move on from the row.
Corbyn has continued to be criticised by a number of MPs, who have become increasingly vocal. After announcing his resignation from the Labour whip, respected veteran MP Frank Field said the leadership was fast becoming ‘a force for Anti-Semitism in British politics’. Chuka Umunna MP, former 2015 leadership candidate against Corbyn, was similarly critical, agreeing when Sky News asked if Labour was ‘institutionally racist’. He also criticised Corbyn in a speech at the BAME Voices for Progress Conference asking him to ‘call off the dogs’ from moderate MPs fearing deselection.
The issue of deselection has been closely linked to the Anti-Semitism row, as many moderate MPs who have criticised Mr Corbyn over the summer have been faced with calls from local party members to resign. Joan Ryan, the chair of Labour Friends of Israel, recently lost a vote of no confidence in her Enfield North constituency, whilst Chris Leslie and Gavin Shuker also faced similar ballots. While these votes do not directly lead to any formal action, the fact they were even called highlights the toxic atmosphere of distrust in the party between MPs and some hard-left party members.
As Parliament reconvened, Mr Corbyn addressed a meeting of Labour MPs asking that they shift their focus from internal divisions to attacking the Conservative’s Brexit and spending plans, clearly indicating his desire to shift media attention. However, Corbyn has struggled to change this narrative. At the same meeting, he was confronted with calls to assist the Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield facing a vote of censure. He responded saying he would respect the result of the vote. This prompted heckles from MPs, indicating the growing gulf between the party leadership and MPs.
Corbyn’s leadership has been fundamentally undermined by the crisis as he struggles to control the narrative of the Party
At PMQs, Mr Corbyn’s criticisms of the government’s failure to combat social injustices were rebuffed by Theresa May who contrasted the establishment of the racial disparity unit when she was Home Secretary to Labour’s Anti-Semitism row. This demonstrates how Corbyn’s leadership has been fundamentally undermined by the crisis as he struggles to control the narrative of the Party.
However, whilst Corbyn’s leadership appears to have been weakened, it is unclear if this crisis will result in his removal or significantly change the workings of the party. The Party conference will provide a good indication about the extent of the opposition to Mr Corbyn and whether this crisis will prompt them to take serious action. If no significant action is taken, the Labour party will remain weak and divided, ultimately failing to effectively oppose the government’s Brexit plan.
Image: David Holt via Flickr