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But who was behind the iceberg?

Jeremy Corbyn sails into deep water with the EHRC

Three hours on Thursday morning made clear the difference between Labour’s last leader and its current one. Jeremy Corbyn is an idiot. Keir Starmer isn’t.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report into the Labour Party under Corbyn’s leadership had been utterly damning. It presented a serious problem for the former leader but also for the current one. Starmer, after all, had sat in Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet. After years in which the MPs who had left the Labour Party over antisemitism had the wisdom of their actions doubted, suddenly it was the MPs who had stayed who faced the tricky questions. 

Starmer’s excuse for this, always understood among Labour MPs, was that the party needed someone sensible acting as Shadow Brexit Secretary, and so at least one sensible person needed to stay in the shadow cabinet. But in the press conference following the publication of the report, Starmer was repeatedly asked how he defended not resigning, and what he would do about Corbyn. His answers were evasive. 

It was like the captain of the Titanic complaining that no one gave him credit for getting first class passengers into lifeboats

Some wanted him to punish Corbyn, but given that the EHRC report condemned interference in disciplinary matters by party leaders, he couldn’t directly intervene. This kind of thing is, however, the kind of thing that lawyers are good at.

“If after all the pain, all the grief, and all the evidence in this report, there are still those who think there’s no problem with antisemitism in the Labour Party, that it’s all exaggerated or a factional attack, then frankly you are part of the problem too, and you should be nowhere near the Labour Party.” Starmer had said in his opening statement. Were we misreading this, to think it was addressed at one man? Here’s some rope, Jeremy, on the off-chance that you want to go and hang yourself. Will it be enough?

It would. Corbyn’s time in office was marked by his determination, at every opportunity, to make every mistake he could. In an interview broadcast shortly afterwards, he didn’t disappoint. 

The real victim in all this, Corbyn explained, was as ever, Jeremy Corbyn. The EHRC “don’t acknowledge the work that I did to ensure there were proper processes brought into place.” Funny, that. Why did Labour suddenly need proper processes for dealing with antisemitism in 2015?

It was like listening to the captain of the Titanic complain that no one gave him credit for the work he did to ensure that many first class passengers got into lifeboats. Indeed, time and again, people used the issue of the giant hole in the ship as a way to personally attack the captain, without ever expressing any gratitude for the terrific rendition of “Abide With Me” that the band was playing in the most difficult circumstances.

It seems likeliest that Starmer was present, but not involved in the suspension of Corbyn

Were there antisemites in the party? “The number’s been exaggerated, in my view,” he opined, carefully tying the noose and then slinging the rope over the tree. “The public perception in an opinion poll last year was that one third of all party members were somehow under suspicion of antisemitism. The reality is it was 0.3% of party members had a case against them.” People were saying there were holes all over the ship, but in fact there was only this big one right here. 

A more thoughtful person than Corbyn – try, if you can, to picture such a person – might consider that going into an election with the public under the impression that a third of your members are Jew-haters might not be something you wanted to draw attention to. Indeed, they might think of it as an indictment of your leadership all by itself. But such a person would be missing the point. Why, in reality only around 1,500 people were under investigation! 

“One antisemite in the party is one antisemite too many,” Corbyn said, without getting round to explaining why potentially having more than a thousand of them wasn’t much of a problem. 

And even as this interview was being broadcast, our phones pinged: Corbyn had been suspended from Labour. In one move, the current leader’s tricky questions about complicity in Corbyn’s time running the party were gone. Decisive action had been taken. 

Who exactly took it is an interesting point, because Starmer had been clear that it couldn’t be him. And yet it’s impossible to imagine that his view wouldn’t have been sought. It seems likeliest that, to borrow one of Corbyn’s better phrases, Starmer was present, but not involved.

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