Don’t consign Labour Party democracy to the history books

Keir Starmer at Question Time. Image: screengrab

JVL Introduction

Mike Cushman asks why Keir Starmer has embraced the EHRC Report so enthusiastically despite it being deeply flawed as he elaborates below.

He finds the answer not in Starmer’s obvious sympathy for Zionism and for Israel but rather in a hostility to the socialist wing of the party, so enlarged and empowered by the Corbyn project.

The Board of Deputies’ support and the favourable media coverage that generates may be a powerful weapon in Starmer’s campaign against the left. It is not where it originates.

And Cushman affirms: “Party democracy can only be saved if members stay and fight, no matter how unpleasant that may be; Starmer wants us to quit our party – we must not give him that pleasure.”


This article was originally published by the Morning Star on Thu 10 Dec 2020. Read the original here.

Don’t consign Labour Party democracy to the history books

MIKE CUSHMAN asks what’s behind Keir Starmer’s war on ordinary Labour members

Every day we get news of one or more constituency Labour parties defying the edicts of general secretary David Evans and insisting on debating issues of central importance to party members.

Almost every day we get news that one or more CLP officers have been suspended for allowing their members to debate.

The list of prohibited subjects steadily grows: the pay-offs to those named in the Panorama programme; the findings of the EHRC report; the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn; the removal of the whip from Jeremy Corbyn; votes of no confidence in David Evans; any discussion of any of these bans on free debate.

There may be more, I find it difficult to keep up.

The alleged reasons for these bans changes with the wind. At first it was risk of legal liability, then it was that any such discussion may make Jewish members feel uncomfortable. Both excuses are facile and self-serving.

The party should not have launched itself on courses of action that made it vulnerable in the courts and inhibited members’ rights to debate their merits; that is, in itself, a dereliction of the senior members’ responsibility for careful stewardship of the party’s reputation and assets.

Political discussion which touches on important issues is often uncomfortable; and Starmer’s attacks on socialists and his abuse of our Jewish identity makes many Jewish socialists feel uncomfortable and unwelcome in our party but we must stay and fight.

We are informed that there is strong legal advice that the claims by the Panorama “whistle-blowers” were highly unlikely to succeed.

We do not know that for certain because Starmer and Evans don’t believe that even members of the NEC, let alone ordinary members, should be let into secrets that might embarrass them.

We know for certain that the EHRC’s three findings of unlawful activity by the party are poorly grounded in fact or law and could and should have been challenged in court.

The ground for describing Ken Livingstone and Pam Bromley as agents of the party runs against Supreme Court judgments on vicarious liability and case law on harassment suggests it unlikely that their actions represent “unlawful harassment of its members.”

This would be true even if the two members had actually harassed anyone, which they had not.

The “political interference” in disciplinary processes that the EHRC decry by their own admission as often worked against those accused as against the complainants.

In any case the Labour Party is a political party and acts politically, it’s the nature of the beast. The EHRC failed to demonstrate that Jewish complainants, as opposed to Jewish defendants, were discriminated against – a crucial missing element.

The third alleged offence of insufficient training in anti-semitism is no better grounded.

The party had provided more training in handling these cases than in respect of any other form of racism or religious discrimination; the report misrepresents the basic facts on this.

None of this is to argue that the party’s disciplinary processes are fit for purpose.

They clearly were not and would have been inadequate even if they had not been subverted by officials hostile to Jeremy Corbyn.

JVL is supporting the legal action being taken by members who are being disciplined, in breach of law, under these same procedures.

However, they are no worse, and quite possibly somewhat better, than those of most organisations – this speaks to endemic racism in British society, not a particular problem of anti-semitism in the Labour Party.

This raises many questions but one that demands our attention is why did Keir Starmer so enthusiastically embrace a report and recommendations so flawed and so damaging to the party he leads?

To reduce this to his obvious sympathy for zionism and for Israel is to miss the point.

It is his hostility to the socialist wing of the party, so enlarged and empowered by the Corbyn project, that is central.

Starmer mendaciously presented himself as a Corbyn sympathiser fit for contemporary media during his leadership election campaign; he was and is a Blair redux.

The same grimace photoshopped into a smile; the same misguided belief that a Labour Party warm to neoliberal finance is the only electable Labour Party.

It is a mistake to see a desire by Starmer to please the Board of Deputies of British Jews as the reason for the attack on socialists in the party, Jewish and non-Jewish.

It is the other way round: the imprimatur of the BoD and the favourable media coverage that generates is a powerful weapon in Starmer’s campaign against the left.

Confusing organ-grinder and monkey is a serious political miscalculation.

Starmer bases his claim to political legitimacy on his record as a human rights lawyer; a claim already sullied by his uneven record as director of public prosecutions.

As leader he has shown himself to have a poor grasp of either human rights or the law.

Any lawyer should have instantly seen the manifest flaws in the EHRC report; any lawyer should have careful regard for the Labour Party rulebook.

Anyone with a cursory knowledge of human rights will know the protections for free speech and free assembly laid down in articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Starmer and Evans’s increasingly draconian circulars circumscribing what members may talk about demonstrate contempt for the rulebook, the law and the membership.

The party’s increasingly Stasi-like disciplinary unit, the Starmtrooper elite, cannot keep up with their ever increasing workload.

They find it easier to leak suspensions to the press, which is where many of those suspended learn of the action against them, rather than actually take the effort to send an email to the member first.

Until recently, when members were suspended their letters gave some reason, no matter how facile, for their suspension.

Now members are suspended without being vouchsafed any indication of their alleged misbehaviour, even when they do eventually hear from the party.

Suspension from the Labour Party is only a tiny fraction as painful as administrative detention of Palestinians but the mindset is the same: “we know you are guilty of something but we can’t really be bothered to work out what it is and, even if you aren’t, taking action against you will frighten others into sullen acceptance.”

Party democracy can only be saved if members stay and fight, no matter how unpleasant that may be; Starmer wants us to quit our party – we must not give him that pleasure.

Labour Party democracy has always been a challenged concept; if Starmer has his way it will only be of interest to political historians.

Mike Cushman is a founder member of Jewish Voice for Labour.

Comments (18)

  • Harry Law says:

    Can any fair minded person stomach the hypocrisy and contradictions inherent in these statements from Labour MP’s, Peers and LP staff members. Exposed in Williamson MP v Formby…
    By 27 June, some 90 Labour MPs and peers led by the Deputy Leader, Tom Watson MP, were reported to have demanded that the leader withdraw the whip. Observing that they could not overstate the “depth and breadth of hurt and anger” felt about the decision, the politicians wrote:
    “It is clear to us that the Labour Party’s disciplinary process remains mired by the appearance of political interference. This must stop. We need a truly independent process.
    We call on Jeremy Corbyn to show leadership by asking for this inappropriate, offensive and reputationally damaging decision to be overturned and reviewed.
    Ultimately, it is for Jeremy Corbyn to decide whether Chris Williamson retains the Labour whip. He must remove it immediately if we are to stand any hope of persuading anyone that the Labour Party is taking anti Semitism seriously.”
    d) The press reported that almost 70 Labour Party staff members wrote to the General Secretary expressing their dismay at the decision.
    At least now they have a leader who is more than willing to act as Judge, Jury and executioner.

  • David says:

    Having read the EHRC report I found it to lack depth or any analysis of the historical context of the Labour Party organisation. Of course I couldn’t discuss its conclusions for fear of being suspended from what was once a democratic party! ‘Who guards the guardians’ comes to mind! Once the straight jacket of covid restrictions is relaxed the Starsi thought police of this right wing elitist ‘New Management’ must be dealt with!

  • Edward Hill says:

    Keir Starmer should be regarded as a man of principle, or at least a man in whom three principles are discernible. First, the end (a Labour government) justifies the means (any means?). Second, party unity is paramount, and this requires that the leader’s viewpoint is accepted unquestioningly by the membership.Third, in order to defeat the Conservative Party, it is necessary first to defeat the Labour left and its excess of principles. The party may then be manoevred into the large space in the political spectrum left by the Conservative Party’s move to the right under Johnson.
    The greater the perception of the extent of antisemitism under Jeremy Corbyn, the greater will be the credit to Starmer when he convinces the Board of Deputies that he has kept his promise to “tear out this poison by its roots.”
    It is said that history is written by the victors; if there is a reason to remain in a soulless Labour Party it may be to fight to prevent the trashing of the whole Corbyn experience by his successor.

  • rc says:

    Mike’s analysis of the Starmtrooper (nice one, Mike!). mindset is a fine one; the ”Big Brother is watching you” mentality has rarely been so brutishly or so early repressive. What is power? ”
    ‘A boot stamping on a human face for ever.’
    That is Evans’ and Starmer’s view of ‘leadership’.

    But to avoid being turned into history, we need a better grasp of the evolution of the LP into its current structure. One reason why democracy is such a contested notion in the LP is the odd combination of its federal structure (which currently distorts representative democracy almost out of all recognition ) and its dogmatic attachment to constitutionalist imperialism ( a strange and contradictory blend). Ralph Miliband’s books contain good descriptive material – yes, the Jew whom the Daily Mail (Starmer’s new friend) labelled a traitor after he was safely dead. Not a ‘patriot’, for sure. Lenin’s phrase “a bourgeois workers’ party” still has much truth in it – though the third word in it has an increasingly tenuous relation. Political
    education in the LP needs a historical materialist approach to help us understand the changing balance of forces.

  • Daniel Vulliamy says:

    Bravo, Mike; I will stand and fight. East Yorks CLP passed some decent motions this week. We surely need to maintain focus and pressure on D Evans as well as on Comrade Sir Keir.

  • John Bowley says:

    Wow oh wow! Mike is magnificent. What fine analysis. It is well written also, a basic ability lacking in many on staff or in office. Mike is a big man in all ways.

  • Roshan Pedder says:

    “Starmtrooper” – brilliant!

  • John Noble says:

    Great peice of work thank you I wish I were younger I would have stayed to fight.

  • Mike`s comment on Starmer`s obvious support for Zionism and Israel is the real reason for Starmer`s opposition to the left wing of the Party.
    As has been pointed out by “Doug” in another post, Israel is favored by the right wing because it is a vigilantly pro Western enclave in the Middle East. Israel might be said to have been founded, not from sympathy for persecuted Jews, but as an outpost of Western imperialism. This explains much more satisfactorily (to my mind) Starmer`s inexplicable obsession with all aspects of Israel and Judaism. It also explains his hostility to socialist elements as socialism is more opposed to Israel`s role as “guardian” to Western financial and military interests.
    It seems that Starmer`s interest in A.S. is not out of sympathy for Jews and Israel but for the usefulness of Jews and Israel to the West.
    I wonder if this comment is too sharply critical to be published? I do try to be moderate but recent actions are so outrageous that it is difficult not to react.

  • Martyn Meacham says:

    Starmer is a total disgrace. A snake that should be kicked out of the Labour Party, and banned for life.

  • Voirrey Faragher says:

    Well written and helpful. Thank you for this.

  • John Spencer says:

    [JVL web – Exceptionally, we have approved this comment, though it is longer than ones we usually accept. Our limit of 300 words remains the norm.]

    Well said, Mike. The EHRC report is flawed from start to finish. Very similar claims of antisemitic harassment were raised at vast expense in a gargantuan piece of litigation against the University and College Union in 2012 and were shown after more than three weeks of argument in the Employment Tribunal to be ill-founded and legally untenable. Nine out of the ten complaints pleaded were “manifestly unmeritorious”, the tribunal said. Jeremy Newmark, a key witnesses for Fraser, was shown to have lied to the court. The case is not mentioned in the EHRC report.

    Since their fingers were so badly burned in Fraser v UCU, Zionist complainants have avoided litigation in the courts, preferring in the current instance soft touch assessment by a quango full of Tory placepersons. The EHRC report seems to have been written to arrive at preordained conclusions.

    An example of the commission’s slapdash approach concerns antisemitic tropes, defined by the EHRC as “written or verbal phrases or images that suggest antisemitic ideas or stereotypes … For example, referring to Jewish people being a ‘fifth column’.” The term “fifth column” referred originally to people inside a besieged city who supported the beseiging armies outside. While Corbyn was Labour leader it was in frequent use to describe Corbyn’s right-wing opponents inside the party. That’s what any politically aware reader would take away from the expression.

    On the commission’s own definition “fifth column” is not an antisemitic trope since it completely lacks the pre-existing antisemitic ideas or stereotypes required by the EHRC’s definition (nor does the EHRC suggest what they might be). The term is no more an antisemitic trope than “second chance”, “third degree” or “fourth estate”, yet it is picked out from an old Facebook entry as a particularly offensive element of the supposed harassment of Jews attributed to the Labour Party. It is a pseudo-trope of the EHRC’s own devising.

    We can assume that the commission has access to high-quality (or at any rate expensive) legal advice about such issues as the scope of agency or what is required to establish harassment under the Equality Act. So it is curious that its report simply asserts what it claims the law says garnished with a few references to supposedly exemplary cases in the style of an undergraduate essay. It is not a serious encounter with a complex area of law. Rights to freedom of expression are swept unceremoniously aside.

    The EHRC says its investigation, carried out behind closed doors, was “based primarily on documentary evidence”. There was, for example, no opportunity to test the many anonymous witnesses who claimed to have been harassed. The Fraser case demonstrates that thorough public argument is the fair way to deal with issues of this nature. That is the very thing that Starmer and Evans are determined to stifle which tells you all you need to know about their democratic credentials and their attachment to freedom of speech and other human rights.


    Thank you. I have shared this important document

  • Stephen Richards says:

    I walked away from the Labour Party after being a member for many years, when Tony Blair became leader. He is still the ‘puppetmeister’. I rejoined the Labour Party when Jeremy Corbyn became leader; I am now 71 years old & too old to either run or walk away again……look what happened last time. I intend to rage into the night for Justice & Socialism.

  • steve mitchell says:

    There are grave questions to be asked about the independence of EHRC. Some members must have a conflict of interest ,particularly David Goodhart whose hard right views are well known . Anyone appointed by a Tory PM has to be regarded with suspicion. Harriet Harman questioned Goodharts credentials on his appointment

  • Edward Hill says:

    In response to John Spencer’s discussion of the EHRC’s interpretation of the term “fifth column”:
    On pages 27 and 28 of the report the EHRC refers to two types of antisemitic conduct by Labour Party agents that contributed to the finding of unlawful harassment. One is suggesting that complaints of antisemitism are fake or smears; the other is use of antisemitic tropes: ” Examples that we found included referring to the idea that Jews are part of a wider conspiracy, or are responsible for controlling others and manipulating the political process, including the Labour Party. For examp!e, referring to Jewish people being a ‘fifth column’.” The facebook post given as an examp!e contains the words “bogus AS”, “fifth column” and “the lobby” (twice). “The lobby” could only refer to Israel, so the EHRC would assume the “fifth column” to apply to “Jewish members”. Any suggestion that a group, such as the Jewish Labour Movement, was acting as saboteurs to stop the election of a Corbyn led government, would be an antisemitic conspiracy trope.

  • Andrew Dinkenor says:

    Having worked at Keir Starmer’s Chambers with him for 6 years, I am not surprised that Geoffrey Robertson QC, Head of Chambers autobiography of 2018 which goes a long way to glorifying Chambers and some of its barristers, does not mention even Keir Starmer in his book.
    An enquiring journalist should look into the year 2007 and 2008 when Starmer served on the Management Committee of the Chambers.

  • John Spencer says:

    Edward Hill writes, “the EHRC would assume the ‘fifth column’ to apply to Jewish members”. To assume is to leap to conclusions — in this case wrong conclusions which don’t add up. The EHRC was so eager to find against the Labour Party it promoted this conclusion to a top spot in its report as the most offensive manifestation of antisemitic harassment by the party. Not every metaphor conceals an antisemitic idea or stereotype, though the EHRC’s attempts at trope-hunting do call to mind the man with only a hammer who saw nails everywhere. “Fifth column” springs from the civil war in Spain and originally referred to Franco’s supporters inside a Madrid besieged by four fascist armies. It was in common use among Corbyn’s supporters to describe the party right wing who wanted Corbyn out. The EHRC cannot turn an everyday metaphor into a trope unless it can show that the author of the metaphor is not using it in a merely conventional sense and intended the phrase to convey antisemitic ideas to the reader. An objective basis is essential. In my view there was certainly not enough to contradict the view that the phrase was intended to and did refer to the Labour right-wingers openly plotting against Corbyn. On the EHRC’s own accurate definition a phrase or image is not a trope unless it evokes an antisemitic idea or stereotype which is already in the reader’s mind. The report makes no attempt to demonstrate that “fifth column” fulfils this requirement. Yet its strained reading is at the heart of its indictment of the Labour Party. There is simply no proper basis for such a serious charge as harassment against HM Opposition in the muddled and opaque assumptions underlying this part of the report. (296 words)

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