SINCE Jeremy Corbyn was not directly criticised in the Equalities and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) report into anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, he probably did not have advance sight of it. It is also likely he did not read the report other than the executive summary in the 36 minutes between its public release and his posting a statement on Facebook.
Sir Keir Starmer had, however, read a draft of the report, and discussed it with his deputy leader, Angela Rayner, and Corbyn on the eve of publication. Sir Keir stated on Friday’s Today programme that he shared with Corbyn what his response was going to be, although an article in the Guardian indicated otherwise: ‘During the talks on Wednesday, Starmer spoke directly to Corbyn in what was described as a “friendly and professional” conversation. Corbyn’s team say they were told that they would be given prior sight of Starmer’s statement.’
If Corbyn had taken the time to read the report properly before commenting, he would have seen that the EHRC stated on page 28 that ‘suggesting that complaints of anti-Semitism are fake or smears’ is itself anti-Semitic. But he did not. So when he stated that ‘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’, he fell foul of the Labour Party’s rules, especially since Sir Keir had made it quite clear that he, unlike Corbyn, accepted the report in full. Sir Keir must have briefed Labour’s general secretary as well, because the process of Corbyn’s ejection took place without any trace of a Starmer boot-print on his hindquarters. Corbyn is now suspended, pending investigation. If Sir Keir is implementing disciplinary processes aligned with EHRC recommendations, there might be a delay.
Why did Corbyn do it? Numerous seasoned socialist commentators, and Owen Jones, made it clear they would be reserving their comments instead of providing their normal knee-jerk responses. Corbyn was just being Corbyn; Jerry, Jerry, Quite Contrary, if you will. The IRA blows up the Grand Hotel in Brighton, two weeks later Corbyn invites IRA terrorists to the House of Commons. Iraq invades Kuwait in the most blatant act of military aggression since the Korean War, Corbyn opposes liberation by a US-led coalition. The Taliban repurpose airliners as weapons of mass destruction, Corbyn opposes military force to wipe them out. Russia invade Ukraine, Corbyn cheers them on. Islamists murder dozens in Paris and elsewhere, Corbyn opposes military action against Daesh in Syria. Russia uses a nerve weapon on British soil for murder, Corbyn expresses unreasonable doubts. Israel uses lethal force to prevent a hostile invasion by armed militants from Gaza, Corbyn falsely calls the militants unarmed protesters. It’s like a nervous tic. Corbyn has to take an opposite view based on his ideology. The National Executive Committee of the Labour Party tries to make the IHRA definition of antisemitism, as well as the examples, part of the party rules, Corbyn wants to incorporate a statement which indirectly suggests that calling for the destruction of Israel (‘another settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’) is not anti-Semitic.
So perhaps Corbyn did it because every other time he has pulled this type of contrarian gesture, nothing much has happened to him, or at least his political career, based as it is on lifting up rocks and consorting with the nasty-looking creatures he finds there, has not been stunted. A lot of bother could have been saved yesterday if Neil Kinnock had taken firm action against Corbyn almost exactly 36 years ago, but perhaps the London Labour Party were already too powerful, and Kinnock was already at war with Militant and could not fight on two fronts at once.
Corbyn’s defence rests on his assertion that while a survey showed that the public believed that one-third of Labour members were anti-Semitic, the figure provided by him was less than a third of a per cent of party members, or about 1,600 people.
But that just refers to those who have been referred to party disciplinary processes, and not others who have not. Corbyn suggests that the percentage of anti-Semites in the Labour Party is the same or less than the percentage of anti-Semites in the UK adult population as a whole. It is most probably more. Corbyn’s statistic takes no account of people like the man at Rebecca Long Bailey’s rally in Liverpool who accused former Labour MPs of being part of the ‘Israeli lobby’ before complaining that Long Bailey had described herself as a Zionist.
It takes no account of Corbyn supporters targeting a chant calling for Israel to be destroyed at Jewish demonstrators protesting against anti-Semitism. Verbal abuse against Jewish people at party meetings and conferences is not counted. The party members who hounded Jewish woman MPs such that they had to leave Labour is not included. The Labour members cheering Chris Williamson on when he complained that the party was ‘too apologetic’ over anti-Semitism are not part of Corbyn’s claimed statistic. Luciana Berger had to have a bodyguard when she attended a Labour Party conference lest she be attacked by Labour members. Corbyn’s number does not include any card-carrying would-be assailant.
The hard fact is that membership of Labour more than doubled in a very short period in the summer of 2015, and that few of these new members who joined to back Corbyn were properly vetted for associations with extremist parties. If Gerry Downing could get through the process before being exposed and not be expelled before David Cameron raised his membership in the Commons, an awful lot of his fellow travellers could do it. A good proportion of them came from hard-Left groups, and only famous names, such as Jeremy Hardy and Mark Steel, both hailing from the Socialist Workers Party, were excluded. The extremists who weren’t caught by party officials were disproportionately anti-Israel and this hatred extended towards Jewish party members irrespective of their opinion of the policies of the Israeli government. This was more or less admitted by Long Bailey, although she tried to suggest that this was just a proportionate increase, when it clearly was not. Labour’s processes were not set up to deal with a mass influx of racists and were overwhelmed. However, the influx was not the concern of the EHRC. It was the disciplinary processes, and these have been found wanting. Corbyn’s passiveness did not help, and interference from the secret committee that really made the decisions, of which Corbyn was just the figurehead, compounded the problem.
What will Corbyn do now? He will be investigated, and will probably come up with one of the excuses he always furnishes at times like these. His supporters might pack meetings to pass crucial votes. The party rulebook will be scrutinised. There may be a court case. It is unlikely that any other MPs will quit the party in protest; they know they have a cushy job and are not complete idiots. However Corbyn does currently seems to be a bit like Fu Manchu. Whenever he is defeated, the world will still hear from him again.