Keir Starmer stood for party unity – he should reinstate Jeremy Corbyn

JVL Introduction

Hilary Wainwright, editor of Red Pepper, writing in the Guardian points out that “Keir Starmer stood for, and won, the leadership of the Labour party on a platform of party unity, and continues to insist that that is his goal.”

He clearly has an odd way of showing this commitment.

Wainwright calls for the importance of freedom of expression to be recognised and for Corbyn’s suspension to be lifted.

It is Starmer who appears to be guilty of exactly what the EHRC condemned: political interference.

This article was originally published by the Guardian on Tue 3 Nov 2020. Read the original here.

Keir Starmer stood for party unity – he should reinstate Jeremy Corbyn

The former leader has acknowledged Labour should have done better, and the EHRC report makes clear that his comments are not a disciplinary matter

Keir Starmer stood for, and won, the leadership of the Labour party on a platform of party unity, and continues to insist that that is his goal. Labour members and Jewish Labour supporters across the party’s political spectrum (including many Jewish socialists who are active supporters of Jeremy Corbyn) need the Labour party to unite to overcome antisemitism and to resist the government’s destruction of our health and our livelihoods.

Corbyn’s response to the EHRC report provides many grounds for such unity. Most importantly, having stated that “anyone claiming there is no antisemitism in the Labour party is wrong”, he concluded by supporting the report’s recommendations: “I trust its recommendations will be swiftly implemented.”

Corbyn recognises the failures of the party in its slowness to implement the reforms recommended by the Chakrabarti commission, which he himself set up in 2016. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) acknowledges that these and other reforms of the complaints procedure and the disciplinary system, the tightening up and centralisation of data on cases of antisemitism, and the introduction of training in complaints handling were all introduced in 2018. That’s two years too late, in Corbyn’s opinion, but also exactly the time when the Corbyn supporter Jennie Formby became Labour’s general secretary, and Corbyn supporters on the party’s national executive committee gained control.

Together, they were able to begin to implement the reforms that they and Chakrabarti had believed necessary. And, indeed, the EHRC’s recommendations now build on and strengthen these reforms.

The greater part of Corbyn’s statement could have been the basis of a united drive to get these urgent reforms done. Starmer, however, chose to respond only to one point, where Corbyn wrote: “The scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media.” Note that Corbyn did not, contrary to much comment, say that the EHRC report exaggerated the problem.

It is clear from any fair reading of Corbyn’s statement that he made this remark not to deny antisemitism in the party but to put it in perspective. This is a perspective supported by the facts, notably a March 2019 poll by Survation, which asked the public: “From what you have seen or heard, what percentage of Labour party members do you think have had complaints of antisemitism made against them?” The average guess was a huge 34%, while the real numbers, which are still unknown, are certainly far smaller.

Corbyn’s comments, while expressing disagreement with the existing leadership, are in no way a matter for discipline according to the EHRC report itself, which has an explicit clause protecting members’ right to free speech on precisely the topic of the sentence Corbyn is being disciplined for. On page 27, the report says: “Article 10 [of the Human Rights Act, under which the EHRC works] will protect Labour party members who, for example … express their opinions on internal party matters, such as the scale of antisemitism within the party, based on their own experience and within the law.” Indeed in his suggestion on BBC Radio 4 that suspending Corbyn was a “difficult decision” that “we” made, it was Starmer who appeared to be guilty of exactly what the EHRC condemned: political interference.

Free speech is essential not only to sustained unity but also to a creative unity capable of developing policies in response to changing times and drawing on the wisdom and experience of all Labour’s members. As Milton, the great champion of free speech, argued: “much arguing, much writing, many opinions … is but knowledge in the making”. In other words, if debate and therefore criticism is closed down, the party becomes an electoral machine without a vision.

Starmer stood on the basis of the vision, the values and the policies developed under Jeremy Corbyn. And, contrary to the mainstream perspective, the Corbyn period was not “an aberration”, but a period of renewal and growth that now needs to be built on and expanded, not destroyed, in order to unite to bring down this cruel, incompetent and now divided government. In the interests of free expression, party unity and party renewal, his voice and that of his supporters must be part of the debate and his membership reinstated.

  • Hilary Wainwright is a co-editor at Red Pepper magazine


Links to all JVL statements and other articles on the EHRC report

Comments (16)

  • DJ says:

    Starmer has reneged on his party unity pitch during the leadership campaign. He clearly wants Corbyn and the left out along with supporters of the Palestinians. This will allow him to bring back the defectors and usher in New Labour Mark 2.Don’t let get away with it!

  • Edward Hill says:

    It goes without saying that a party leader wants unity, but on what terms? It might be considered that one of Jeremy Corbyn’s failings was to try to lead by consensus, conciliating opposing opinions, perhaps because for many years his were the views unconsidered by the leadership. Keir Starmer has clearly selected the other route to unity: dictatorship – as evidenced by penalising MPs voting against this government, and his General Secretary attempting to prohibit discussion on potentially controversial issues. As for the “need to unite to overcome antisemitism”, Starmer’s first priority was to unite outside the party with the Board of Deputies.

  • David Hawkins says:

    Hilary Wainwright implies a good faith that is just not there.
    Keir Starmer has chosen to be beholden to the BoD and JLM.
    Both organisations have made clear that they wanted Jeremy Corbyn’s head delivered on a platter. Why ? Because Jeremy represented a threat to Israel and the BoD and JLM wanted to make it clear to any future aspiring Labour politician that meaningful criticism of Israel is a no go area. You are allowed to make token criticism of Israel’s human rights record and propose a just two state solution that will never happen but questioning Israel’s legitimacy is not allowed.
    Even if Jeremy is reinstated he is sufficiently smeared to be totally ineffective in Labour politics.

  • CVA says:

    Keir Starmer is getting Party Unite by either expelling or persuading the left to leave or if we wished to stay we need to keep our mouths firmly shout and only open them to agree with him.
    From now on, boys and girls you don’t discuss at your CLPs anything without my permission.
    At the Commons, members of SCG you vote in the manner that I tell you to vote. Otherwise, I will withdraw the Party’s whip and your political career would be in the toilet.
    If he can withdraw the whip from Corbyn, he can withdraw it from any other MP for one reason or another. The members of the SCG are dreaming if they believe that Starmer isn’t going to come after every single one of them one by one, unless they manage to persuade him that they would stay obedient to him. He would left a few left, in order to parade them and say that of course the Party still a broad church.
    Sir Keir is uniting the Party, by terrifying his political opponents within the Party. We might no like his branch of unity, but to his mind is the unity that he likes and it has worked. Even the MPs of the SCG are very careful in how they voice their support for Jeremy Corbyn.

  • Allan Howard says:

    This is difficult to try and find the words to put it in to, but what is often over-looked is the fact that what we are dealing with is separate realities. Whilst most of us on the left (and on the right!) know that the A/S thing has been confected to a very large extent and magnified a thousand-fold, most of the people out there have no idea that it was, so whereas those of us on the left see the episode with RLB a few months ago as being an attack on the left, the vast majority of people don’t have a clue that it was, just as with Jeremy’s suspension now.

    And whilst many of us on the left know that the EHRC investigation and its report was a stitch-up, either from reading the report ourselves or the assessments made by trusted sources/journalists, yet again the vast majority of people out there get the totally corrupt version disseminated by the Establishment’s propaganda machine, and it is of course no accident that much of the MSM dissembled the falsehood – and for the obvious reason, and as the author of the article points out – that Jeremy said the EHRC report was exaggerated, much the same as they did when they dissembled the falsehood that Ken had said Hitler was a Zionist.

    As for Keir Starmer saying he wants to unify the party, THAT was directed at the masses, and of course done so to hide the fact from them that he and the Blairites will be doing everything they can to eradicate the left from the party or, to be precise, do things that will make them angry and frustrated and leave of their own accord as such – ie drive them out by such actions.

    And just for the record – given that the author of the article doesn’t appear to know – on the day he was suspended, Jeremy referred to the figure of 0.3% of the membership who had been reported for alleged anti-semitism, whilst ALSO alluding to the survey conducted for the authors of Bad News For Labour last year, in which respondents, on average, believed that a third of the membership (34%) had been reported (to the Labour Party) for anti-semitism. And needless to say, Keir Starmer and Co are well aware of BOTH figures AND the implication.

  • Brian Robinson (Dr) says:

    I thought this was a very good article (so good in factual content and its appeal to natural justice on this issue that I realised I was surprised that the Guardian actually published it). I do believe that Corbyn should be reinstated, his suspension lifted.

    However, practically, I wonder how it could be achieved, having in mind what Starmer has committed himself to. He might claim that a decision to lift the suspension would have had nothing to do with him, but would he be believed? Even if he were believed and even if it were true, he’d still be hounded for it endlessly by the same people who hounded Corbyn. I’m not sure that even Solomon himself could solve this one. I hope I’m wrong.

  • DJ says:

    When Starmer says he doesn’t want Labour to be associated with antisemitism what does he mean? The answer is simple. He wants to eliminate pro Palestinian views from the Labour Party. Then he will not have to prove himself to the Israeli lobby and the MSM

  • Sabine Ebert-Forbes says:

    A very good commentary. Someone should sit both Mr Starmer and Mr Evans down and explain some important facts of live to them: concepts of party democracy, unity, integrity and transparency, Human rights legislation to start off with. Recent events like Party staff interfering in zoom meetings when members are discussing a motion requesting that Jeremy Corbyn is re-instated, is totally unacceptable behaviour. It is authoritarian, autocratic, undemokratisch and dictatorial. Since Mr Starmer became Leader, we have had 3 issues where both he and Mr Evans threatened CLPs/members with disciplinary action if they dared to discuss issues concerning their party and ultimately them. I found that to be scandalous as the issues were such that needed and need to be debated thoroughly. I do not recognise the Labour Party as it appears to be today as the party I have actively campaigned in/for/with. And that fills me with sadness.

  • Allan Howard says:

    The following article on Counterpunch hits the nail right on the head:

  • I cannot believe how bad this article is. It represents a slide into identity politics and an abandonment of class politics. No attempt to understand the ‘antisemitism’ phenomenon. This is just mainstream Momentum lite politics betraying a complete misunderstanding of Starmer’s project.

    Yes Starmer lied in his bid for leadership. So what? get over it. His intentions were always clear and have been consistent. Corbyn was always going to be suspended even if he said nothing. It had nothing to do with his statement. The thinking of Starmer was leaked 3 months ago that Corbyn would be suspended when the EHRC Report came out.

    To say ‘Labour members and Jewish Labour supporters across the party’s political spectrum… need the Labour party to unite to overcome antisemitism…’ beggars belief. What antisemitism? It is support for ‘hostile enviroment’ that needs to be overcome.

    The most amazing aspect of the whole affair is that there are no Jewish victims (excluding the Oscar winning actress Ella Rose of Panorama fame!)

    What does it take to understand that ‘antisemitism’ was chosen as a wedge issue because it played to the fault line created by ID politics over race. If you define racism in terms of minority perceptions and ‘self-definition’ (which of course is the projection of others) then of course ‘antisemitism’ is equally valid to actual state racism.

    Genuine antisemitism in the Labour Party was far higher in the past, especially among the leadership. Herbert Morrison’s decision not to admit Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany during the war undoubtedly killed thousands of Jews. Not a squeak out of the Zionists at the time.

    Sivanandan taught us that racism is what people do not what they post on Twitter. That is why this focus on social media illustrates how fake this ‘anti-Semitism’ has been.

    The Labour Party undoubtedly has some paedophiles within in, as do other parties. Does anyone suggest it is overrun with them?

    Hilary Wainwright has returned to her Liberal roots. What does it take for Hilary to recognise that if the Daily Mail is concerned about antisemitism then something must be wrong? When, for that matter, has Zionism ever opposed anti-Semitism? Trump, Orban etc? What does Hilary not get. I despair at how the ‘antisemitism’ narrative has taken root amongst the left commentariat.

    Hilary’s statement that ‘Corbyn’s response to the EHRC report provides many grounds for such unity’” is wrong on so many levels, not least its failure to recognise that Starmer is our class enemy not our partner.

  • james harkness bingham says:

    I´m surprised the Guardian published this

  • Tigger says:

    Well, well, well – wonders will never cease. The Guardian publishing an article that supports Jeremy.
    Of course, they made sure to publish it on a day when it might well be missed…

  • DJ says:

    How is it possible to achieve unity with someone who wants to expel Jeremy Corbyn and the left along with supporters of Palestinian justice? Starmer has made it clear he wants the right wing defectors back. He will usher in New Labour Mark 2 unless the membership resist the overturn of some of the progressive policies of the Corbyn era. The author is naive on this issue.

  • Dianne Caster says:

    Keir Starmer
    Reinstate Jeremy Corbyn immediately, he is innocent of wrongdoing. Your attempts to destroy him are underhanded in their method. You actions against him make you look shameful

  • Starmer has not a shred of integrity! To suggest that any action taken by him since he became “leader” has any other purpose but subjugate the Party to the interests of “certain outsiders” is naive!
    I stay in the Party but intend to use every opportunity to negate the more “debatable” of Mr Starmer`s ambitions.

  • Peter Gartshore says:

    I completely agree with Mike Greenstein regarding this Report. Bybconcetrating on ID politics through antisemitism claims only inflames the issue and has created the ‘fake news’ that this is the issue that is taxing the soul of the Party. The reality is this is an ideological split. This division has been there unresolved for the last 27 years in particular. The Party fully embraced neo liberalism and militarism and the left were only allowed to play their part to give a sense of ‘broad church’

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