I’ve been a member of the Labour Party now for what must be over five years. In that time, I’ve seen three general elections, three leaders, and three different ways of governing the party. I’ve been part of the fabric of the party, joining CLP meetings, Labour students, Young Labour. I’ve voted in three leadership elections and I’ve been reading and writing about Labour all throughout that time.
What happened yesterday was truly remarkable. I have never seen anything like what occurred yesterday and I’d imagine most members who have been involved for longer will also have never seen anything like it. The current leader expelled their predecessor over an inquiry into breaches of equalities law. There has, understandably, been much confusion and anger surrounding yesterday's decision, but there has been considerable misunderstanding of the issue and the individuals involved. Let’s deal in the facts first.
Keir Starmer said:
“And if – after all the pain, all the grief, and all the evidence in this report, there are still those who think there’s no problem with anti-semitism in the Labour Party. That it’s all exaggerated, or a factional attack. Then, frankly, you are part of the problem too. And you should be nowhere near the Labour Party either.”
Jeremy Corbyn said in his statement:
“One anti-semite 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.”
The issue here is simple enough to understand. The leader has said if you suggest anti-semitism is exaggerated, you are part of the problem and you won’t be near the party. Jeremy Corbyn then suggested the issue is exaggerated. In this case, the Party has no option other than to expel him. They’ve spent six months trying to prove to the already frustrated and hurt Jewish community that they matter and that the Party is taking them seriously. That all goes down the drain if they had refused to act against Mr Corbyn.
It was the right thing to do.
From the sounds of it, the Party gave Mr Corbyn the opportunity to withdraw the comments and apologise. He seemingly refused. It has also become apparent that Starmer discussed the report and the leader’s response to it with Mr Corbyn the night before. Starmer said this morning that “I’m in no doubt that Jeremy Corbyn and his team knew exactly what I was going to say in my response” to the report and that this included “arguments about exaggeration”. This would mean that Mr Corbyn was aware prior to releasing his statement that it would contradict Starmer’s. At worst this could be seen as a blatant provocation and at best it signals stupidity.
I believe this was the right thing to do because building trust with the Jewish community is important not just for Labour’s chances to succeed in future elections but, more importantly, because it is the moral duty of every anti-racist. Significantly, however, I do not think Jeremy Corbyn is a racist or an anti-semite. I think he is an honourable and virtuous man. This is, in many ways, his downfall. His stand taken in defence of his own legacy has led to his expulsion. An expulsion which on paper need not have happened had Mr Corbyn listened to Starmer the night before or had he withdrawn and apologised for his statement.
What does this mean going forward?
From the left’s perspective, this is certainly a watershed moment. Many activists are leaving and in huge numbers. The Socialist Campaign Group of MPs seems to be taking a different approach. They appear to be remaining within the Party and arguing for the reversal of the expulsion. Though I would not rule out a potential break away to form a socialist party.
For the right of the Labour Party, this will embolden them. Putting aside the issues of anti-semitism, the right has always disliked Jeremy Corbyn and what he represents. This would be, on both a moral and a political level, the best outcome. Particularly with the loss of the left’s figurehead and the mass exodus of hard-left members, the space for influence over policy and internal structures is being vacated in favour of the right.
For Starmer, this is a crucial point. He has taken a huge gamble. The Party has taken a huge gamble. They’ve removed a leader who is popular with the membership and with many in their new heartland seats in cities and university areas. Starmer can’t go back. He has set in motion an inevitability. If Corbyn returns then that is the end of Starmer has a potential prime minister and he knows it. He can’t be made to look weak on anything, particularly anti-semitism. The best strategy for him would be to keep quiet and to hope that a civil war is not on the horizon.
Today, Ipsos Mori released a poll which has Labour on 42%; 5% ahead of the Conservatives. On a day in which Starmer's Labour is seen to be making progress, it's sad it is mired by a political fallout. But on Starmer’s part, this was the right thing to do.
Daniel is a political activist and an Associate Editor of Liberal Base. His interests are in populism, democratic crisis, western party politics and automation. He tweets @danny_hod and blogs at dannyhodson.com