Monday, November 23, 2020

Labour suspends Jeremy Corbyn over EHRC report comments | Politics


Labour has suspended its former leader Jeremy Corbyn after he said antisemitism in the party was “overstated” following a damning report from the equality watchdog.

The move is likely to ignite a civil war in the party between the leader, Keir Starmer, and Corbyn-supporting MPs.

The suspension was provoked by a statement from Corbyn that rejected the overall conclusions of the Equality and Human Rights Commission report, saying the problem was “dramatically overstated for political reasons” by opponents and the media.

That statement set the former Labour leader directly at odds with his successor. Moments after Corbyn’s statement was released, Starmer spoke at a press conference where he said those who “deny there is a problem are part of the problem … Those who pretend it is exaggerated or factional are part of the problem.”

Asked about Corbyn’s response to the report, Starmer told reporters he would “look carefully” at his predecessor’s comments. Two hours later, the party suspended Corbyn and withdrew the Labour whip.

A Labour spokesman said: “In light of his comments made today and his failure to retract them subsequently, the Labour party has suspended Jeremy Corbyn pending investigation. He has also had the whip removed from the parliamentary Labour party.”

The Equality and Human Rights Commission report found Labour responsible for unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination over antisemitism. It cites “serious failings in the Labour party leadership in addressing antisemitism and an inadequate process for handling antisemitism complaints”.

However, the former Labour leader said he had been obstructed by party officials in trying to tackle the issue. “One antisemite is one too many, but the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media.

“That combination hurt Jewish people and must never be repeated. My sincere hope is that relations with Jewish communities can be rebuilt and those fears overcome. While I do not accept all of its findings, I trust its recommendations will be swiftly implemented to help move on from this period.”

Labour’s former deputy leader Harriet Harman said Corbyn’s suspension was the right thing to do. “If you say that AS [antisemitism] exaggerated for factional reasons you minimise it and are, as Keir Starmer says, part of the problem,” she tweeted.

Before Corbyn’s suspension, Peter Mason, the national secretary of the Jewish Labour Movement, said Corbyn and Starmer’s words spoke for themselves and were clearly at odds. “Jeremy Corbyn does not have a future in the Labour party, he is yesterday’s man.”

Labour MP Margaret Hodge, JLM’s parliamentary chair, said Corbyn “sat at the centre of a party that enabled antisemitism to spread from the fringes to the mainstream”.

Pressed on whether he should remain in the party or face action after his statement, Hodge said Corbyn was now irrelevant to the party.

“There is an absolutely entrenched cultural challenge, and diverting it into somebody who is irrelevant in the Labour party today .. it just doesn’t matter,” she said. “What matters are the commitments that Keir Starmer gave today. Jeremy is part of the past. I want to move on.”

Corbyn said that when he took over as Labour leader in 2015, “the party’s processes for handling complaints were not fit for purpose”. He added: “Reform was then stalled by an obstructive party bureaucracy.”

He argued that from 2018 the party’s new general secretary, Jennie Formby, and his officials “made substantial improvements, making it much easier and swifter to remove antisemites. My team acted to speed up, not hinder, the process.”

He said: “Anyone claiming there is no antisemitism in the Labour party is wrong. Of course there is, as there is throughout society, and sometimes it is voiced by people who think of themselves as on the left. Jewish members of our party and the wider community were right to expect us to deal with it, and I regret that it took longer to deliver that change than it should.”

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