Just a few short years ago, I saw Jeremy Corbyn speak to the Glastonbury crowds firsthand.
Luckily, I wasn’t too drunk or sunburnt at that particular moment, so I remember it pretty vividly.
He spoke with passion and verve about his vision for a new, more egalitarian future. Tens of thousands around the fields of Pilton chanted “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” to the tune of The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army.
It felt like a moment.
Yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn was suspended from the Labour Party. It’s fair to say that the moment, if there ever was one, had passed.
Oh, and Labour are about to enter a fully-fledged civil war over it.
Antisemitism & Antisemantics
Antisemitism plagued Corbyn’s reign over the Labour Party. Throughout the entirety of his leadership, claims of antisemitic bullying and racism across the wider party were hushed up, dismissed outright or belittled by leading party figures.
It led to the party becoming cultish. Any criticism of Corbyn or his team was met with cries of heresy.
It led to promising MPs like Luciana Berger and Ruth Smeeth leaving the party. It led to widespread condemnation from every political opponent you could imagine. It led, at its core, to a previously inclusive party becoming a pale shadow of its former self.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission, itself set up in 2006 by a Labour government, began an investigation into antisemitism in the Labour Party in May of 2019. Corbyn’s Labour Party stood accused of racial injustice. For months, the Commission investigated a series of incidents and complaints raised against the actions of the party’s leadership.
Yesterday, the results were published. They were damning.
To summarise, while the report doesn’t lay the blame at the feet of any named individuals, it gives demonstrable evidence that there were multiple occasions where antisemitism was systemic across the wider Labour Party. On multiple occasions, key figures were proven to have acted or spoken in a way that was obviously antisemitic. Jeremy Corbyn himself was also in the firing line – he spoke out against the removal of graffiti that depicted insulting Jewish stereotypes.
But it was no great shock. There were Panorama investigations; there were leaked reports; there were news stories and widespread awareness of its existence among the general public.
Depressingly, the report confirmed what we already knew.
Keir Starmer, the new leader of the Labour Party, set out his stall on the first day of his leadership – he was going to root out antisemitism within the party and make sure that it would never rear its head again. Yesterday, he reasserted that claim by apologising on behalf of the Labour Party for the findings of the EHRC report and promising to implement all of the report’s recommendations for safeguards.
He also made a pointed remark to his predecessor by saying that those who think the antisemitism claims are “exaggerated or a factional attack” are “part of the problem”.
Jeremy Corbyn has a habit of making inauspicious timing something of an art-form. And, yesterday, he surpassed himself. Exactly half an hour before Starmer gave his press conference, Corbyn put out a tweet in response to the EHRC’s findings. It contained the following claim:
“One antisemite is one too many, but 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.“
So. Corbyn put his chips down as, “Yes, antisemitism is bad, but the whole thing was overblown because people didn’t like me.” He then gave an interview where he doubled-down on his statement, calling the antisemitism claims as “exaggerated”.
This appears to have gone down like a cast-iron buoyancy aid with Starmer. Six minutes after the interview was released, the Labour Party released a statement saying that Corbyn had been suspended from the party and that he had had the party whip removed.
In April of this year, Jeremy Corbyn was the leader of the Labour Party. Six months later, he is no longer a member of it.
For the Many…
Antisemitism has been around for a long time. Members of the socialist ideology dated as far back as the 1800s have had an inherent distrust of Jewish people, mostly through the lazy and ignorant generalisations that the Jewish people are wealthy bankers, gold-hoarders and capitalists.
And if there’s one thing socialists hate, then hoo boy is it capitalism.
That being said, it’s also extremely important to point out that most socialists disagree with capitalism, but aren’t racist. It’s just that antisemitism is particularly prominent in socialist circles compared with other ideologies.
Let’s be clear.
Racism in all forms is abhorrent. That should go without saying. That the former leader of the Labour Party allowed antisemitism to spread without trying to stop it with all his might is a pretty appalling state of affairs.
For the sake of balance, it is worth noting that the Conservative Party has a considerable, but far less-widely reported, problem with Islamophobia.
But turning our attention back to Labour, Starmer is seemingly hell-bent on eradicating antisemitism from the wider Labour Party, which is arguably more than can be said for the Tories.
Doing so might be harder than you’d think, however..
Where Do We Go From Here?
The Labour Party is now at war.
Just as the Conservative Party is a mix of moderates and hard-liners, so it is with Labour. The unions that used to back Labour financially are re-evaluating. Len McCluskey, head of Unite the Union, is a long-term ally of Corbyn and a devout anti-Starmerist. He also holds the keys to a considerable amount of Labour funding.
We might be about to see a Labour Party openly choose to move away from unionist backing. This, if it comes to it, is a very big deal.
But it was (probably) always going to come to this. An old-school, 1970s socialist with 1970s socialist backing was never going to beat a modernist, inclusive, former head of the Crown Prosecution Service when it came down to electability.
Starmer has set his line in the sand. Whether or not the party moves to meet him will rely entirely on his performance over the coming weeks. It’ll be fascinating to watch.
But it will also be distracting. Isn’t there a pandemic on?