The publication of the Equality and Human Rights Commission report, followed swiftly by the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn, has caused a stir in the Labour Party. The damning 128-page document concluded that Labour was responsible for unlawful breaches, which made Thursday, as Keir Starmer declared, a dark day for the party. But the following news cycle has been less focused on the findings of the report than the disciplinary action taken against the former Labour leader.
Labour suspended Corbyn following his statement on the report into Labour antisemitism, in which he argued that “the scale of the problem was dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party”. He went on to say in a subsequent interview that he was not “not diminishing or minimising the issue of antisemitism”, but again said “the size of the issue” had been exaggerated in the media. Some Labour MPs and members have since rallied around the former Labour leader. But the response has not been the same from all on the left.
A tweet from the Socialist Campaign Group’s social media account, the body of Labour left MPs in parliament, declared on Thursday afternoon that they “firmly oppose the decision to suspend Jeremy Corbyn” and have pledged to “work tirelessly for his reinstatement”. But reports quickly emerged that not all in the left-wing SCG group had been consulted on the post. One member said it was “ill-advised to issue the statement” and explained that they were waiting to find out the grounds on which Corbyn had been suspended. (We still don’t know this crucial bit of information.)
This difference set the tone for the left as more MPs tentatively contributed to the debate. It seems that while many believe the suspension is wrong, not all agree that Corbyn’s statement was wise. Nadia Whittome MP, for example, has said she is “saddened” by the suspension but “cannot agree” with Corbyn’s statement on the EHRC report. Meanwhile, John McDonnell has warned that Labour is “drifting towards a hell of a row over use of language, misinterpretation, followed by overreaction”.
The response to the dramatic events has been mixed. 20 of the 33 SCG MPs (not counting Corbyn himself) have, at the time of writing, yet to comment on the suspension of the former Labour leader. Another five have simply retweeted the initial SCG post calling for his reinstatement, while others such as Ian Lavery, Kate Osborne, Zarah Sultana, Bell-Ribeiro-Addy and currently-suspended Claudia Webbe have taken to social media condemning the disciplinary action but giving no comment on what Corbyn said.
Then there are others on the Labour left, such as MP Clive Lewis, who has criticised Corbyn’s EHRC report statement. The Norwich South MP and brief 2020 leadership contender appeared to agree with journalist Rachel Shabi that the comments of the Islington MP were “ill-advised, to put it mildly” and it is “beyond frustrating to see Labour yet again descend into factionalism over this [antisemitism] issue and thus torpedo the EHRC report”.
Silence from many of the Labour MPs is not entirely surprising. Labour MPs were warned ahead of the report’s release that they were not to wade into any discussion of it unless they have been specific requested by the party to do so. There have been few remarks in response to EHRC beyond endorsing its recommendations. The action taken yesterday by the Labour Party in suspending Corbyn suggest the warning was a serious one. Clearly many Corbynite MPs are keenly aware of the danger that making any comment on the substance of Corbyn’s statement could lead to their own suspension – and there is a reluctance to speak out when it is possible the situation could be resolved.
This makes the wording of a petition circulating in support of Corbyn important. It offers no comment on his argument or the scale of Labour’s antisemitism problem. It simply states: “We call for Jeremy Corbyn to be reinstated into the Labour Party.” A call that left MPs and Labour members will feel safer rallying to. Launched four hours ago, the petition is nearly at 6,000 signatures, every one a reminder of the strength of feeling towards the 2017 and 2019 Labour candidate for PM.