The day was grim. The report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission on antisemitism in the Labour Party had just been published. The hurt felt by the Jewish community was exposed for all to see. The hurt wasn’t cooked up by Labour members or a right-wing media disenchanted with Labour’s then leadership. It was happening. In real time. There for all to see, at least by those who didn’t turn a blind eye or believe it’s always someone else’s fault.
Keir Starmer apologised on behalf of Labour. Promised to implement the report’s recommendations in full. He was measured and passionate in his response. He was right. This is about values. He was clear with those who deny there is a problem or pretend it is exaggerated that they are a part of the problem too. There is no room in the party for those who believe antisemitism has been blown out of all proportion when Jewish people are hounded out of the Labour Party. Any decent leader would take the same stance as Starmer.
Labour’s leader during the time antisemitism blighted the movement did not take the same stance. Jeremy Corbyn failed the test. His statement was not an apology. He believed antisemitism was exaggerated by his political opponents. He didn’t agree with all of the report’s findings. He was part of the problem. The Labour Party was right to suspend him.
What angers me the most, on a day that was supposed to be about the victims of antisemitism and the start of a healing process, is that Corbyn ensured Thursday 29 October 2020 was about him. What more can be expected from a man who apparently believes the rules don’t apply to him? His actions were part of a trend. From defending an antisemitic mural to attending a wreath ceremony for terrorists, a trend that took the Labour Party to the brink of oblivion in December 2019. A trend, with his suspension, the Labour Party has a chance to break for good.
Corbynism, in all its guises, needs to become an annex of Labour history, where future historians read the pain expressed in every word written and shudder with horror as they put down the book and say never, ever again.
Labour now has the chance to claim the future with the party’s patriotism a given and aspiration at the core of our beliefs. Eventually, the party will once more be seen as a credible government because it will be seen as a credible opposition. Competence, like credibility, is a rare commodity in today’s politics and wasn’t on the ballot paper in December 2019.
The last election revealed the failure of British politics. The electorate was faced with a choice between an incompetent and dogged candidate and an equally incompetent chancer. The incompetent chancer won. Boris Johnson is now discovering he may be able to lie his way through an election campaign, but not through government. There is no oven-ready deal. Brexit will not be “done”. The pandemic, difficult for any government to handle, is proving to be horrendous when the response is led by a prime minister who may be fit to campaign but who is not fit to govern.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission report was a watershed moment for the Labour Party. A time to atone. The suspension of the former leader for his lack of contrition is part of that process. Labour’s swift action didn’t just mean the suspension of an individual member. A world view was also suspended, a world view anathema to many Labour supporters, who felt betrayed and reacted accordingly at the ballot box. Labour needs now to decide whether it wants to suspend that world view permanently.
Labour has a choice. Either we reinstate a values system that believes we can pick and choose the rules we want and ignore the rest, or we can knuckle down, plot a path to government using sound Labour values that echo with those of our natural supporters, then we can remove a Tory administration driven by cynical intent and inept in practice.
I choose the latter course, because the former belongs in that annex of Labour history under the heading: “The Corbyn Era – incompetent and morally bankrupt.”
Phil Wilson succeeded Tony Blair as Labour MP for Sedgefield, until the 2019 election
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