Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. UK Politics
18 November 2020

Keir Starmer’s refusal to return the Labour whip to Jeremy Corbyn is a major risk

The Labour leader has reignited a political battle that he cannot be certain of winning. 

By Stephen Bush

Jeremy Corbyn will not have the Labour whip restored, Keir Starmer has announced, after a five-person panel on the party’s ruling National Executive Committee opted to issue Corbyn with a formal warning over his response to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report on anti-Semitism.  

The affair is, in microcosm, a display of everything that is wrong with Labour’s current processes. The party’s “disrepute” sanction – which means you can be issued with a reminder of values, a formal warning, suspended or ultimately expelled for bringing the party into disrepute – is designed to give the NEC a blank cheque for disciplinary processes. 

The problem, as the EHRC’s report showed, is that Labour’s processes have become so politicised that they are unable to produce fair and trusted results on this issue. That the NEC rushed through Corbyn’s hearing – he spent just 19 days on administrative suspension – has intensified the problem.

[see also: There are 45,000 reasons for Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension: one for each Jewish voter to abandon Labour​]

The NEC panel’s decision to issue Corbyn with a formal warning has been condemned by the Jewish Labour Movement, the largest body of Jewish Labour members and the only official affiliate, and by the Board of Deputies, the Jewish community’s elected leadership organisation. 

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

My read of the Parliamentary Labour Party’s standing orders is that there is no reason the criteria to retain the Labour whip and to remain a member need be aligned: indeed, in the past, serial rebels have had the whip removed from them. But the matter is not wholly clear and it will, in any case, reignite Labour’s internal conflict over the issue.

Content from our partners
What are the green skills of the future?
A global hub for content producers, gaming and entertainment companies in Abu Dhabi
Insurance: finding sustainable growth in stormy markets

This is a row forced upon Starmer by the decision of his handpicked general secretary, David Evans, to suspend Corbyn rather than to wait for the introduction of the new processes to come in, as I wrote last night

What is significant is that Starmer has chosen to prioritise his efforts to win back the British Jews who voted Labour in 2015 but not in 2019 over his attempts to preserve party unity. The risk for him is that if he can’t settle the ensuing conflict, he will ultimately achieve neither.