Analysis: UK Labour Party in turmoil over Corbyn anti-Semitism row

Corbyn cannot be written off, remaining an inner-party power, the 71-year-old enjoying widespread support of young Labour members.

By TPS

The UK Labour Party has once again found itself in turmoil with members clashing over the future of Jeremy Corbyn amid the publication of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report damning the party for anti-Semitism under Corbyn’s five-year leadership.

A walk-out on Tuesday by 13 members of the party’s guiding body, the National Executive Committee (NEC), brought the row over Party Leader Sir Keir Starmer’s decision not to reinstate Corbyn as a member of the party’s parliamentary group to a head. The group loyal to former party leader Corbyn stated they had decided to leave the meeting “in order to show very clearly how factional the decisions of the current Labour leader have become.”

Corbyn is currently sitting as an independent in the British House of Commons, following Starmer’s decision not to reinstate Corbyn as a member of the parliamentary party.

Corbyn, who led Labour from 2015 until 2020, had been suspended from the party for 19 days after he reacted to the publication of the 130-page EHRC report on anti-Semitism in the party, describing the issue as “dramatically overstated for political reasons” by political opponents and the British media.

Starmer responded by issuing a statement stating those who denied “there is a problem are part of the problem … Those who pretend it is exaggerated or factional are part of the problem.” Several hours later, Labour HQ suspended Corbyn’s 55-year-membership pending further investigation.

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The MP, who gave up leadership of the party in April after leading Labour to its worst general election results since 1935, was reinstated on November 17, receiving a formal warning over his remarks. Corbyn later said that the issue of anti-Semitism had, in fact, not been overstated, attempting to “clear up any confusion” by stating the point he had “wished to make was that the vast majority of Labour party members were and remain committed antiracists deeply opposed to antisemitism.”

At the time, the Jewish Labour Movement (JVM) had called the decision to reinstate Corbyn’s party membership “extraordinary” and described it as the work of a “factionally aligned political committee,” while Jewish Labour MP Margaret Hodge stated that she “cannot comprehend why it is acceptable for Corbyn to be a Labour MP if he thinks antisemitism is exaggerated and a political attack, refuses to apologise, never takes responsibility for his actions and rejects the findings of the EHRC report.”

Senior MP Hodge is believed to have informed Starmer that she plans to leave the party should Corbyn return to the House of Commons as a member of the Labour parliamentary group.

Corbyn’s future in the party remains unclear, with Starmer stating that he would be keeping the situation “under review.” The ongoing situation is undoubtedly causing Labour’s leadership headaches with fears that a continuous rift in the party will deepen the divide within the more left-wing elements of the party, largely loyal to Corbyn, and other party members.

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Corbyn cannot be written off, remaining an inner-party power, the 71-year-old enjoying widespread support of young Labour members. With the party continuing to make headlines over anti-Semitism, it is becoming increasingly obvious that, aside from addressing the problems within the party, the new leadership are trying to rid themselves of Corbyn who is now being perceived as a threat to Labour.

Corbyn won’t go quietly

It is, however, unlikely the MP for London’s Islington North constituency will go quietly and give up the fight: Corbyn has long been known to be a party member not concerned with taking a stance contrary to party leadership, often finding himself at odds with powerful elements within the party throughout his 37 years in parliament.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is a public body in England and Wales responsible for the promotion and enforcement of equality and non-discrimination laws. Its independent report on anti-Semitism in the Labour party was published on October 29 and stated it had “found specific examples of harassment, discrimination and political interference.”

While no members of the party or its leadership were named for failing to adequately address anti-Semitism it noted its concern at “a lack of leadership within the Labour party on [anti-Semitism], which is hard to reconcile with its stated commitment to a zero-tolerance approach to antisemitism.”

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The EHRC added that “antisemitism within the Labour party could have been tackled more effectively if the leadership had chosen to do so.” The report further concluded that there had been “political interference” by the party’s leadership in the handling of complaints about anti-Semitism.

One of the interferences is linked directly to Corbyn’s office and addresses the handling of an anti-Semitism complaint against Corbyn for speaking in favor of an anti-Semitic mural in London on social media. The mural depicted Jewish financiers playing a Monopoly-style board game – staff from Corbyn’s office called for the case to be dismissed.

The debate around anti-Semitism and Corbyn’s future is expected to continue with grassroots members of the party publicly supporting the former Party Leader. Whether that will prove enough to see the MP return to the Labour parliamentary group remains to be seen.

Party officials had hoped the EHRC report would allow the party to address issues surrounding anti-Semitism internally and move forward with a new leadership – Corbyn’s remarks, however, have ensured the debate will remain in the public realm for longer than the party would have hoped.