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17 November 2020updated 18 Nov 2020 9:55am

Jeremy Corbyn’s readmittance is a blow to Keir Starmer – and to his allies’ judgement

The Labour leader and his general secretary have alienated the Corbynite wing without winning any new allies.

By Stephen Bush

Jeremy Corbyn has been given a formal warning and reinstated as a Labour member by the party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC), 19 days after he was suspended due to his response to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)’s report into anti-Semitism in the party.

The row over Corbyn has provided a lesson in the multiple flaws in Labour’s complaints processes and its handling of anti-Semitism complaints in particular.

Corbyn’s suspension caused uproar among his supporters. The offence of “bringing the party into disrepute” is designed to be so broad that almost any behaviour can be said to fall into it, giving a party leadership with a reliable majority on the NEC and its subcommittees a blank cheque for expulsions. But while Keir Starmer does have such a majority on the NEC as a whole, he does not in its various subcommittees, and the panel deciding this matter was “hung”, featuring two impeccable Corbynites and two Starmer loyalists in addition to Alice Perry, who is regarded as a swing voter on the NEC. As a result, Corbyn has been issued with a warning – a sanction that looks like a let-off because it coincides with his suspension as a party member being lifted (no decision has yet been made on whether to restore the Labour whip). 

Corbyn’s readmittance has upset and angered many British Jews. The Jewish Labour Movement, the largest organisation of Jewish Labour members, described a statement issued by the former Labour leader today (17 November) as “insincere and totally inadequate”, and warned that today’s decision will “embolden” those who agreed with his “grossly offensive” remarks 19 days ago. The Board of Deputies, the Jewish community’s elected communal body, described Corbyn’s readmittance as a “retrograde step” in a joint statement with the Jewish Leadership Council, an umbrella body of various communal organisations.

The decision will do nothing to repair relations with Britain’s Jewish community. Ninety four per cent of British Jews did not vote Labour in 2019, and 84 per cent believed Corbyn to be a specific threat to British Jews, according to the Campaign Against Antisemitism’s annual study of British Jewish concerns about anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic attitudes in the wider British community.

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For Starmer it is an unmitigated disaster: neither he nor his general secretary David Evans are trusted by the party’s Corbynite wing, in part because of Corbyn’s suspension, but in having been outplayed in the party’s internal structures and institutions he has not won any new allies either.

This outcome could have been avoided had Evans imposed a moratorium on suspensions under the old rules until the new EHRC-approved process is in place, a route I described the morning the EHRC report was published. 

Starmer’s struggle to tackle the problem of Labour anti-Semitism is not over, and nor is this particular argument. The EHRC’s statutory powers mean that rule changes will be made and a roster of complaints by the Campaign Against Antisemitism and others against Corbyn and 13 other sitting Labour MPs will once again go through the party’s processes.

Today’s NEC finding is not the most revealing thing, however. We knew already that Labour’s internal processes were unfit for purpose and ripe for factional interference. And it is hard to see how, even had the NEC chosen a tougher penalty against Corbyn, the matter would not ultimately have been settled by the new independent process. What is perhaps more significant are the tactical missteps of Evans – and the blow they dealt to the man who chose him to be general secretary: Keir Starmer.

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