“A mainstream political party engaging in unlawful harassment and discrimination is unusual in a democracy,” said The Times. Yet that was the conclusion of the report published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) last week into Labour’s handling of anti-Semitism in the party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. The report was “shocking and shaming”. It described “a culture which, at best, did not do enough to prevent anti-Semitism and, at worst, could be seen to accept it”. It found that many complaints about anti-Semitism were not investigated at all, and that “political interference in the handling of complaints” was so recurrent that it amounted to unlawful behaviour. The EHRC concluded that Labour had, through its agents, committed harassment and discrimination against Jews – such as using anti-Semitic tropes and suggesting that complaints were smears.
For British Jews who had insisted that Corbyn’s Labour had been poisoned by anti-Semitism, the report brought a “measure of relief”, said Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian. “The catharsis lasted all of three hours”: Corbyn himself soon put out a statement saying that he did not accept all of the EHRC’s findings, adding that the scale of the problem had been “dramatically overstated” for political reasons, “by our opponents inside and outside the party”, and by the media. He was soon suspended by Keir Starmer, which was “grimly fitting”. Why was the investigation necessary in the first place? Because Labour’s then leader refused to accept there was “a malignancy” within the party. “He was in denial then. Why should we be surprised that he remains in denial now?” That’s unfair on Corbyn, said Hilary Wainwright in the same paper. In his statement, he accepted that the problem existed, along with the reforms proposed by the EHRC. His remarks were “not to deny anti-Semitism but to put it in perspective”: it exists at the fringes of the party membership.
That’s absurd, said Philip Collins in the London Evening Standard. The report was utterly damning, and it concluded that, ultimately, responsibility lay with the party leadership. “The only clever response, from the Corbyn side, to such a verdict was to say nothing”, as John McDonnell did. But with “typical obtuseness”, Corbyn went straight onto Facebook and put out his petulant response. From Labour’s perspective, the episode’s only redeeming feature is that it provides “a big defining moment to show that the party is under new leadership”. For now, the response to Corbyn’s suspension from his wing of the party has been muted, said Tom Harris in The Daily Telegraph. But if he is formally expelled, there will be – at the least – mass grass-roots resignations, and fury from the unions. Starmer would almost certainly win this fight. “But after the dust has settled and the blood has been mopped up, it will be the voters, not the Labour Party, who decide if it was all worth it.”