What Is Going On In The Labour Party?

Alice Nott

I would like to preface this piece by saying I am a Labour Party member, but I feel this puts me in a good position to look at what is actually going on in the Labour Party, the complaints of anti-Semitism that surrounded Corbyn’s time as Party leader and his recent suspension and then reinstatement.

What is Corbyn’s current position within the Labour Party? As of the 20th November 2020 Corbyn is a Labour Party member but is suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party. So how did we get to this confusing point?

The Equality Human Rights Commission released a report into the Labour Party of the 29th October 2020. In it they said that the Labour Party had breached the Equalities Act 2010 through the harassment of Jewish people by party members who held office within the Party and also that there was political interference in the complaints process by those in Corbyn’s office.

The report made several key recommendations to deal with these issues. Firstly, that there needs to be far more training around the handling of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. Secondly, that the complaints process needs to be independent and transparent. This is where we get into the current struggles within the Labour Party.

Corbyn’s statement following the report lead to his suspension by the General Secretary of the Labour Party, David Evans. This suspension and the way it was done has led to a lot of heated discussion by Labour members.

The statement Jeremy Corbyn made after the release of the report was in one respect clear: “Anyone claiming there is no antisemitism in the Labour Party is wrong.” The issue was with what he then went on to say: “the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the Party, as well as by much of the media”. Several issues were raised with regards to this statement.

Many felt that Corbyn saying the problem was “overstated” undermined the report and the rest of what he was saying. If “one anti-Semite is one too many” then arguably it is something which cannot be overstated in scale. The bigger problem was using the idea that there was a conspiracy of political opponents in the media – many felt that this was playing to the anti-Semitic tropes highlighted in the report.

Others in the Party disagreed with the way the suspension took place. The report had called for an independent complaints and investigation process free of political interference. Evans being the one to suspend Corbyn in an email went against this, as Evans is a political appointee and an email only to Corbyn gave little opportunity for transparency and for people to question the decision.

In the following days Labour Party members were largely split. Many felt that this had shown Kier Starmer’s willingness to deal with anti-Semitism on all levels. However, many others felt that this was a politically motivated attack on a former leader designed to deal with the opposition Starmer had been facing in the Party. 

There are some who feel that his suspension is undermining Starmer’s calls for “Unity”

What followed was the Labour Party’s investigation process, this ended at the ruling body of the Labour Party, also known as the NEC, whose complaints panel chose to re-admit Corbyn to the Party on the 17th November 2020. This decision was after Corbyn had made another statement correcting himself that “concerns about antisemitism are neither “exaggerated” nor “overstated“”.

The story does not end here. Though Corbyn’s membership to the Party had been reinstated it was up to the Party leader to decide whether Corbyn should be readmitted to the Parliamentary Party, also known as returning the ’whip’. Starmer decided not to return the whip saying “Jeremy Corbyn’s actions in response to the EHRC report undermined and set back our work in restoring trust and confidence in the Labour Party’s ability to tackle antisemitism.”.

those being oppressed or harassed should not have to be the only ones challenging the oppressor

The suspension of the whip is set to last for three months or until Corbyn apologises, although he is fighting this. There are some who feel that his suspension is undermining Starmer’s calls for “Unity” and is drawing attention away from addressing the recommendations of the report, mainly that the complaints and investigation procedures of the party is free of political inference.

This leads to the questions such as, is Jeremy Corbyn an anti-Semite? And why does the Labour Party seem to struggle to deal with anti-Semitism?

I first thought as someone who is not Jewish it would be wrong for me to answer this question. However, if this whole episode has shown anything it is that those being oppressed or harassed should not have to be the only ones challenging the oppressor.

Corbyn is a figure who divides opinion. On the one hand he inspired a generation of young activists, including myself, and created a movement many felt spoke to and for them. The Party members swelled to 500,000 during his time as leader showing his ability to engage people.

The Labour Party had been losing the support of the Jewish community for a while before Corbyn came to power. Under Ed Miliband, the party’s first Jewish leader, some in the Jewish community turned away from the Labour Party after his support for Palestinian statehood.

However, antisemitic attitudes that could continue in the Party during his time as leader were unacceptable. It was often felt that internal ideological struggles took precedence over genuine concerns about anti-Semitism from certain members and office holders.

There needs to be greater education offered within the Party and society in general about anti-Semitism

This is not to say these concerns of political expedience trumping principle have dissipated, as following the change in leadership concerns over transphobia have come to light in the last few months with Rosie Duffield MP being accused of undermining the LGBTQ+ Labour movement.

Where do we go from here?

Starmer’s main slogan during the leadership campaign was “Unity” but it seems like the Party is as disunited as ever. However, many feel that it is this disunity that is stopping the Party from properly dealing with the problems that have arisen. Labour has been known as a broad church party for a long time, but many feels that this broad church is undermining the party’s policy as a whole.

It is a fact that the Labour Party has a problem with anti-Semitism, and an apparent lack of understanding of what constitutes anti-Semitism from key members of the Party has only made that worse. There needs to be greater education offered within the Party and society in general about anti-Semitism.

I found videos made by people such as Philosophy Tubes and Marlon Solomon very informative as to what anti-Semitism is and what it looks like. They may help others to identify it better in future. Marlon himself is Jewish and a Labour supporter who offers a good guide to anti-Semitism.

It will take time for these issues to be addressed and the greater the commitment to inclusion and education, the better a society that is created. Virtue signalling is not enough when dealing with issues as important as anti-Semitism – there needs to be a sustained commitment to eradicating such behaviour followed up by proper action.

It is too early to judge Keir Starmer and his actions but in time he will be judged. Many people feel it is the key issue of his leadership and could decide the next election. Fighting anti-Semitism, just like all other anti-racist causes should not be a factional issue or even a party issue, it should be something to which we should all strive towards.

Alice Nott

Featured image courtesy of Mike on Unsplash. Image license found hereNo changes were made to this image. 

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