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Labour needs an ‘I’m Spartacus’ moment to defend Corbyn

We need to speak out, not only to defend the former leader of the party, but against the authoritarian and dictatorial direction Labour is taking, where discussion and debate are shut down, says RICHARD RUDKIN

LAST January, when the Labour leadership had yet to be decided, it gave me no pleasure writing in the Morning Star of my fears that all candidates signing up to the Board of Deputies’ (BoD) 10 pledges  would result in members being silenced over anything remotely linked to Israel, regardless of whether it was anti-semitic or not, or risk being suspended.  

Fast-forward to the present day and what do we have? A former Labour leader suspended, then reinstated but with the whip removed, for daring to respond to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report with his opinion on its findings.

The reaction by some of the left MPs has been commendable. Richard Burgon writing in the Morning Star (November 5) eloquently spelt out the importance of reinstating Corbyn back into the Labour Party and the need to fight the Tories. 

However, what was missing from the article and from other left-leaning comrades in Labour, was this: if they believed what Corbyn said was true and/or in no way anti-semitic, why not come out and say it? 

And there lies the elephant in the room. Because if they were to say that, thereby supporting Corbyn’s view, to comply with 10 pledges, they too could face suspension.

No-one wants to see Labour in-fighting but we must be brutally honest — Labour members on the left have had to fight to be heard for many, many years. 

Arguably, it was only when Corbyn became leader that the “voice” of left-wing politics was truly heard. 

Should anyone doubt this, I suggest they look at the public turnout figures up and down the county to hear Corbyn speak, along with an increase in the Labour membership and voter turnout.

After the publication of the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war, Tony Blair was quite rightly asked to express his views on its findings. 

While I, and I guess many others, disagreed with what Blair said — especially when we know the war resulted in hundreds of thousands of lives being lost — as he was the PM at the time of the Iraq war, it was absolutely right for him to be given the opportunity to express his opinion, regardless of whether he agreed with Chilcot or not.

Therefore it follows in the same way that when EHRC published its findings, because Corbyn was leader when it was initiated, he too was right to voice his opinion. 

Of course, the one major difference is that Corbyn has apologised for anti-semitism in Labour, more than once, while Blair to this day, although “saddened by the Iraq war” remains unrepentant.

Under Starmer’s leadership, Labour members now have the right to speak out over the treatment of unarmed civilians by government forces such as Russia, Syria or China and their treatment of the democracy protesters in Hong Kong. Labour members can also “take the knee” in support of black people killed at the hands of the US police. 

However, if you want to be a Labour Party member, what you can’t do is speak out about the treatment of Palestinian civilians by Israeli Defence Forces, as this could result in you being suspended, then possibly expelled. How can that be so?

I believe this is the moment to send a clear message to the Labour leadership that this must stop, and the trade unions affiliated with Labour have an important role to play in making it happen. 

While union leaders including Unite, BFAWU, Aslef, CWU, FBU, NUM and the TSSA have all joined together to speak out in support of Corbyn, I sincerely believe their response should have been harsher. 

If Starmer were to restore the whip to Corbyn, Starmer would be accused of breaching the “ten pledges” he signed his party up to and would then be accused of being “weak” on anti-semitism. 

Worryingly, for party members on the left, the message is clear: disagreeing with the Labour Party on their interpretation of anti-semitism is sufficient grounds for suspension. 

This would leave the Labour membership with three choices. Either toe the party line, disagree but remain silent or leave the Labour Party and speak out.  

Let’s not forget, while the Labour leadership battle had yet to be decided, Lisa Nandy, pitching her case for the job on the Andrew Neil Show, suggested that a tweet sent by a party member to the BoD suggesting that it should condemn military atrocities in the West Bank, in her opinion constituted anti-semitism and the member who posted it should be suspended pending an investigation.  

This is how far the Labour Party has moved away from being a party of members each with the freedom to speak out and challenge injustice anywhere they believed it was warranted, to becoming a party with members who can only speak out against injustice as specified and dictated by the Labour Party HQ. 

Surly no socialist could agree to be part of this? That is why those MPs on the left in Labour must speak out — not just in support of Corbyn, but against the direction that Labour is taking.  

It’s not enough to say: “Corbyn said lots of positive things about the EHRC report.” 

Those MPs who believe Corbyn was right to say what he did must say so now. 

Trade unions, instead of “watching and waiting” must instigate, through their membership, the process of stopping funding to the Labour Party until changes are made to ensure that all members once again have the right to challenge all injustice, regardless of where it is. 

What is happening with Corbyn requires the Labour left and trade unions to have an “I’m Spartacus” moment. If not it would be seen as the “Silence of the Lambs.”


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