What to make of the latest bout of Labour in-fighting? (Or, as it might just as easily have been described: Part 197 of the The People’s Front for Judaea vs The Popular Front of Judaea.)
1. Corbyn’s allies have been saying for years that allegations of anti-Semitism against Labour Party members, even when true, have been weaponised by his opponents to do him down and derail the Corbynite project. There is an element of truth in this, though the Corbynites have rather conveniently ignored the difference between opposing his leadership because of the anti-Semitism and opposing the leader and using whatever weapon is available to carry forward that opposition. Corbynite complaints on this score might have been listened to more carefully had they ever conceded that concerns about anti-Semitism were genuine and not simply a Blairite conspiracy or pretext.
2. Corbyn ends his term as leader. The new leader, Sir Keir, immediately apologises for anti-Semitism within the Labour Party, says it’s a cultural issue and vows to make changes. The criticism of Corbyn, even if not made expressly, is obvious.
3. Shortly after – a mere matter of days – an internal report on how the Labour Party dealt with complaints of anti-Semitism written under the previous regime (and apparently prepared for the EHRC investigation into the Labour Party – but never sent, on legal advice) is leaked. Its thrust is that long-standing Labour staffers were hostile to Corbyn (and not just him, apparently, but other previous leaders) right from the start and did use the anti-Semitism issue to get at him and some of his key supporters.
4. How accurate or complete this report is is hard to say because its publication may well breach a number of data protection laws and/or expose the party to defamation claims from any number of the people mentioned in it. Some have already instructed lawyers.
5. The timing is interesting because (a) it is so soon after Starmer’s election; (b) it risks overshadowing what he has said on anti-Semitism. Indeed, it suggests (at least to some) that his apology may have been unnecessary or too fulsome. After all, why apologise to those who tried to undermine a leader who was overwhelming elected twice and had such loyal and passionate support within the party? And (c) it forces an internal fight on Starmer at a time not of his choosing.
6. It comes barely a day or so after Corbyn issued a curious statement saying that his long-standing membership of Labour had not stopped him supporting and fighting for other causes. As if this could possibly be a surprise to anyone? So why issue such a statement now?
7. Crucially, the leaked report helps reinforce a belief in the Corbynite faction of the party that: (a) the concerns about anti-Semitism were not genuine; (b) were deliberately used to undermine Corbyn; and (c) were responsible for preventing Corbyn’s GE victory in 2017. Doubtless, in time, this last view will be extended to the 2019 election as well. The cry that Labour staffers preferred a Tory victory to helping Corbyn has already been heard. Internal traitors – not voters – deprived Corbyn of the victory he deserved.
Thus is another “betrayal of the leader” meme born, a story beloved of – and regularly repeated by – every generation of Leftist Labour politicians. Whoever said that Labour owed more to Methodism than Marxism can hardly have anticipated the enduring hold which this particular Christian theme continues to have on a section of the left normally hostile to anything that traditional.
8. At the same time those who are concerned about how anti-Semitism was allowed to develop and spread within Labour will find plenty of material within this report to support their case. The report does not deny that there was anti-Semitism nor that complaints about it were badly handled. Its focus is on who can be blamed for this.
9. Alas, the acceptance that there was an anti-Semitism problem within Labour risks being overlooked in the arguments between factions – about process, transparency, about who has been named, about what has been said about them, by whom and why, about misquotes and context. A ferocious interest in detail, normally only found in obsessives or those paid to be so interested, is needed to understand what any of this means. A plague on both their factions will be the reaction of many, tired of this never-ending saga. Surely, surely, Starmer’s election has put an end to this? What are the “wailing Jews”(a description attributed to a Foreign Office official during WW2) complaining about now? There will be plenty whose reaction is to turn away, bored.
10. The reasons why this report was commissioned, written, not sent to the EHRC and what the legal advice around this was will be mind-boggingly complicated and of interest only to a few. But they will poison the working relationships within Labour and make the task of creating a Labour Party organization fit for purpose even harder than it might otherwise be. If the three key aspects which any new leader has to deal with are Policies, Organization and Presentation (as Charles Clarke has argued) Starmer can now be under no illusions about how tough the second of these will be and how it can adversely affect the third.
Meanwhile voters look on, if they do at all, at yet another incomprehensibly complicated internal Labour Party dispute and wonder when Labour will be interested in them rather than in its own navel.
So Cui Bono? And how does Sir Keir use this to his advantage?