20 January 2022

No, Jeremy Corbyn. Why the former leader should never be let back into Labour

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It doesn’t take much to get the rump of the Corbynite left tweeting about how much Labour needs the return of their traduced messiah. Within hours of Christian Wakeford’s defection – an actual real-life Tory being embraced by Labour – they were back at it, demanding Jeremy Corbyn be given the whip too.

Richard Burgon insisted: ‘You can’t say the Labour Party should be a broad church and then not restore the whip to former Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn.’ Another MP, Beth Winter said simply: ‘Restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn’, while Zarah Sultana insisted: ‘Jeremy Corbyn was elected as a Labour MP. He is still a Labour MP. He must be welcomed back into the Parliamentary Labour Party.’

Keir Starmer is adamant however. As it stands, St Jeremy cannot return until he has said sorry for claiming – minutes after the EHRC report on antisemitism in Labour had detailed ‘unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination’ – that the extent of antisemitism in the party had been ‘dramatically overstated for political reasons’. Indeed, those comments are still on his Facebook page.

Now I don’t believe in purity politics. We’re all flawed and often a well-timed apology is useful – whether the person apologising feels genuine contrition or not. But, as a Jewish activist against antisemitism, I don’t want an apology from Jeremy Corbyn.

I want much more. I want him to acknowledge what he did in its entirety – allowing antisemitism a free pass and making the party a safe space for virulent Jew-hate. I want the Labour Party to acknowledge that it ignored the issue for far too long.  I want Starmer to admit to his part in it too; sitting in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet and campaigning for him to become Prime Minister. Only then can the real stain of antisemitism start to be washed away.

At the last Labour Party Conference, the Jewish former MP Dame Louise Ellman got a standing ovation for returning to the fold. Some Labour activists were tearful; Starmer claimed Labour had ‘closed the door on antisemitism’. But the fact is that there are many people in Labour who still don’t believe the issue of antisemitism in Labour was as big as the Jewish community was claiming and that is partly because of the words of leading MPs such as Starmer who told them that. 

When Ellman quit the party in October 2019, saying Labour was ‘no longer a safe place for Jews and Jeremy Corbyn must bear the responsibility for this,’ Starmer effectively told her she was wrong. Asked about her comments on the Andrew Marr show he said: ‘I don’t accept that. I don’t accept that…I am 100% behind Jeremy Corbyn.’  And though he acknowledged the party had an antisemitism problem, he refused to admit that Corbyn himself might be to blame, telling Marr: ‘I personally don’t find that this personalising takes us very far.’

Now I understand the realpolitik and cynical argument that he couldn’t criticise Corbyn prior to the leadership election – the make-up of the membership might have meant we would now have Rebecca Long Bailey as the leader if he hadn’t – but there is no justification to continue with the pretence that all Corbyn has to do is say sorry for one sentence and all will be well.

Starmer has begun the work of clearing out his party. New systems – as demanded by the EHRC – have started to do their job. But some of it feels like it is being done in a very blunt way.

I’m aware that I may be fulfilling a stereotype of the whiny Jew here (I constantly worry about this) but, there was no point proscribing groups such as Labour Against the Witch-hunt (set up to help people accused of antisemitism) and throwing out their members without very specifically spelling out why. The very real antisemitism issue needs to be explained and divorced from the idea that this move was purely down to factionalism. Because, ironically, the suggestions that Starmer is using antisemitism as a fig leaf to purge the party of the far left only serves to increase the antisemitism problem.

There’s no doubt Labour is changing. This week it was revealed that the party had lost 150,000 members, many of them Corbynistas. Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves said she was happy to see this exodus, because it removed the ‘stain’ of antisemitism from the party, adding: ‘They should never have joined the Labour Party. They never shared our values.’

But it’s hard to square that statement with the fact Labour, the supposedly anti-racist party, made someone like Corbyn its leader, despite his many brushes with antisemitism (this Twitter thread covers most of the basics), or the uncomfortable truth that it continues to harbour antisemites and their enablers.

Antisemitism is known as the longest hatred and there’s no doubt that it’s been around in left wing circles for even longer than Jeremy Corbyn. I don’t think it can ever be fully expunged. But Corbyn unleashed a new army of Jew haters. These are people who think Zionists – which most Jews are – are the scum of the earth. They say – they tell me – the British Jewish community lie to get sympathy, that we are oppressors, that we are privileged, that we are powerful. They don’t even realise how antisemitic they sound when they claim it was just Jews making it up because Jeremy would have made them pay more taxes.

In fairness, Keir Starmer has at least made a start in making it harder for Jew-hatred to go unchecked in the party. However, to truly get to the core of the issue he needs his MPs to understand exactly why Corbyn can never be a Labour MP again. And to do that he needs to be completely open about how big a problem he and the party allowed antisemitism to become. 

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Nicole Lampert is a freelance journalist.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.