The dramatic suspension of a former leader of any mainstream political party is bound to be a traumatic event. There are few precedents for it – the last example of anything like it goes back to Ramsay MacDonald. Labour’s first prime minister had decided to form a “national” government with Conservatives and Liberals in 1931, to deal with a financial crisis, leaving most of his colleagues and the party behind. That was a bit much for his old comrades, who kicked him out, though MacDonald was apparently disappointed with their move.
MacDonald, though, was hardly loved by his party after his historic betrayal. Jeremy Corbyn, by contrast, commanded almost religious, cultish devotion among his followers. He was, in his own way, the leader of a populist insurgency, broadly speaking the Momentum movement, and some of that magical appeal touched the wider country at the 2017 general election, which boasted the biggest swing to Labour since 1945. The election of 2019 was a disaster, but few would argue that that justifies suspension.
The treatment of Corbyn seems almost designed to rile the left, and so it has proved. Sensible commentators warn that such macho displays of strong leadership as Keir Starmer is currently engaged in merely lead to civil war and the impression of a divided party – electoral poison, as the Tories came to discover over Europe.
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