Whatever the outcome of the Chris Williamson case, Jeremy Corbyn loses

More than 100 Labour MPs and peers and 68 party staff have demanded the resuspension of the Derby North MP.


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A backlash to the readmission of Chris Williamson to Labour was always inevitable, and so it has proved: 116 MPs and peers, including deputy leader Tom Watson and several other frontbenchers, have put their names to a statement demanding Jeremy Corbyn immediately withdraw the whip from the Derby North MP. 

The signatories say the decision to lift Williamson's four-month suspension for an allegedly anti-Semitic pattern of behaviour is "inappropriate, offensive and reputationally damaging". They demand that the Labour leader personally overrule the three-person disciplinary panel of the party's National Executive Committee (NEC), which reached the verdict yesterday. 

The parliamentarians have since been joined in demanding Williamson's suspension by 68 Labour staff, a number of them Jewish, who allege in an open letter to general secretary Jennie Formby that his presence in the party makes them feel "unwelcome" at work. 

Both numbers drive home a truth that was abundantly clear long before Williamson was restored as a Labour MP yesterday: the vast majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), and a significant number of its staff, believe Labour's disciplinary processes are deeply unfit for purpose, especially — but not only — when it comes to accusations of anti-Semitism by Corbyn's allies. 

On this point there is much broader agreement than the number of signatures suggest. There are many Labour MPs, particularly those with shadow ministerial roles, who wholly agree with the sentiment of Watson's statement but fear it will be construed as an attack on the leadership. But the settled will and deep anger of the PLP cannot be anything but obvious to the leader's office. 

Both Corbyn and his team have stressed that they were not involved in the decision to reinstate Williamson. Labour sources briefed yesterday that there was no pro-Corbyn majority on the NEC panel that considered the case — the clear implication being that the outcome it produced was not the leadership's preference. Those who have demanded action from Corbyn today are essentially seeking to call their bluff.

Will their gambit succeed? Asked about Williamson on a visit to Hartlepool this afternoon, Corbyn said only that Labour took accusations of anti-Semitism "very seriously" and stressed he had not been involved in the arbitration process, which he insisted had considered the case "in great detail". As a response, it fell well short of providing what most Labour MPs want: a full reversal. 

But that isn't to say they won't eventually get it. A full meeting of the NEC's disputes panel is due in a fortnight's time. It will have the power to overturn yesterday's decision. The political pressure for it to do so is already considerable, and left voices on the NEC, most notably Momentum head Jon Lansman, have made their discontent clear.

Keith Vaz, the Labour MP who cast the deciding vote in Williamson’s favour yesterday, has complained that the panel’s decision was leaked to the press and called for the decision to be revisited.

Moves are also afoot to engineer Williamson's deselection, a prospect that very few of his colleagues would harbour any regrets about. Yet, as is the case with Labour's Brexit policy, the journey the leadership takes is as important to the PLP as the destination it eventually arrives at. So even if the party machine eventually moves to reverse Williamson's reinstatement, there is little chance of the anger dissipating. 

Patrick Maguire is the New Statesman's political correspondent.