Labour suspends former leader for comments made after the release of critical EHRC report on anti-Semitism within the party.

Words by Miranda Dunne

Labour suspends former leader for comments made after the release of critical EHRC report on anti-Semitism within the party.

On Thursday, former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was suspended from the Labour Party, along with the Parliamentary Labour Party removing the party whip, pending investigation. This followed a statement Corbyn made describing claims of antisemitism as ‘dramatically overstated’, less than an hour after the release of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) report on antisemitism in the Labour party. In a subsequent Facebook post announcing he would ‘strongly contest the political intervention’ to suspend him, the MP for Islington North wrote he has ‘made absolutely clear that those who deny there has been an antisemitism problem in the Labour Party are wrong.’

The report found that Labour acted unlawfully over anti-Semitism, stating that many of the incidents of anti-Semitism faced by its members constituted ‘unlawful harassment’ under the 2010 Equality Act. It defines antisemitism as including the ‘use of anti-Semitic tropes’, for example that ‘Jews are part of a wider conspiracy’ and ‘suggesting that complaints of antisemitism are fake or smears.’

In an interview that aired six minutes before his suspension, Corbyn claimed that a poll revealed an incorrect public perception that one third of Labour Party members were ‘under suspicion of anti-semitism.’ He said ‘the reality’ was that ‘0.3% of party members had a case against them.’ A Channel 4 FactCheck suggested he was referring to a poll that had ‘some strengths’, but equally that ‘we shouldn’t place too much weight’ on a single poll. The EHRC report states that the party did not comprehensively record complaints of antisemitism until 2018. This was echoed by former Labour Party General Secretary Jennie Formby in January 2020 who said that a ‘comprehensive central complaints system’ was not in place until 2018.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer made a public statement condemning the ‘breakdown of trust between the labour party, many of its members, and the Jewish community,’ pledging ‘Never again will labour let you down.’ He said that those who claim anti-Semitism is “exaggerated or a factional attack” are “part of the problem.”

Speaking to Radio 4’s World at One, the Labour Party Deputy Leader Angela Rayner described Corbyn as a ‘thoroughly decent man’ but said he has a ‘blind spot and a denial when it comes to some of these issues.’

The grassroots organisation Momentum, founded in 2015 after Corbyn’s successful leadership campaign, called the suspension ‘reckless’ and ‘profoundly unjust’ in a petition to ‘Reinstate Jeremy Corbyn’. They argued that the decision ‘makes a mockery of Keir Starmer’s own pledges to unite the party.’  They claimed that Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights protects Corbyn’s statement. In an email to its members, co-chairs Andrew Scattergood and Gaya Sriskanthan described the suspension as a ‘massive attack on the left.’

The Jewish Labour Movement’s statement in response to the report said it provided its “members with the relief they have been seeking from the Labour Party, but which it failed, over five years, to offer”. The closing of their statement read “We are hopeful that under new leadership, and renewed resolve, the Party will return to its core values of solidarity, tolerance and respect. There is still much that needs to be done.”

A fund set up in July to fight Panorama reporter John Ware’s accusations of libel against Corbyn saw a surge in donations since the suspension, reaching £367,540 as of Saturday. On Friday, The Times reported that a close ally of Corbyn believed ‘the only route is legal’ in response to the suspension unless Starmer is prepared to draw up a deal. 
According to the Guardian, Corbyn is the first former Labour leader to be suspended; if expelled, he will be the first former Labour leader to be expelled since 1931 when Ramsay MacDonald was cast out for forming a national government with Conservative support in 1931. Corbyn will sit as the independent member of parliament for Islington North unless reinstated to the Labour Party.

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