Division in the Labour Party: Starmer’s recent struggles

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Volunteer writer Maciek Anielski explains the recent developments in the Labour party and just how divided (or unified) it is

Having won the Labour leadership election by an overwhelming margin, Keir Starmer was ready to begin his rebranding of the Labour Party. He would unite party members, ending years of factionalism under Jeremy Corbyn, and take a firm stance against the antisemitism which had tainted the party under the previous leadership.

In some ways, his approach has succeeded.

More people claim to want to vote for Labour now than they did during the general election. The Labour party has gained 6% in YouGov polling since the election and reduced the Tory’s polling advantage from 12 points to 0.

Keir Starmer’s detractors will say that these developments were inevitable, given the Conservative government’s shambolic handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Starmer has proven himself capable of exposing the Government’s inadequacy, whether that be by showing Boris Johnson up at Prime Minister’s Questions or calling for a circuit-breaker lockdown weeks before the Government agreed to introduce one. Polling by YouGov again reflects his success as leader, giving Keir Starmer a 5 point lead against Boris Johnson as of the writing of this article.

Despite these successes, Starmer’s goals of uniting the party and leaving the stain of antisemitism behind have gone thoroughly unmet, in fact they seem altogether mutually exclusive.

On the 25th June, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Corbyn ally, retweeted an interview with Maxine Peake, in which the actor espoused an antisemitic conspiracy theory. When she refused to remove the tweet, Starmer promptly fired her from her position. This was in line with his “zero tolerance” policy towards antisemitism but sparked anger among the Corbynite wing of the Labour party who saw Long-Bailey as a key advocate for their positions.

As members of the Socialist Campaign Group pushed for Starmer to reinstate Rebecca Long-Bailey, the Labour leader had to choose between appeasing the socialist wing of the party or maintaining his pledge of a zero tolerance policy towards antisemitism. He chose the latter.

He did so again on the 29th October, the day the Equalities and Human Rights Commission published their report on antisemitism in the Labour Party.

The report found “significant failings in the way the Labour Party has handled antisemitism,” and “serious failings in leadership,”.

30 minutes after the EHRC published the report, Jeremy Corbyn made a statement in which he stated that antisemitism is “absolutely abhorrent,” and “one anti-Semite is one too many,” however he then 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 much of the media,”.

This was 30 minutes before Keir Starmer made his own statement, which said that those who believe that antisemitism in the party had been “exaggerated” or was a “factional attack” were “part of the problem” and “should be nowhere near the Labour Party”.

After refusing to revoke his statement in direct contradiction to the official labour party position, David Evans, the party’s general secretary, suspended Jeremy Corbyn from the Labour Party pending investigation.

This prompted a huge backlash from Corbyn supporting labour members, with Momentum, a campaign group, holding a virtual rally titled “Stand with Corbyn” and claiming that Corbyn’s suspension was “a naked attack on the left”.

The Labour Party reinstated Corbyn on the 17th November with a formal warning. Many saw the swift nature of the investigation as a slap in the face. The Labour Party had delayed or simply never addressed numerous complaints filed by Jewish people previously. This, compounded with the fact that Corbyn had never apologised for his original statement, caused great anger among Jewish organisations, with one, the Jewish Labour Movement, calling the decision to readmit Corbyn “extraordinary”.

Keir Starmer refused to reinstate the former leader’s whip, ensuring that Corbyn can no longer stand as a Labour MP.

What the past year has shown is the deep political divides present in the Labour Party. Attempts to reconcile a tough stance on antisemitism with unity have become near to impossible with prominent figures pushing back and refusing to apologise for alleged antisemitism. More and more Corbyn supporters see accusations of antisemitism as political attacks on politicians they identify with. They also feel silenced by the leadership, who have increasingly cracked down on local parties discussing issues related to Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension and the removal of his whip.

It will be interesting to see how Starmer deals with this problem. Will he extend an olive branch to the socialist wing of the Labour Party, at the risk of appearing soft on antisemitism, or will he push back, strengthening his position of zero tolerance?

Comments by Angela Rayner, Keir Starmer’s deputy, claiming that “thousands and thousands” of Labour members could be suspended unless they “get real” about antisemitism suggest Starmer is leaning towards the latter.

 

Header designed by Christos Alamaniotis – Assistant Head of Design

Article edited by Connor Wade – Politics Editor

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