Labour's antisemitism tangle

Submitted by AWL on 5 August, 2020 - 8:00 Author: Keith Road
Starmer and Corbyn

More than ÂŁ300,000 has been donated to a fundraising page to help support Jeremy Corbyn if a legal case goes ahead over the leaked Labour antisemitism report or the Panorama programme produced by John Ware.

Keir Starmer has already settled the Panorama legal cases with the whistle-blowers featured in the documentary, several of whom are heavily criticised in the pro-Corbyn leaked report. Corbyn has criticised the decision. He claims the move to settle was political rather than legal and that Labour had a strong defence case.

Regardless of the merits of the legal case against the former party workers, Starmer’s decision to settle has some logic. With the report from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) on Labour and antisemitism about to be published, he does not want to drag the party through the court fighting over the politics and actions of the previous regime.

There is no good reason to endorse all the claims or potential claims by ex-staffers, by Ware, or by people identified as complainants in the leaked report (there could be upwards of 40 pending actions). Private rumblings that some will accept the expulsion of Corbyn from Labour for dropping their cases are also a distraction. That seems extremely unlikely.

The leadership will make a calculation as to how many cases can be settled without bankrupting the party. It is not in the interests of the left for Labour to be made penniless. Whatever happens, lots of lawyers will have made a lot of money from this debacle; let’s minimise that.

Even so, it seems more “Corbyn cult” than effective leftism that the settlements have generated an outrage that continues to minimise the issue of antisemitism and instead raises over a third of a million pounds for someone who is after all in the top 3% of earners. On 2 August, in an interview with the Observer, Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey said that Unite would reconsider its donations to Labour in light of the settlements. He was supported by the Chair of the Socialist Campaign Group, Ian Lavery MP.

But for any trade union to fund the sort of legal cases now looming would be a scandal in the midst of job cuts and economic instability. That McCluskey sends out a warning over this, rather than actual social policies of Unite which the Labour frontbench is shelving, demonstrates a problem.

Momentum has promoted the crowdfunder and rubbished the EHRC on social media. There may be some merits to their criticism (to do with departures from the EHRC in 2012), but, after making no criticism of the EHRC from 2012 until just days before the report is produced, this smacks of “whataboutery”.

Workers’ Liberty argues for the left to take antisemitism in its own ranks seriously. We plan further meetings on the topic after the report is released. The current leadership has yet to lay out its strategy for tackling antisemitism. It is likely to include a shake-up of disciplinary procedures. We argue that, to tackle the problem the priority must be political education, discussion, and debate, with expulsions only as a supplement and for the most egregious cases of antisemitism. Battles over court cases will leave the real issues unresolved.

• The 21 July Labour NEC was told a report will come to the September NEC about launching a new Labour Students organisation. The old Labour Students, controlled by the right through gross manipulation, was disbanded by the NEC in September 2019.

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