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. 

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. 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 weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

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.

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.