Labour: the war over Jeremy Corbyn

Labour: the war over Jeremy Corbyn

 “Labour stands on the brink of civil war,” said Andrew Woodcock in The Independent. Last Wednesday, Keir Starmer blocked Jeremy Corbyn from sitting as a Labour MP. Starmer’s decision to bar his predecessor came a day after Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) allowed Corbyn back into the party, following his suspension over the controversial remarks he made in response to last month’s damning report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) on Labour and anti-Semitism. (Corbyn claimed that the issue had been “dramatically overstated”, a response that Starmer felt undermined efforts to restore the confidence of the Jewish community in the party.) His removal of the whip from Corbyn caused an immediate backlash, however: 31 MPs from Labour’s Socialist Campaign Group said it was “wrong and damaging” and called for his reinstatement, while Unite leader Len McCluskey dubbed it “vindictive and vengeful”.

Starmer is the architect of this unfortunate situation, said Juliet Samuel in The Daily Telegraph. First, he decided to outsource Corbyn’s fate to the NEC – on the basis that it would be improper for the leader to “interfere”. Then, less than three weeks later, he decided to effectively overrule the NEC’s decision to reinstate him – a volte-face that required “first-class lawyerly squirming”. At a stroke, his approach has “revealed the limits of his own authority” and given “invaluable ammunition” to his enemies. Now he is faced with two options: to negotiate with the hard-left, or to dig in for a long fight. Either way, this sorry little episode shows there is no “quick win” on offer here. When you have fallen as far as Corbyn’s Labour did, “it is a long slog back to acceptability”.

Well, Starmer’s options were limited, said Janice Turner in The Times. He was “ambushed”: a newly elected NEC panel voted to let Corbyn back in, and Starmer is not allowed to interfere in its processes. So he made a “bold move”: he refused to restore the whip to Corbyn, leaving his former boss “dangling”. The decision may have provoked fury on the left – but it was both “principled” and good politics. Starmer is showing that he doesn’t have his gaze “fixed on his perpetually feuding, unrepresentative membership”, but on the wider electorate – 50% of whom (including 38% of Labour voters) think he’s right to stop Corbyn sitting as a Labour MP. There will be a fight ahead, but the more he succeeds in driving away the “toxic” hard-left elements of his party, the more he will improve his electoral chances in the long run.

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