Socialist Worker

Labour ban on Chris Williamson raises questions about a Corbyn government

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2680

Chris Williamson has been attacked by the Labour right and supporters of Israel

Chris Williamson has been attacked by the Labour right and supporters of Israel (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The Labour Party’s national executive has refused to endorse Derby North MP Chris Williamson as a general election candidate. It made the decision by 20 votes to five on Wednesday.

The move will anger and demoralise some Labour activists who would otherwise be fighting hard for Labour and Jeremy Corbyn in the general election campaign.

Williamson’s seat will now be contested by an alternative official Labour candidate.

He has been a Labour member for 43 years, but has faced a battery of legal and internal party manoeuvres designed to force him out.

In February he was suspended while he was investigated over complaints of antisemitism. He was accused of this very serious charge for booking a room in parliament for the Jewish Voice for Labour group.

The group had planned to show a film about accusations of antisemitism made against Labour Party activists.

Williamson faced further accusations for telling a Momentum meeting in Sheffield that Labour had been “too apologetic” in the face of accusations of antisemitism, and given “too much ground”.

Neither of these things are antisemitic. Williamson’s suspension was the latest culmination of attempts by the right to paint Labour—and the rest of the left—as riddled with antisemitism.

His supposed crime was to openly challenge that.

On 26 June a panel made up of members of the party’s national executive considered his case,lifted his suspension,and issued a “formal warning” to him.

But following a ferocious backlash from the Labour right and supporters of Israel, two days later another panel reversed this decision and suspended Williamson again.

Last month the High Court in London ruled that this “resuspension” of Williamson was illegal.

But he remained suspended because of new charges that party officials had levelled the week before his court hearing.

Overturn

The judge did not overturn the new suspension.

This week the national executive said he couldn’t be a candidate but has not expelled him. However, it has not yet taken a decision on whether disgraced MP Keith Vaz can stand.

Corbyn and the left have faced increasing accusations of antisemitism ever since he was elected Labour leader in 2015. This is based on their support for Palestinians.

An intense campaign by the right persuaded the Labour Party to adopt a definition of antisemitism last year that restricts legitimate criticism of Israel.

It was these sort of concessions that Williamson rightly said were “too defensive”. He wanted the party to refute them, not bend to them.

Perhaps some hope that the party’s disgraceful treatment of Williamson will at least stall the barrage of claims about antisemitism. It won’t. Instead it will encourage more assaults from the Tories and the Labour right during the election.

They will scream about why Williamson wasn’t dumped earlier, and why he hasn’t been expelled.

Labour Against Antisemitism is a group that describes the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign as antisemitic. On Wednesday its spokesperson, Fiona Sharpe, said that action against Williamson was “too late in coming and totally inadequate”.

She added, “Mr Williamson should have been expelled from the Labour Party years ago, when his views first started appearing in public.”

There will be increased calls for Williamson’s expulsion, and manufactured outrage if it doesn’t happen.

Giving in to false claims only encourages those who make them. Labour should have stood up for Williamson—and the Palestinians.

Corbyn and his supporters would face far fiercer opposition from bosses and the Labour right if they form a government. If they crumble over this issue, it must raise questions about how they would respond to that.


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