Labour “drifting towards a hell of a row”, John McDonnell warns

Elliot Chappell

John McDonnell has warned that the Labour Party is “drifting towards a hell of a row over use of language” after the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn over his statement on the Equality and Human Rights Commission report into antisemitism.

Commenting on the Labour leader’s remarks earlier today about the disciplinary action, the former Shadow Chancellor tweeted: “Keir Starmer this morning has rightfully said he doesn’t want a civil war in the Labour Party.

“Let’s be clear. Nobody does, but it seems we are drifting towards a hell of a row over use of language, misinterpretation, followed by overreaction.”

The former Labour frontbencher reminded people that, when he stood down from his shadow position earlier in the year, he had suggested that he wanted to be an “elder statesman” to the new leadership of the party.

He added: “Well here goes. My advice is that with a bit of explanation over what was meant in various statements we could all save ourselves a lot of unnecessary grief and get on with tackling Covid and job cuts.”

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”.

The comments from the Shadow Chancellor on the row follow those of backbencher Nadia Whittome, who has said she is “saddened by the suspension” but “cannot agree” with Corbyn’s statement on the EHRC report into antisemitism.

Posting on social media this morning, the Labour left MP wrote that she is “concerned that the decision to suspend Jeremy and remove the whip appears unjust and does more harm than good”.

But Whittome also argued that the Islington MP was “wrong” to have issued the statement he did in response to the release of the 128-page document on the handling of antisemitism complaints during his time as leader.

Starmer today defended the suspension of the former leader 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.”

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.

Hackney MP and longstanding Corbyn-ally Diane Abbott tweeted her opposition to the suspension on Thursday and said she will “work for his reinstatement”, arguing that “divided parties don’t win elections”.

The former Shadow Home Secretary has since shared a petition calling for the former Labour leader to be reinstated, urging members to sign and adding: “He has always stood with us. We must stand with him.”

McCluskey has said this morning that he hopes the party will “be able to resolve the matter”. He argued: “Yesterday should have been about moving on from antisemitism and embracing what the EHRC said, which Keir did.

“And unfortunately now we’ve all been knocked off the rails a little bit by Jeremy’s suspension. I think it was unjust and hopefully with discussions that can take place we can resolve it and we can all move on.”

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