AS INCREASING numbers of Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) defy the ban on discussion of Jeremy Corbyn’s removal from the parliamentary party, the number of suspensions grows too.
The party leadership are prepared for purges on an extraordinary scale: deputy leader Angela Rayner talked at the weekend of suspending “thousands and thousands” of members.
It is important that we retain clarity on why. In the first instance, Corbyn was suspended for a response to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report on anti-semitism in which he stated that the scale of anti-semitism in Labour was “dramatically overstated for political reasons.”
His right to make such an observation is explicitly confirmed in the EHRC report, which draws attention to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights: “Article 10 will protect Labour Party members who, for example … express their opinions on internal party matters, such as the scale of anti-semitism within the party, based on their own experience and within the law.”
The report was equally scathing about political interference in the handling of complaints. Corbyn’s initial suspension and Sir Keir Starmer’s refusal to restore the whip after it was lifted both indicate contempt for the EHRC report.
Now we are seeing suspensions at a further remove. Not for anti-semitic conduct, not for defending anti-semitic conduct, but for debating the decision to discipline someone else for making an observation which he has every right to make, according to the very report the Labour leadership pretends to be acting on.
This is facilitated by a cynical abuse of the concept of “safe spaces,” where an extremely vague definition of safety apparently trumps the democratic rights of members to decide what they can and cannot discuss.
Not only can anyone simply announce that an item of business makes them feel unsafe, without this claim being subject to assessment as reasonable or unreasonable, but the Labour Party centrally can impose sweeping restrictions based on its own assertion of what constitutes “a safe and welcoming space for all members.”
This overrides the objections of members, including many Jewish ones, that they want these discussions to go ahead. It avoids recognising that claims to feel unsafe because a CLP is discussing a motion on restoring the whip to Corbyn are unreasonable, and shutting down party democracy because of them is wildly disproportionate.
And it becomes absurd when threatening “thousands and thousands” of people with suspension is defended as a way to make the party a “welcoming space.”
As an attempt to deal with anti-semitism, none of this makes sense. And that is because it is not an attempt to deal with anti-semitism.
Left commentators such as Owen Jones have sought to blame both sides for Labour’s current civil war, arguing that socialists close to Corbyn who believe “that the incumbent leader is intent on smashing Labour’s left flank” are wrong and that it is significant that Starmer has not attacked Corbyn “on policy but [on] anti-semitism.” The implication is that Corbyn should apologise and move on.
This ignores the entire history of this issue in Labour.
The Chakrabarti report, the reformed complaints process under general secretary Jennie Formby, the adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-semitism — none of these had any impact on the ferocity of attacks on Corbyn, because the purpose of the attacks was to break him and the political movement he led.
And ultimately that is about policy or, more broadly, politics.
This is an attack on the socialist left and its aim is to prevent any possibility of another movement that makes redistributing wealth or opposing war mainstream political positions.
Going along with the charade is not just a betrayal of brave Labour members who face disciplinary action from a dishonest leadership. It concedes to slander about Corbyn’s leadership and helps to trash its legacy. It weakens the whole left.
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