Letter: Corbyn’s Labour and anti-Semitism

Responding to the review of his book, Labour, Anti-Semitism, and the Destroying of an MP, in the December-January edition of Socialism Today (No.254), Lee Garratt disagrees with Judy Beishon’s insistence that what was needed was a broad fightback by Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour left leadership against the Blairites. Instead, he says, “a very simple step would have been for the left to call out blatant lies as lies. It is my opinion that, if the left leadership in the PLP had done this consistently, the whole issue would have never gained momentum… no organised ‘fightback’ would have been needed as it would have been a non-issue”. (Socialism Today No.255, February 2022)

I fully agree with Judy’s stance but rather than simply repeat it I will endeavour to add to it within the context of the book’s remit, namely, ‘the anti-Semitism crisis’.

The New Labour project led by Tony Blair – removing Clause Four; demoting annual conference from a decision-making body; demoting the crucial role of the affiliated trade unions; and promoting pro-big business policies – transformed the Labour Party into a capitalist organisation. Consequently, Jeremy Corbyn’s 2015 leadership election manifesto, essentially, anti-austerity and ‘empowerment of the membership’ in running the party, threatened to undo Blair’s handiwork. Immediately Corbyn’s manifesto became visibly popular with hundreds of thousands joining the party, the Blairites mounted a fightback.

According to the internal Labour Party report, ‘The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit (GLU) in relation to antisemitism’, leaked to the media in April 2020, thousands of Corbyn supporters were denied membership and/or eligibility to vote in the leadership election by the party’s bureaucracy, namely the GLU, under the auspices of Ian McNicol, the Blairite then general secretary of the party. The report states the reasons given for non-admittance were various and arbitrary, but one reason was particularly significant. Applicants were wrongly accused of anti-Semitism. These supporters brought this miscarriage to the attention of Jeremy Corbyn; unfortunately, he chose not to act upon this evidence during the leadership contest or after he was elected leader in September 2015.

The following year, as part of the continuing offensive against Corbyn’s leadership, the Blairites forced a second contest. Again, tens of thousands of Corbyn supporters sought to participate in the election; again the GLU resorted to its previous means of denial; and again unsubstantial allegations of anti-Semitism were given as reasons for exclusion.

This time Jeremy did respond and commissioned the Chakrabarti Report, providing guidance on dealing with complaints of antisemitism against party members. He welcomed the report at a press conference on 30 June 2016, presented it to the national executive committee (NEC) who agreed upon its implementation, and then submitted it to the GLU to put into practice its recommendations. Instead, the unit set it aside on the basis they were ‘on top of the issue’ so there was no need to change the modus operandi. Jeremy had the authority as leader and with the NEC mandate to rebut this refusal; he chose to reluctantly accept.

The report was not acted upon until two years later, when Jeremy managed to remove McNicol as general secretary and replace him with Jennie Formby in April 2018. Understandably it took several months to create a team willing and capable to adopt appropriate procedures for anti-Semitism complaints, whatever the number. However, by 2018, it was too late. In the intervening period Blairite MPs in collaboration with Jewish organisations led by opponents of Corbyn, supported by a compliant press and media, had established the lie that a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party was anti-Semitic, as ‘fact’. This exemplified the saying ‘a lie is halfway round the world before truth has got its boots on’.

The ‘anti-Semitism crisis’ began in 2015 and continued throughout Jeremy’s leadership, was only part of the Blairite armoury. Even if Lee’s “very simple step” had rendered anti-Semitism “a non-issue”, it would not have changed the outcome of the 2019 general election. That was more likely determined by Jeremy’s step-back from his 2017 commitment to ‘respect the Brexit vote’ and, under pressure from the Blairites and the so-called ‘anti-Brexit left’ supporters in the Labour Party, conceded a second referendum in which John McDonnell publicly stated he would campaign for remain.

A sense of betrayal amongst ‘left behind’ working class Labour supporters was generated, and by the time of the 2019 general election, palpable.

John Merrell, Leicester