Labour adopting the full IHRA definition now looks like too little, too late

Adopting the definition would head off the immediate prospect of a split, but the perception of institutional indifference would remain.

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On anti-Semitism, Jeremy Corbyn looks set to snatch defeat from the jaws of defeat. Sources close to the Labour leader have briefed the Guardian – as they are increasingly wont to do at times like this – that the party could adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism after all. 

The change in tone is a pronounced one. The leader’s office and its allies are no longer claiming Labour is seeking to somehow “enhance” the IHRA definition. Instead, the rhetoric is more cautious. The leadership says it just wants to “make sure” that IHRA cannot stifle legitimate criticism of Israel. Gone is the implicit assumption that it precludes it. Corbyn is now said to object to only “half of one definition”. Most significantly, his team says he has not prejudged the outcome of the party’s consultation with the Jewish community over the new code of conduct. 

The inevitable outcome of that consultation was clear before it even began: Labour will be told it needs to adopt the IHRA definition and its examples in full. Its briefings suggest the leadership is moving towards that point. But that isn’t to say it will soothe relations with the Jewish community in any meaningful way. Many will say it is too little, too late. Add to that the increasing likelihood that Labour’s National Executive Committee would have voted for full IHRA in defiance of the leadership next month – Momentum’s Jon Lansman has said he would support it, as have several trades unions, as I wrote over the weekend – then the overwhelming feeling is that this is a tactical concession for the sake of political expediency. It’s far too late to be anything else. 

After all the controversy, then, we’d be left with a near-identical picture. Adopting full IHRA would head off the immediate prospect of a Labour split, but the perception of institutional indifference on anti-Semitism would remain. And as the interminable row over Corbyn’s wreath underlines, the party’s problems are now much greater than definitions and examples. How it should – or can – deal with them is another question entirely. 

Patrick Maguire is the New Statesman's political correspondent.