The Labour Party is clamping down on its own members for showing solidarity with Jeremy Corbyn and speaking out against attacks on the left.
An increasing number of party members are being suspended from membership for debating motions on Corbyn. They appear to include NEU union officer Louise Regan, suspended on Friday for allowing a motion to be debated at her local Labour meeting in Nottingham.
Labour general secretary David Evans had told members and MPs they are banned from discussing Corbyn’s suspension from the party.
Evans—backed by Labour leader Keir Starmer—has also barred them from disputing the findings of a report into Labour’s handling of antisemitism.
Evans used the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) report to justify the ban. He said motions expressing solidarity with Corbyn made meetings unsafe and unwelcoming for Jewish people.
Right wing national executive member Luke Akehurst called for anyone proposing motions to be reported to Labour headquarters “so they can take action.”
Some 36 constituency Labour Parties (CLPs)—out of more than 600—have defied the ban and passed motions in support of Corbyn. Similar motions were ruled out of order at another 16 CLPs.
Regan was suspended almost within hours of allowing a motion to be discussed as chair of the Nottingham East CLP on Friday evening. The motion demanded that Corbyn be allowed to sit in parliament as a Labour MP.
It also called for an end to disciplinary measures used against party members for supporting Corbyn, and for democratic debate and discussion to be allowed.
Nottingham East MP Nadia Whittome—considered to be on the left of the party—tried to shut down the debate, calling it “wholly unacceptable.”
Elected officials at other CLPs have also reportedly been suspended. They include those of Bristol West CLP, whose annual general meeting has been cancelled at short notice by Labour’s south west regional office.
Evans suspended Corbyn from the Labour Party at the end of last month. Corbyn had correctly said the scale of antisemitism inside Labour had been exaggerated by the right for political reasons.
Corbyn was since reinstated to Labour—but will not be allowed to sit as a Labour MP until he apologises.
The right want Corbyn to admit that his left wing politics—and in particular his support for Palestinians—is to blame for antisemitism.
Their latest assault lays down a challenge to left wing MPs who say they support Jeremy Corbyn.
MPs including John McDonnell, Diane Abbott and Richard Burgon were set to speak at an online meeting in support of Corbyn on Saturday evening. Some trade union leaders have also hit out at Starmer. The Bfawu union is consulting its members on whether to disaffiliate from Labour.
Yet so far those MPs and union leaders have encouraged Corbyn to accept the findings of the EHRC report, and to make concessions and apologies.
They have encouraged Corbyn to deal with the attacks on him through legal challenges—not to take them on politically. And they refuse to rebel against Starmer’s leadership, instead pleading with him for “unity”.
Labour adopted a definition of antisemitism in 2018 that ruled out Palestinians’ rights to call Israel a racist state. Now—after the EHRC report—the right could claim that motions criticising Israel make Labour meetings hostile and unwelcome towards Jewish people.
At an online rally, Justice for Palestine, fighting racism & defending the left, Leah Levane of Jewish Voice for Labour spoke out against the clampdown.
“Standing up for Palestinian rights should not be linked to antisemitism. These issues are separate,” she said. “Israel claims to act in the name of all Jews but it does not act for me and many others of us.”
She added, “Something is seriously wrong when people like John McDonnell continue to ask Jeremy to apologise again and again and keep apologising.
“It has made it harder for us all to fight generally.”
Ben Jamal, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said the attacks on the Labour left were linked to a bigger attempt to discredit opposition to Israel.
“This project of deligitimisation is founded on an attempt to reframe the Palestine solidarity movement—to recast it as something fuelled by hatred and antisemitism,” he said.
Regan also spoke at the rally just before the CLP meeting she was suspended over. She spoke about the need to keep organising in solidarity with Palestinians.
“We have a duty to speak out about what we see in Palestine and to tell the world about the situation they are living in.
“We must always stand with the oppressed and never with the oppressor.”
The attacks—and the retreats of left MPs—show its increasingly impossible for left wing activists to do that inside Labour. The best place to fight for Palestine is outside.