Jeremy Corbyn can be accused of many things but learning from his mistakes isn’t one of them. The former Labour leader has never wanted to know what he does not know. He does not rethink, therefore he is.
So don’t expect the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s withering verdict on the “inexcusable” antisemitism that poisoned Her Majesty’s Opposition on his watch to touch even the sides of his conscience. Published after an 18-month wait, the report would have anyone capable of self-criticism apologising like mad. Not this Monty Python Black Knight, armless and legless, still convinced it is but a scratch.
Far from a flesh wound, the EHRC has exposed the vital organs of a party that placed “the project” — the frenzied pursuit of pure socialism — ahead of everything else, including decency. It exposes two key breaches: direct interference from the leader’s office and failure to provide adequate training. Significantly, it also finds Labour guilty of unlawful harassment through Ken “Hitler supported Zionism” Livingstone.
The tone is set from the start: “Serious failings in leadership and an inadequate process for handling antisemitism complaints across the party . . . unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination for which the party is responsible . . . a culture which, at best, did not do enough to prevent antisemitism and, at worst, could be seen to accept it . . . evidence of unlawful political interference in the handling of antisemitism complaints . . . staff from the leader’s office influencing decisions on complaints and suspensions.”
In proving beyond any reasonable doubt that between 2015 and 2019 the party broke equality laws in its harassment of Jewish people, this report is not so much a smoking gun as a loaded AK47 with attached bayonet. In all the EHRC finds 23 instances of political interference by Corbyn’s team and others, vindicating former staffers who told BBC Panorama that there had been meddling at the highest level.
Labour under Corbyn provided fertile nesting ground for anyone who saw Jews as the embodiment of some sort of shadowy threat. Under a self-proclaimed lifelong anti-racist, conspiracy cranks and Holocaust deniers treated the party like their personal country club — the sort where the bar goes quiet when a Jew walks in.
This report is vindication for Jewish members of a party in which you could tweet about Zionists ruling the world while insouciantly standing as a councillor. A party that lost more marbles as it gained more members. The rank and file more than doubled in size under Corbyn, many with beliefs counter to everything Labour held dear since its inception. When a party leader calls Hamas his “friends”, don’t be surprised when it becomes a home for racists. A party in which a little posse calling itself Jewish Voice for Labour was assembled with one job: claim antisemitism allegations were fabricated and weaponised. The EHRC has buried that obscene lie once and for all.
Much has changed since the EHRC went to work 17 months ago. Sir Keir Starmer has turned the party upside down so its backside is no longer in charge, setting the tone with an early-doors decision to sack Rebecca Long Bailey from his shadow cabinet for sharing an article linking George Floyd’s death to Israel, precisely the sort of gumpf Corbyn provided cover for as leader.
The speed of Starmer’s decision to sack Long Bailey stunned a browbeaten Jewish community that was resigned to Labour members wittering about the unique wickedness of the Jewish state.
With Corbyn and his disciples consigned, there’s no need to plead with the party to say and do the right thing. Tellingly, the new sheriff in town invited the Jewish former Labour MP Ruth Smeeth to introduce his keynote speech at last month’s online party conference, which featured the line: “We will root out the antisemitism that infected our party once and for all.”
In his press conference yesterday Starmer went further, saying it was “a day of shame for the Labour Party”. He added: “We have failed Jewish people . . . Jewish members driven out of parliament, including Louise Ellman and Luciana Berger. I hear you. I will act. Never again will we fail to tackle antisemitism. The party I lead accepts this report in full.”
After inflicting Labour’s worst election defeat for almost a century, causing the humiliation of a High Court apology to antisemitism whistleblowers and sparking a litany of new legal cases that could yet bankrupt the party, Corbyn would have been wise to think carefully before rolling out his Monty Python routine within an hour of the report’s publication. As ever, he acted on reflex rather than reflection, blaming the scandal on “political opponents inside and outside the party” and “much of the media”.
His minions, meanwhile, will be equally obtuse or simply pass the buck. As someone high up in the party told me this week: “The hard left is so virtuous it will simply refuse to carry the moral deadweight of this nightmare on its shoulders.”
There’s no reason to not take Starmer at his word. His fitness for No 10 will be determined in no small part by his response. To be on the right side of history he must scorch the earth between then and now, investigate every outstanding antisemitism case (130 at the last count), expel the guilty and, if he’s really serious, expel Corbyn too. Not to punish his party but to guard against forsaking its raison d’être – its common decency – ever again.
This report should sit on the bookshelf of every Labour member, alongside Andrew Thorpe’s seminal A History of the British Labour Party, as a warning from history. A reminder of how a party that championed equality for 100 years was consumed by the oldest hatred.
First published by The Times.