In Depth

Was suspending Jeremy Corbyn the first big misstep of Keir Starmer’s leadership?

Former leader readmitted to party but will not have Labour whip restored

Jeremy Corbyn has been reinstated to Labour following his suspension from the party but will not have the whip restored - meaning he will no longer sit as a party MP.

The decision to resume Corbyn’s 55-year membership less than three weeks after the former party leader was suspended over an anti-Semitism row has been “hailed by his supporters”, but “threatens the shaky truce with Jewish Labour members and concerned MPs”, The Guardian says.

Acknowledging these tensions, current leader Keir Starmer yesterday tweeted that the decision marked “another painful day for the Jewish community and those Labour members who have fought so hard to tackle antisemiticism”.

What has happened with Corbyn’s party membership?

Corbyn was suspended at the end of October after an inquiry by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) concluded that Labour was “responsible for unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination” during its handling of anti-Semitism complaints.

In response to the watchdog’s report, Corbyn issued a statement claiming that the “scale of the problem” was “dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media”.

Following the suspension of any Labour member, the evidence against them is investigated by Labour staff in the party’s Governance and Legal Unit (GLU). The GLU then gives its recommendations to a panel of five members of the National Executive Committee (NEC).

In other words, the NEC, rather than Starmer and his team, made the decision to reinstate Corbyn.

And Starmer has announced that despite his reinstatement as a member of the party, Corbyn will not resume the Labour whip and will not sit as a Labour MP. In a tweet earlier today, the party chief wrote that his predecessor had “undermined and set back our work in restoring trust and confidence in the Labour Party’s ability to tackle antisemitism”.

However, Starmer added that “I will keep this situation under review”. 

Meanwhile, supporters of Corbyn have “seized on a clause in the Labour Party rulebook that states that Labour MPs must also be members of the parliamentary Labour Party” - which they claim means that he “was automatically returned to the Labour whip after he was readmitted to the party”, The Times reports. 

James Schneider, Corbyn’s former director of strategic communications, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “it would be a decision for the leadership to now withdraw the whip if that’s what they wanted to do”.

And the reaction?

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, a close ally of Corbyn, has welcomed the former leader’s readmission as the “correct, fair and unifying decision”.

“As a party we now move forward to implement the EHRC’s recommendations and redouble our efforts to inspire voters about Keir’s 10 pledges and the transformation of our nations into fairer places for our people,” McCluskey tweeted.

In a further show of support, five Labour councillors in Lancaster resigned from the party last night just minutes before Corbyn was reinstated, in protest against his treatment. The group insisted the surprise move had not altered their position, and described Corbyn’s suspension as “an unjust attack on a decent man and an attack on the Left”.

But the decision to welcome him back has caused anger too.

The Guardian reports that “at least one Labour MP” told colleagues on Tuesday night that they felt “betrayed” by Corbyn’s reinstatement and were “considering their position in the party”.  

The Jewish Labour Movement (JVM) has also expressed anger over the “extraordinary” move, which the group claims was the work of a “factionally aligned political committee”.

Labour MP Margaret Hodge has condemned the decision too, saying: “I simply cannot comprehend why it is acceptable for Corbyn to be a Labour MP if he thinks anti-Semitism is exaggerated and a political attack, refuses to apologise, never takes responsibility for his actions and rejects the findings of the EHRC report.”

Has Starmer made a strategic misstep?

The Labour leader has a “tight window to decide what to do about Corbyn, if he is to avoid handing Boris Johnson a gift”, The Telegraph says. But “it is how it plays out in his own party that will probably be the bigger concern”.

The BBC’s political correspondent Iain Waston argues that whichever decision Starmer had taken, “criticism would have followed”.

“Putting Labour under fresh leadership hasn’t silenced or banished those still supportive of the old leadership,” Watson writes, but reinstating Corbyn “was bound to attract criticism from those cheered by his suspension”.

All the same, Corbyn’s return should “smooth Starmer’s efforts towards unity with the left of the party” following a turbulent few months, says The Guardian.

Sounding a less positive note, the New Statesman’s political editor Stephen Bush suggests that entire drama surrounding Corbyn’s membership has been “an unmitigated disaster” for Starmer, and “will do nothing to repair relations with Britain’s Jewish community”.

Starmer is not “trusted by the party’s Corbynite wing, in part because of Corbyn’s suspension”, Bush writes. “But in having been outplayed in the party’s internal structures and institutions, he has not won any new allies either.”

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