The contradictions at the heart of the row over Corbyn’s reinstatement

Sienna Rodgers

Labour frontbencher Anneliese Dodds told BBC Radio 4 this morning that the decision by a panel of five national executive committee (NEC) members to readmit Jeremy Corbyn under the current disciplinary system “indicates that that process is not the right one”. Steve Reed on Wednesday said the NEC ruling showed that “the system isn’t fit for purpose”. Keir Starmer has remarked that the complaints process “does not have the confidence of the Jewish community” and that this “became clear once again” following the reinstatement of his predecessor.

Yet every active Labour member knows of complaints that have made no progress for months and even years. The party acted to expedite Corbyn’s high-profile case, whereas it hasn’t done so for Pete Willsman, for example, who only just vacated his NEC place. The responsibility for this haste lies with party headquarters. Southside is headed by Starmer ally David Evans, who was the leadership’s pick for general secretary, and it can be assumed that the steps for Corbyn’s case coming before the NEC quickly were overseen by Labour’s new executive director of legal affairs who was Starmer’s head of compliance during the leadership election.

Implying that the NEC panel based its Corbyn reinstatement decision on factional motivations amounts to throwing those ruling body members under a bus, considering that the speed and framework for the process – and indeed the choice of panel members – was the responsibility of party officials. And this blame game makes even less sense in light of talks during Corbyn’s suspension between Corbyn allies such as Len McCluskey and the leader’s office. The latter insists that no deal was struck and what took place was merely lobbying, but the speed of Corbyn’s case was a pro-active decision taken by the party and the outcome of the panel was predictable. This is the first key contradiction.

The thread posted by Gurinder Singh Josan, a pro-Starmer NEC member elected on the Labour to Win platform who was one of five NEC members who considered Corbyn’s case this week, highlights the second key contradiction. He has suggested that it would be “prudent to consider halting all further disputes panels pending the implementation of an independent complaints process”. This idea touches on the absurdity of the leadership’s current position, which at once says the NEC-driven process is not fit for purpose and at the same time intends to clear the backlog of antisemitism cases using this same system.

Labour is facing a dilemma. One route is to do as Starmer’s spokesperson suggested this week: carry on concluding cases, including antisemitism complaints, under the current non-independent system. But as complaints could simply be resubmitted once a new process is set up and nobody trusts that they are being handled correctly right now, this is an enormous waste of time for NEC members who take up their roles as volunteers and – thanks to leaks leading to public criticism – have just been given more reason to be cautious about putting themselves forward for disputes panels.

The other route would be to pause Labour’s processing of internal complaints until a new, EHRC-approved system is in place. Nobody is certain as to how exactly this will unfold, however, as a rule change – required to change the complaints process – would usually need conference approval. A party conference is not set to take place until September 2021 (and Starmer supporters do not want to hold an earlier special conference as it is assumed this would involve recalling 2019 delegates). The EHRC recommendations are legally mandated, the equality body does expect Labour to implement them before September and Starmer now has stronger support on the NEC – but this circle hasn’t yet been squared, and there are no good options for what to do in the meantime either.

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