The Labour Party’s ruling national executive committee has voted to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition in full, including all the examples. But Jeremy Corbyn is being criticised by both sides of the debate for his handling of the affair. What’s going on?
The NEC has voted to recommend that the full and unamended IHRA be passed into the party’s code of conduct, without any accompanying caveat. It did so while releasing the following statement: “We recommend that we adopt the IHRA in full, with all examples. This does not in any way undermine the freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians. We re-invite organisations to engage in consultation on the Code of Conduct.”
The code’s role is to provide clarity both to lay party members and to the national constitutional committee (NCC), which is the final court of adjudication in the party’s disciplinary processes. The NEC’s statement has no binding role as far as the interpretation and implementation of the code of conduct goes. The only thing that matters is that the NEC’s reccomendation means that IHRA, along with the Code of Conduct itself, will recieve an expedited passage through the rule-making institutions of Labour party conference and is essentially certain to pass unamended.
That’s provoked dismay among those within the Corbyn project who believe that IHRA has a chilling effect on free speech. Are they right to worry? Well, no. Ultimately both the NEC and the NCC are interpretative bodies: the NEC is not only the Labour party’s sovereign body but effectively its supreme court as well. Any ambiguities in the text are within the control of the NEC, which is dominated by Corbyn supporters and will be for the foreseeable future. Bluntly, should the Corbynsceptics retake control of the NEC – a near impossible prospect in my view – they will reshape the rules to expunge the party of some of Corbyn’s supporters anyway regardless of what a Corbynite majority NEC has done or not done. The only change to the day-to-day life of the Labour Party that would result from inserting caveats would be continuing the row over IHRA.
The Jewish Leadership Council have welcomed the move, but they and the European Jewish Congress have, as you’d expect, criticised the time it took Labour to get here. The European Jewish Congress have said it does Labour “no credit” that it took this long, while the JLC have said that “under a competent leader” the row would never have gone on so long. But while Corbyn won’t be framing either of those statements on his wall, the Labour leadership will be relieved at least that both organisations want to move on to the remaining five requests made of the Labour leadership when the JLC and the Board of Deputies met with Corbyn in April.
But Corbyn is also under fire for the 500 word statement he wanted the NEC to pass, which did apply caveats to the definition. Obtained by Robert Peston, who has posed it on his Twitter feed – this has been sharply criticised by the JLC. While that row won’t help rebuild trust between Labour and the majority of Britain’s Jews, that Corbyn was rebuffed means that row isn’t going to rumble on. The correct outcome – as far as the bulk of community organisations and the party’s official Jewish affiliate, the Jewish Labour Movement are concerned – has been reached and no-one is going to litigate the last hours before Labour got there.
But what Corbyn’s attempt to insert an extra statement reveals is a strange point of unity between him and some of his vociferous opponents within Labour: an inability to recognise that he is the party’s hegemonic leader and therefore all his proposed statement would have brought was hassle. (It was that calculation that was decisive in persuading the left members of the NEC to defy Corbyn and speak against the statement, though the strength of feeling in the room was enough that it did not come to a vote.)
That same blind spot inflicts the likes of Ian Austin, who write pieces saying that Corbyn is alien to the Labour tradition, but who want to remain in a party whose first clause commits them to making him Prime Minister.
What both sides need to accept is that it isn’t a dream or a nightmare: Jeremy Corbyn really is the unassailable leader of the Labour party and will remain so for the duration. Both he and his critics should act accordingly.
Correction, 6 September 2018: The piece originally described the JLC and European Jewish Congress as “welcoming” the move. The EJC merely “noted” the adoptio.