Hodge: Suspension of Jeremy Corbyn will be “the making of Keir Starmer”

Andrew Kersley
© Ian Vogler

Margaret Hodge has praised Keir Starmer following the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn from the Labour Party and said the move “will go down in history as the making of Keir Starmer as one of our great leaders”.

During an interview with Times Radio this afternoon, the parliamentary chair of the Jewish Labour Movement said that the current Labour leader showed “strong, determined, consistent leadership” by suspending his predecessor.

She also suggested she wants to focus on the findings of the EHRC report but that after Corbyn’s response it was “almost as if he had deliberately set it up so that the report and its findings wouldn’t be the story but he would be the story”.

Asked about the decision to suspend Corbyn from the Labour Party, Hodge told listeners: “The lesson is really about Keir’s leadership. There are these moments in history where leaders make decisions and it could make or break them.

“And what Keir did yesterday – he showed strong, determined, consistent leadership and he took a decision, not because it was easy, not because he wanted to, but because he was right. I think it was a day that will go down in history as the making of Keir Starmer as one of our great leaders.”

Commenting on whether the move would cause more division in the Labour Party, the longstanding Corbynsceptic Labour MP said: “Well, to be honest, Jeremy Corbyn is standing on a platform where he is denying antisemitism.”

“How on earth can you have a throng of people behind you, supporting you, creating division in the party, when there is an independent report from a statutory body, the EHRC, saying that it’s there?”

She concluded: “I think the platform on which he’s trying to rally his troops is so outrageously awful that I cannot imagine that there are a lot of people, apart from the usual culprits, who will follow him.”

The EHRC concluded on Thursday that Labour is responsible for three breaches of the Equality Act – relating to political interference in antisemitism complaints; failure to provide adequate training to those handling them; and harassment.

Corbyn issued a statement in response to the report, which claimed the “the scale of the [antisemitism] problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party”.

A Labour spokesperson subsequently announced that Corbyn had been suspended, and the Parliamentary Labour Party whip removed from the Labour MP, “in light of his comments made today and his failure to retract them”.

Responding to his statement on the report, before the party announced his suspension, Hodge argued it showed Corbyn was in “permanent denial” about Labour antisemitism and said he had “shamed the Labour Party”.

Asked about antisemitism under Corbyn’s leadership this afternoon, she said: “I had come to the conclusion that I was looking at it wrong and that he had become irrelevant. That he was a man of the past and therefore we shouldn’t focus on him.

“That we should focus on the findings of the report and moving forward. And that’s where I started that morning, and then I read the report and it’s much tougher than I thought it was going to be.

“I thought it would be very bureaucratic and be all about processes and those sort of things but it wasn’t – it was tough, direct and clear. And it found that the Labour Party had broken the law on three counts and it talked about a failure of leadership.”

The Barking MP added: “And then Corbyn comes out with this statement – I haven’t got a clue. And my determination not to mention him on the day except in passing, well you just couldn’t avoid it… I couldn’t keep saying he’s irrelevant and a member of the past because he had made himself a member of the present.”

Several MPs and groups within the Labour Party, as well as trade union Unite leader Len McCluskey have argued that the suspension is wrong, and called on the Labour leader to reverse the disciplinary action taken against Corbyn.

Keir Starmer this morning defended the move from the party as “appropriate” but argued that he does not want a “civil war”. He said: “That’s the right action – difficult, very difficult action but the right action, which I fully support.”

Former London mayor Ken Livingstone said earlier on the same programme: “I agree with Jeremy Corbyn. There was a small problem of antisemitism, but it wasn’t endemic in the party.”

He also claimed allegations of antisemitism were “used against me because I was defending Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership”, that the EHRC report was a “scam” and that if he were wealthier he would be “suing them [the EHRC] for libel”.

The EHRC report said that Livingstone’s defence of Naz Shah, references to the Israel lobby and more “had the effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for members, and prospective members.”

It also found that one of the former London mayor’s cases was delayed in being reported to the Labour national executive committee (NEC) by officials due to “very difficult” political timing surrounding the case.

The EHRC report found that there were “unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination for which the Labour Party is responsible” and “serious failings in leadership and an inadequate process for handling antisemitism complaints”.

After repeatedly complaining to Labour about Corbyn but not finding that it would open an investigation, the Campaign Against Antisemitism formally referred the party to the EHRC in July 2018.

The EHRC decided that the threshold for a full statutory investigation had been met and launched a probe in May 2019 into whether Labour had “unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people because they are Jewish”.

The Labour Party has been served with an unlawful act notice. The party has six weeks to produce an action plan in response to the findings and recommendations of the report published today.

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