Has Jeremy Corbyn really returned from exile?

By Oluwatomisin Ojomo |

Jeremy Corbyn’s return to politics will have a significant effect within the Labour party, which will inevitably undermine the credibility of Keir Starmer’s leadership.

In a video statement Starmer has backed his decision to suspend Corbyn, saying: “I want to unite the Labour Party, and bring our factions back together as a united party, but I made a very clear commitment to root out antisemitism and I’m going to follow through on that commitment. We cannot say zero tolerance and then turn a blind eye…”.

It felt like the world, or at least the Twitter community, exploded into debate when Corbyn’s 55 year Labour membership was suspended as a result of his unconventional reaction to the EHRC report. The report found that “Labour was responsible for unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination over antisemitism”, and Corbyn’s view that the reports were “dramatically overstated for political reasons” lead to his suspension.

“The decision to suspend corbyn and withdraw ‘the whip’, has triggered what most labour parliamentarians term as a ‘civil war’.”

Celebrations were short lived, after the Labour NEC panel reinstated Corbyn 19 days later. His departure spawned mounting pressures in the Party and calls for his reinstatement made his return almost prescient. However, the Jewish community weren’t too ecstatic over the news of Corbyn’s return since his leadership was drowned in Anti-Semitic scandals.

‘Labour NEC panel reinstated Corbyn as a Labour member’ | UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

The sentiment surrounding Corbyn’s return wasn’t an entirely positive one, and the Jewish community were disappointed. On the day Corbyn was reinstated Starmer tweeted, “I know that this has been another painful day for the Jewish community and those Labour members who have fought so hard to tackle antisemitism. I know the hurt that has been caused and the trauma people have felt”.

In light of his suspension , Corbyn released a formal apology stating,  “I hope this matter is resolved as quickly as possible, so that the party can work together to root out antisemitism…”. However , his apology has not been received well , especially by Marie van der Zyl, the president of the Board of British Jews, who perceives this as a “non-apology statement” .

The Jewish Labour movement condemned the decision to reinstate Corbyn and said that move would “embolden those who agreed with him” after he had “downplayed the reality of antisemitism in the Labour Party”. But Starmer soon made a move to restore the ebbing confidence of the Jewish community, in refusing to give Corbyn back ‘the whip’. Having ‘the whip’ withdrawn means that Corbyn is still a member of parliament, but he is not affiliated with the Labour Party.

Starmer’s decision to not fully reinstate Corbyn can be seen as keeping his commitment to “root out antisemitism”, but his real motivation is to prevent the scandal of antisemitism from defining his tenure as Labour leader. These actions would insinuate that instead of antisemitism, Corbyn is the main obstacle to Keir Starmer . Was this a political move against the socialist, or a defensive move against the perceived anti-Semite?

‘Corbyn is still a member of Parliament’ | Shane Rounce/Unsplash

The decision to withhold ‘the whip’ from Jeremy Corbyn has received resistance and disapproval from 32 Labour MPs, who sent out signed letters demanding the reinstatement of the ex-Party leader. In addition to this, Len McCluskey a Unite The Union leader, publicly condemned the decision of withholding Corbyn’s whip as “vindictive and vengeful” on Twitter.

The decision to suspend Corbyn and withdraw ‘the whip’, has triggered what most Labour parliamentarians term as a “civil war”. With John McDonell , former shadow chancellor of the Exchequer, condemning Corbyn’s suspension as “profoundly wrong” and Dianne Abbott, former home secretary, questioning the “due process” in the removal of ‘the whip’. Meanwhile, other prominent Labour members like Dame Margaret Hodge, support Starmer’s decision by saying “withholding the whip is the right decision”. The tensions from individuals in the Labour party represent a wider divide within the Party between the ‘British Jews’ and the hard-left sections of the Party. An indication that flies in the face of Starmer’s clarion call for unity.

Starmer is currently walking on a tightrope and if he falls one way too heavily, he will risk fuelling the burgeoning fire within the Labour Party. His decision to suspend and withhold ‘the whip’ from Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t seem to be on the premise of direct antisemitism per se, but on Corbyn and his reaction to antisemitism. The question of Sir Keir’s transparency regarding his decision is raised by prominent members, former shadow cabinet ministers and proclaimed socialists. To unite his party, the Labour leader has to recompense the damage done to Jewish party members, while listening to appeals to reinstate Corbyn or this event will end up subsuming his leadership.

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The views expressed in this publication are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Falmouth University, the University of Exeter or Falmouth & Exeter Students’ Union.