The EHRC report and Corbyn’s suspension: is Labour’s antisemitism case closed?

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“The numbers have been exaggerated”.

These words spoken by Jeremy Corbyn in reaction to The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s ‘Investigation into antisemitism in the Labour Party’ have sparked a political earthquake within the Labour movement. 

Alone, the report was damning enough. It indicated “serious failings” under Corbyn’s leadership in addressing antisemitism within the structures of Labour, including “unlawful harassment”, “political interference” in investigations, and a failure to implement effective sanctions for those found guilty. The details of the report, alongside Corbyn’s apparent lack of remorse, has led to the party suspending him and removing the whip.

“The report indicated ‘serious failings’ under Corbyn’s leadership”

This is a ruthless move from Keir Starmer. Despite promising a zero-tolerance approach to antisemitism upon becoming leader earlier this year, the swift turn to suspension was gasp-inducing. Spokesmen were of course quick to specify that the suspension was coming from the party, not the leadership; accusations of Starmer ousting Corbyn personally would be toxic for a huge chunk of the membership. However, one can’t help but fixate on the political psychodrama between two opposed leaders.

It’s difficult to blame Starmer considering how the spectre of antisemitism has been such a huge issue for Labour in the last few years. It is arguably far more fruitful for Starmer to completely wash his hands of any association with the scandal by having the former leader removed than allowing the accusations to hang over him.

In a swift email following the release of the report, the leader was explicit in his condemnation of any and all anti-Semitic elements of the party; “We have failed the Jewish Community, our members, our supporters and the British people”. He places great emphasis on his leadership being a caesura in Labour’s fight with the scandal, highlighting “we will repair the breach and we will restore trust”.

“The Labour of the past five years is politically toxic”

Yet, while supporters may celebrate this decisive action, detractors may see it as purely political: less a reaction to the report and more an excuse to oust Corbyn. This makes sense. After Labour’s catastrophic defeat in the 2019 election, the Labour of the past five years is politically toxic. Even with an unpopular Johnson government, Starmer’s only real path to Number 10 involves distancing himself from Corbyn entirely. Suspending him at this juncture is useful politicking as well as a reaction to Corbyn’s own clumsy comments following the report’s publication.

“Starmer’s only real path to Number 10 involves distancing himself from Corbyn entirely”

But the question remains: will the report, and the removal of Corbyn remove the stain of discrimination? This remains to be seen. Starmer assures members that work is already beginning on implementing the findings of the report. This will involve increasing transparency on how accusations are investigated, increase capacity to deal with antisemitism on social media, and effectively train those carrying out investigations.

Yet, despite the potential for improvement and reform, politically, the events surrounding the report could result in serious conflict within the party. Divisions are hardly a novel concept. Part of the joys of liberal democracy is the capacity for a wide spectrum of thought, even amongst those who ascribe to certain parties or ideologies. The British Labour Party, consistently split between its roots as a conglomeration of trade union interests, and the often more moderate parliamentary wing of the party, has come to exemplify the notion of a house divided.

Starmer was already viewed by many Corbyn loyalists as too far of a swing to the centre, and some have consistently defended Corbyn’s claim that he was never personally involved in any antisemitism complaints. This will no doubt fuel that fire, opening a potential chasm within the Labour membership.

Indeed, at this stage, Starmer has to walk a political tightrope. If one looks at the report in a purely abstract sense, removing the man in charge when these “serious failings” took place is the first step in moving forward. However, the issue is far deeper. Labour may be exiting this scandalous tunnel, but clearly at the expense of any semblance of unity.

Image by lewishamdreamer via Creative Commons

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