(Bloomberg) — Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension from the U.K. Labour Party he led until April threatened to re-open divisions in the party after six months of relative calm under new leader Keir Starmer.
The U.K.’s main opposition took action against Corbyn on Thursday after he failed to accept in full the findings of an anti-Semitism probe by the Equality and Human Rights Commission that found the party broke the law on his watch.
Corbyn said on Twitter that he will “contest the political intervention to suspend me.” He was backed by the Socialist Campaign Group, a group of more than 30 Labour Members of Parliament — accounting for about a sixth of the parliamentary party — who pledged to “work tirelessly” for his reinstatement.
Corbyn’s suspension is “an act of grave injustice which, if not reversed, will create chaos within the party and in doing so compromise Labour’s chances of a general election victory,” Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite the Union, the party’s biggest affiliate and a major donor, said in a statement. “A split party will be doomed to defeat.”
It’s a moment of danger for Starmer, who has pledged to make Labour electable again after it sank to its fourth successive election defeat in December, and its worst since 1935. Corbyn’s five years in charge were beset with division — as well as allegations of anti-Semitism. The longtime socialist enjoyed grassroots support but had a fractious relationship with his own MPs, who tried to wrest back control of the party.
But a snap YouGov poll on Thursday showed 58% of Britons think suspending Corbyn was the right decision, compared to 13% who thought it was the wrong one. Of people who voted for the Corbyn-led party in last year’s election, 41% supported his suspension, versus 26% who opposed it.
Labour luminaries also lined up to praise the move. Former acting Labour leader Harriet Harman called Corbyn’s suspension “the right thing to do,” while Margaret Hodge, a Labour MP who went public with her concerns over anti-Semitism within the party, welcomed the move.
‘Enough Is Enough’
“Labour is finally saying enough is enough, anti-Semitism can never be tolerated in our party,” Hodge said on Twitter. “Now we can finally move on.”
Since taking control of the party, Starmer has focused on rebuilding relations with the Jewish community as he tries to turn Labour into a legitimate government-in-waiting. Though fraught with risk, the suspension will further distance Starmer from the previous leadership — though Boris Johnson’s Conservatives kept up their attacks on him as “Corbyn’s man” on Thursday.
Accusations of anti-Semitism severely hampered Labour’s bid for power under Corbyn, and the commission said in its report the party under his watch breached the Equality Act through its handling of complaints of anti-Jewish prejudice. It said there were “serious failings in leadership” and “political interference” in the handling of anti-Semitism complaints.
It also found two instances of unlawful conduct relating to the use of anti-Semitic tropes — using written or verbal phrases or images to suggest stereotypes — and to suggestions that complaints were “smears” and “fake.”
In response to the report, Corbyn said he did “not accept all of its findings” and that the problem was “dramatically overstated for political reasons” by the media and his opponents.
“One anti-Semite 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,” he said on Facebook (NASDAQ:).
That stance forced Labour to act, blaming both Corbyn’s comments and “his failure to retract them subsequently.” The suspension means the former leader will also no longer represent Labour in the House of Commons.
“I made it clear that we won’t tolerate anti-Semitism or the denial of anti-Semitism through the suggestion that it’s exaggerated or factional,” Starmer said after his predecessor’s suspension was announced. “That’s why I‘m disappointed with Jeremy Corbyn’s response, and that is why appropriate action has been taken which I fully support.”
‘Day of Shame’
Earlier Thursday, Starmer had called the report a “day of shame” for Labour, and apologized for the “pain and grief” caused to Jewish people. He pledged to implement the report’s recommendations in full and provide an action plan to the commission within six weeks.
He also issued the warning that gained significance with subsequent events: “Those who deny there’s a problem are part of the problem.”
The challenge for Starmer now is how to re-unite the party as Corbyn loyalists rally round their former leader, including his former finance spokesman, John McDonnell, and his former home affairs spokeswoman, Diane Abbott.
“On the day we should all be moving forward and taking all steps to fight anti-Semitism, the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn is profoundly wrong,” McDonnell said on Twitter. “In interests of party unity let’s find a way of undoing and resolving this.”
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