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29 October 2020

Keir Starmer’s suspension of Jeremy Corbyn will trigger a new and unpredictable conflict

The Labour leader has shown his actions match his words, but the cost will be a civil war that he has no guarantee of winning. 

By Stephen Bush

Keir Starmer has suspended Jeremy Corbyn from the Labour Party after the former leader refused to withdraw a statement that said the scale of Labour’s anti-Semitism problem had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party”.

The move is a sign of Starmer’s commitment to matching his actions to his words, but will also reignite the party’s civil war – and the incumbent Labour leader can have no guarantee that he will emerge on the winning side. That the suspension occurs while voting is still underway for the party’s National Executive Committee, and for the vacant leadership of Unison, means that it may well act as a spur for higher levels of engagement in those contests, which, if they come from the Corbynite left, could imperil Starmer’s majority on the party’s ruling NEC.

In addition, even if they do not, they reduce Starmer’s freedom for manoeuvre on the party’s policymaking processes: he will be more dependent on trade unions from the right and centre, more dependent on local government leaders, and more dependent on the Parliamentary Labour Party’s right and centre.

Suspending Corbyn sends a very loud and clear signal about how real the change of approach under Starmer is. But if he can’t win the conflict that will follow, it will also send another signal: that Labour is divided and that Starmer is incapable of ending that division.

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