JLM conference: Starmer’s frustration and Rayner’s warning to members

Sienna Rodgers
© Ian Vogler
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To what extent do local Labour parties need to be constricted in the wake of the Equality and Human Rights Commission report on antisemitism? This is the question many activists are now discussing. The EHRC did not find the party to be institutionally antisemitic because this was not in its terms of reference – it did find a culture that “at best did not do enough to prevent antisemitism and, at worst, could be seen to accept it”. General secretary David Evans has essentially said this culture needs to improve before local parties can be trusted to conduct discussions around “flashpoints”, such as Jeremy Corbyn’s whip, without making Jewish members feel unsafe.

Riverside Labour was subsequently told that a motion expressing no confidence in Evans himself was not allowed. It is also in this context that the Friday evening meeting of Nottingham East Labour took place, which considered a motion calling for the whip to be restored and led to a Jewish member leaving after being confronted with denial of antisemitism. Local MP Nadia Whittome, who opposed considering the motion in the meeting, has written a piece for LabourList reflecting on party democracy and making Labour welcome to Jewish members. The Socialist Campaign Group member says “nuance, clarity and empathy” are needed in this discussion on limits.

Making Labour safe was one focus of the Jewish Labour Movement’s one-day conference on Sunday. In conversation with Ruth Smeeth, Keir Starmer spoke of events in recent weeks. “I’m deeply frustrated that we’re in this place,” he said. The leader described Corbyn’s EHRC response as “just about as bad as you could get” and said it “undermined me and what I was trying to achieve”. Starmer also suggested the party should “look again” at the rule that would usually ban anyone who stood against Labour candidates in the last election from rejoining for five years, to make exceptions where applicants had quit over antisemitism. (Such exceptions are already in the gift of the national executive committee, but this is a nonetheless interesting comment as it sheds light on Starmer’s goals.)

Angela Rayner delivered the most strongly worded statements of the day. The deputy leader called on Labour members to “get real” about antisemitism in the party and warned that “thousands and thousands” could be suspended if they fail to do so. She also made clear that there is “no debating what the EHRC said” and criticised Corbyn, saying: “I don’t think Jeremy really quite gets how upsetting it is”. In response to her comments on suspending thousands of members, John McDonnell tweeted that such “inflammatory, threatening language is exactly what we don’t need”.

This week, might we finally see a Brexit deal struck? Starmer has now ruled out voting against a deal, but the question of whether Labour votes in favour or abstains – if the government does indeed get a deal and put it to a Commons vote – is still to be answered. There is also a key vote on the new Covid rules on Tuesday. Labour had been keeping its cards close to its chest but yesterday Jim McMahon ruled out voting against the restrictions: again, it is a question of whether Labour supports the government or abstains. We will be following all of these developments and more, so stay tuned. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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