UK Labour turns on its own former leader over anti-Semitism
The British Labour Party has suspended its former leader, Jeremy Corbyn, in the wake of a damning report that found the party failed to take sufficient action against allegations of anti-Semitism during his time in charge.
Mr Corbyn was leader of the opposition from September of 2015 to April of this year, when he was replaced by Sir Keir Starmer.
For much of his tenure, the party was plagued by allegations of anti-Semitism within its ranks, and accusations that he was doing too little to combat it.
He suffered a heavy defeat in last year’s UK election, losing seats to the Conservative government led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
In its report, published today, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found Labour responsible for unlawful acts of “harassment” and “discrimination”.
It condemned “serious failings” in the party’s leadership when it came to addressing anti-Semitism, and said there was “an inadequate process for handling complaints”.
In addition, the EHRC found there had been 23 instances of inappropriate interference in the complaints process by staff in Mr Corbyn’s office, some of which happened “because of likely press interest rather than any formal criteria”.
The commission’s lead investigator, Alasdair Henderson, laid much of the blame on Mr Corbyn himself.
“As the leader of the party at the time, and given the extent of the failings we found in the political interference within the leader of the opposition’s office, Jeremy Corbyn is ultimately accountable and responsible for what happened,” he concluded.
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Mr Corbyn responded to the report by claiming the problem had been “dramatically overstated” by his factional opponents inside the party, along with the news media.
“One anti-Semite 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. That combination hurt Jewish people and must never be repeated,” the former leader wrote on Facebook.
“My sincere hope is that relations with Jewish communities can be rebuilt and those fears overcome. While I do not accept all of its findings, I trust its recommendations will be swiftly implemented to help move on from this period.”
He blamed “an obstructive party bureaucracy” for stalling efforts to overhaul Labour’s process for handling complaints during his leadership.
“My team acted to speed up, not hinder the process,” Mr Corbyn insisted.
“Anyone claiming there is no antisemitism in the Labour Party is wrong. Of course there is, as there is throughout society, and sometimes it is voiced by people who think of themselves as on the left.
“Jewish members of our party and the wider community were right to expect us to deal with it, and I regret that it took longer to deliver that change than it should.”
Mr Starmer was asked about that statement from his predecessor shortly after Mr Corbyn posted it. He told reporters he would “look carefully” at what Mr Corbyn had said.
“If, after all the pain, all the grief, and all the evidence in this report, there are still those who think there’s no problem with anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, that it’s all exaggerated, or a factional attack, then frankly, you are part of the problem too,” he added.
“And you should be nowhere near the Labour Party either.”
More broadly, Mr Starmer described the report as “a day of shame for the Labour Party”.
“We have failed the Jewish people, our members, our supporters and the British public,” he admitted.
About two hours later, the party announced Mr Corbyn had been suspended.
“In light of his comments made today and his failure to retract them subsequently, the Labour Party has suspended Jeremy Corbyn pending investigation. He has also had the whip removed from the parliamentary Labour Party,” a party spokesperson said.
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That move sparked an immediate backlash from Labour members supportive of Mr Corbyn, while others within the party applauded it.
“I will strongly contest the political intervention to suspend me,” Mr Corbyn himself said, reacting to the suspension.
“I’ve made absolutely clear those who deny there has been an anti-Semitism problem in the Labour Party are wrong. I will continue to support a zero tolerance policy towards all forms of racism.”
Former deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman was among those supporting the party’s decision.
“If you say that anti-Semitism was exaggerated for factional reasons you minimise it and are, as Keir Starmer says, part of the problem,” Ms Harman said.
Margaret Hodge, a Labour MP, said Mr Corbyn had “sat at the centre of a party that enabled anti-Semitism to spread from the fringes to the mainstream”.
Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell, on the other hand, called Mr Corbyn’s suspension “profoundly wrong”.