Jeremy Corbyn Is Right to Defy Starmer’s Left-Bashing Agenda

Jeremy Corbyn is running as an independent in the UK general election after Keir Starmer blocked him from running for Labour. From Palestine solidarity to the Green New Deal, Corbyn will be a voice for causes that Starmer has driven out of Labour.

Jeremy Corbyn addresses tens of thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters at a rally on May 18, 2024 in London, United Kingdom. (Mark Kerrison / In Pictures via Getty Images)

With an election campaign underway, Keir Starmer rammed through the selection of Praful Nargund, a private health care entrepreneur, as the Labour candidate to run against Starmer’s predecessor Jeremy Corbyn in the London constituency of Islington North.

Starmer had already made it clear that he was going to block Corbyn from seeking the Labour nomination for a seat that he has represented since 1983. When Corbyn declared his intention to run as an independent against the party he first joined as a teenager, the issues that he highlighted spoke volumes about the political character of Starmer’s leadership.

Corbyn called for the scrapping of the two-child benefit cap, which Starmer has vowed to maintain. He promised to “never take donations from private healthcare” and “always defend the principle of free, universal healthcare” — an unmistakable allusion to Starmer’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting, who is gearing up to reward the private health care interests that have funded his own political operations so generously.

From public ownership of utilities to the Green New Deal, Corbyn’s election pitch was full of ideas that Starmer once claimed to champion but has long since repudiated. The logic behind Corbyn’s exclusion is very simple. Starmer wants to show all those who benefit from Britain’s current economic model that he will do nothing to change it as prime minister.

Picking Daisies

Unsurprisingly, Starmer offered a very different rationale for the move when he spoke to the British media. One comment in particular stood out for its sheer absurdity: “I think Jeremy Corbyn’s days of commenting on what the Labour Party is doing are over.”

It was vintage Starmer: snotty in tone, nonsensical in content, as befitting a man who has been carried on a sedan chair to his current political status yet still acts like a sulky teenager on the rare occasions when he has to explain himself. Needless to say, the Labour leader has no authority to stop Corbyn (or anyone else) from “commenting on what the Labour Party is doing,” however much he might want to do so.

The Labour leader also claimed that he blocked Corbyn as part of his commitment to “tear antisemitism out of our party by the roots.” Starmer has used this melodramatic turn of phrase before, and his factional ally Luke Akehurst borrowed it for an essay that we can take as the official view of Labour’s self-proclaimed “new management.” Akehurst managed only to demonstrate how right Corbyn was when he observed that the prevalence of antisemitism in the Labour Party had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons” by his opponents.

According to Akehurst, the current Labour leadership inherited 1,026 outstanding disciplinary cases from Corbyn and his team, with 65.89 percent of those cases “related to antisemitism.” This would mean a maximum of 676 cases that were “related to antisemitism,” or 0.15 percent of Labour’s total membership as of July 2022. According to Akehurst, 17.84 percent of the 1,026 cases resulted in expulsion — that would amount to 183 people, or 0.04 percent of the 2022 membership.

Akehurst is the director of a pro-Israel lobbying group called We Believe In Israel, and his understanding of what it means for a case to be “related to antisemitism” could cover anything from Holocaust denial to support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. He also did not claim that all — or even most — of the 183 expulsions were “related to antisemitism” in any way.

Even if we disregard those very important qualifications, we are left with Akehurst’s official verdict on behalf of Team Starmer: they inherited a miniscule problem from Corbyn and found the job of “tearing antisemitism out by the roots” to be as onerous as picking daisies.

Labour Party Disciplinary Cases, May 2020 to July 2022 (Figures: Luke Akehurst)

Labour membership, July 2022 450,000 100%
Total disciplinary cases 1026 0.23%
Cases “related to antisemitism” 676 0.15%
Cases resulting in expulsion 183 0.04%
Cases resulting in no further action 137 0.03%

Hodge and Herzog

The question of what it means for a case or a controversy to be “related to antisemitism” has always been fundamental to the debate about Corbyn’s leadership. Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza has shone an especially unforgiving light on the discursive Potemkin village that was built up from 2015 onward as part of a successful campaign to delegitimize the British left.

Without exception, Corbyn’s most fervent critics on the British political scene have been equally strident in their support for the ongoing massacre in Gaza. From the Board of Deputies of British Jews to Labour Friends of Israel, from the Jewish Chronicle to the Campaign Against Antisemitism, they have all been running interference for Benjamin Netanyahu’s war crimes and flinging charges of antisemitism around like burgers at a high-school food fight.

Their modus operandi is identical to that of prominent groups on the other side of the Atlantic such as the Anti-Defamation League under the leadership of Jonathan Greenblatt. Like Greenblatt and his allies in the United States, they recklessly conflate support for Palestinian rights with hostility to Jewish people under the rubric of what they call the “new antisemitism.” The result is a complex of political ideas that demonizes figures such as Corbyn and Rashida Tlaib while providing cover for the Euro-American far right.

In the British context, a defining moment for this school of thought came in January of this year, when Labour Friends of Israel brought several MPs on a trip to express their solidarity with Netanyahu’s government. The Labour politicians included Margaret Hodge and Ruth Anderson, two of Corbyn’s most indefatigable opponents.

Hodge, Anderson, and their colleagues posed for a photo with Israeli president Isaac Herzog, whose bloodthirsty rhetoric was cited by the International Court of Justice when it ordered Israel to prevent genocide and incitement to genocide.

Last week, Herzog railed against another legal institution, the International Criminal Court, when it sought arrest warrants for Netanyahu and his defense minister Yoav Gallant. The president claimed that his country’s government was “working to fulfil its duty to defend and protect its citizens entirely in adherence to the principles of international law.”

It was Hodge who sent Labour’s antisemitism controversy into the stratosphere during the summer of 2018 with a carefully planned outburst directed against Corbyn. When she tells us that she stands in full solidarity with a figure like Herzog, we should believe her and draw the appropriate conclusions about her worldview.

From Definition to Defamation

The pretext for Hodge’s outburst in 2018 was the highly controversial definition of antisemitism promoted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which the Labour leadership was reluctant to adopt without modifications. Earlier this month, the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would enshrine the IHRA definition in law.

The bill forms part of a wider effort to repress solidarity with the Palestinian people. The politicians who voted for it see the definition, which is mainly concerned with regulating speech about Israel, as an important weapon they can deploy against the Palestine solidarity movement.

While Hodge’s chief priority seems to have been a desire to expunge any trace of left-wing influence from the domestic scene in Britain, she was very happy to trample on the Palestinians in the course of doing so. The same point applies to her political allies on the Labour right, who seized upon false allegations of antisemitism as a way of pushing back against Corbyn and the left after the 2017 general election.

There is a straight line running from the choice they collectively made and Starmer’s tenacious support for Israeli war crimes over the past seven months. They may not have expected it would go this far — or that Starmer would end up paying a political price for his stance — but there is no sign of any remorse or self-criticism in these circles. At any rate, we should dismiss the vestigial pretense of moral indignation they direct toward Corbyn with the contempt it deserves.