It is of course entirely Labour’s business who it allows to be a member. But while the decision is Labour’s, the lessons of that decision are ours to draw. And the lesson of tonight’s decision to allow Ken Livingstone to remain as a member – albeit suspended for another year – is that under its current leadership, Labour allows its members to say whatever they wish about Jews.
It’s important to remember that the disciplinary hearing last week and today was not an inquiry into the history of Hitler and Zionism. For one thing, no such hearing was needed. Mr Livingstone’s account was historical bunkum, backed by not a single serious historian.
But the hearing wasn’t about history; it was about the past year, in which Mr Livingstone has toured radio and TV studios spewing forth bile about Jews and Hitler that could not, in the words of Jeremy Newmark of the Jewish Labour Movement, have been more precisely calibrated to offend Jews. He was charged with bringing the party into disrepute. By allowing him to remain a member, the party has made clear it does not consider such behaviour to be unacceptable.
The truth is that had he been a UKIP member, he would have been expelled for his actions. That is the state of Labour today: more tolerant of bigotry than UKIP.
Not that anyone should be surprised. The JC has had the unpleasant task over the past year of reporting a seemingly unending series of antisemitic words and deeds by Labour members, and the party’s response has been simply to shrug its shoulders.
The die was cast in January when the party decided to drop all action against members of Oxford University Labour Club who had been accused of antisemitism. Labour’s own inquiry under Baroness Royall recommended disciplinary action. But the party decided to ignore her, and to rule in effect that the right of members to be bigots was more important than the right of the victims of that bigotry to be protected from it.
So it was a very easy path to tonight’s decision that Mr Livingstone, a man with a career-long history of having trouble with Jews, should be told that he was a welcome member of the Labour Party.
I left the Labour Party in 2007, so it is no longer my party. But I feel for those many Jewish members who have stayed to fight for decency. It is not for me to tell them what to do. But I cannot see how it is possible any longer to pretend that Labour is the same party it was. Under Mr Corbyn, a poison has corrupted its soul.
Today is a shameful day for a once great party.