There is now a full-blown civil war in Labour - Ayesha Hazarika
One of the proudest achievements of my life was to have helped draft the landmark Equality Act in 2010 which was the last piece of legislation the last Labour government passed.
We also wanted to boost enforcement of the new regime of anti-discrimination law by creating the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Never did we ever think that ten years later, Labour would be the ones being investigated, found in breach of our own law and found guilty of harassing and discriminating against Jewish people.
This report was much anticipated as was Keir Starmer’s response. I interviewed Starmer at the start of the leadership contest back in January for the Fabian Society and I asked him if he would take any action against Jeremy Corbyn if the EHRC report was damning. He squirmed and sensibly avoided the question by saying he couldn’t pre-empt the reports findings.
But it was clear, even this morning at his press conference that he was deeply uncomfortable with the idea of getting rid of or formally sanctioning his predecessor in any way. He batted away questions from the media in an arid lawyerly manner clinging to the fact that the report didn’t name or shame Corbyn directly. That gave him an alibi. Until Corbyn himself blundered into frame with the most spectacularly misjudged and ludicrous statement since he said Jews didn’t get irony. Corbyn’s statement – which he would have pondered over and taken advice on – showed no remorse, no responsibility and no shame. He doubled down by saying the “scale of the problem was dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents, inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media.” So, it was all a smear and if there’s any victim here, it’s him. Not the Jewish community who his loyal supporters attacked. Not the female Jewish Labour MPs who were abused and bullied.
Not Lucia Berger who was hounded out of the party when she was eight months pregnant and threatened with an acid attack. He’s the victim. He always is.
The news of Corbyn’s suspension came as a genuine shock. Many, myself included, didn’t think Starmer would have the guts because while this is no doubt his feel good, dramatic, Kinnock meets Clause IV moment, there will be repercussions. This is full blown civil war. This is making a martyr of Corbyn a man whose disciples will now make it their life’s work to thwart Starmer.
There are also critical internal elections happening right now for the National Executive Committee which is the board of the party. Starmer needs an NEC he can work with and who won’t sabotage his every move. There are also important elections to choose new General Secretaries in the trade union movement – powerful positions. He needs friends not foes to make Labour electable. This is not a fight Starmer was spoiling for.
He wants to be fighting the Tories not his own side. And he’s not a naturally aggressive, vengeful man. But he’s here now. And I’m glad. He’s made life much more difficult for himself and his team. But politics shouldn’t be about the path of least resistance, it’s about having a moral compass and being prepared to do what’s right.