Corbyn’s shadow darkens Labour

A YouGov poll for the JC reveals the challenge facing Sir Keir Starmer as Labour members still support Corbyn and insist that there is no antisemitism crisis


BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 21: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn attends the launch of the party's election manifesto at Birmingham City University on November 21, 2019 in Birmingham, England. The Labour leader launched the party's election manifesto promising to "transform" the UK and to renationalise rail, mail, water and energy. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

One year after Sir Keir Starmer vowed to purge Labour of the “poison” of antisemitism, an exclusive poll for the JC reveals a party that remains in denial about the scale of the crisis, with large numbers still in thrall to Jeremy Corbyn.

The YouGov survey found that 70 per cent of Labour members dismissed the party’s problem with antisemitism. In echoes of Mr Corbyn’s claim that the issue had been “dramatically overstated”, almost half  (46 per cent) thought the scale of the allegations were “exaggerated”, while 24 per cent said the party did not have a serious problem.

Significant support for the toxic former leader remains, with a striking 72 per cent of members insisting that he should not be expelled from the party.

Almost a third of those polled, 29 per cent, thought that Sir Keir was doing a worse job than Mr Corbyn, who quit in 2020 after leading Labour to its worst general election defeat since 1935.

The poll also disclosed that hostility towards Israel remains rampant amongst Labour’s rank-and-file, with almost half of respondents (49%) agreeing with the suggestion that Israel is an “apartheid state” .

The revelations highlight the scale of the challenge that still faces Sir Keir, who pledged on his first day as leader to tear antisemitism out by the roots and restore trust with the Jewish community.

YouGov polled more than 1,000 party members to see if Labour had faced up to the scale of the crisis gripping their party. 

The revelations come despite a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) last October which found “significant failings” in Labour’s handling of antisemitism complaints and concluded that it had broken the law.

Labour Against Antisemitism insisted that the party needed a “culture change”.

A Labour spokesperson said: “There is absolutely no place for antisemitism in the Labour Party and we are committed to rooting it out. Under Keir Starmer’s leadership we are getting on with implementing our action plan agreed with the EHRC, and working hard to restore the confidence of the Jewish community.”

LONG READ: A year after Starmer took over, Labour still denies its Jew hate problem

By Jake Wallis Simons, Deputy Editor

The explosive new YouGov poll commissioned by the JC this week will make sober reading for Sir Keir Starmer and his supporters. Twelve months ago, when he took over as Labour leader, Sir Keir vowed that he would remove the cancer of antisemitism from the party. But our revelations disclose the harsh reality: his party is not with him. 

The figures don’t lie. Seventy per cent of the membership continues to deny that the party has a serious antisemitism problem, despite the landmark EHRC report which found it had harassed and discriminated against Jews. In a particularly stinging blow for Sir Keir, 72 per cent of members said they did not want Jeremy Corbyn expelled, even though his leadership saw a surge in alleged Jew hatred before receiving the mother of all drubbings at the ballot box in 2019.

And while 61 per cent of members thought that Sir Keir is a more effective leader than his predecessor, almost a third, 29 per cent, insisted that he is doing a worse job than Mr Corbyn – madness to all but the hard left’s most faithful.

In a particularly alarming development for the Jewish community, YouGov’s polling, carried out between 17 and 24 March, revealed the extent to which ordinary Labour members still dismiss or downplay the antisemitism crisis that exploded under Mr Corbyn’s four-year rule.

Only 23 per cent of those questioned agreed with the statement that the “Labour Party has a serious problem with antisemitism and the extent of the problem has not been exaggerated”. In contrast, almost half, 46 per cent, accepted there was a problem but said it was exaggerated, while 24 per cent believed Labour did not have a serious problem with anti-Jewish discrimination at all.

Despite Labour’s adoption of the internationally recognised definition of antisemitism, our study exposed overwhelmingly hostile attitudes to Israel by ordinary Labour members.

There was apparently a widespread acceptance among the membership that Israel is an institutionally racist country. 

Almost half of Labour members, 49 per cent, agreed with the statement that it was an “apartheid state”, despite it being a multi-ethnic democracy with equal rights for all its citizens under the law, in contrast to all other countries in the region. 

By contrast, just 35 per cent of respondents thought that Israel was not an apartheid state.

In every area, the findings were stark. Sixty-one per cent of members said that they supported the controversial BDS movement, which calls for Israeli goods to be boycotted and UK companies to withdraw investment from the Jewish homeland, despite it not being Labour policy. More than a quarter, 27 per cent, were “strongly supportive” of BDS while a further 34 per cent said they were “somewhat supportive”. 

Only three per cent of members said they were “strongly opposed” to the aims of the BDS movement, while five per cent said they were “somewhat opposed”. 

The bombshell findings today highlight the scale of the challenge facing the new leader, who has a mountain to climb in his bid to purge the party, restore trust with the Jewish community and improve Labour’s prospects at the ballot box.

Elected a year ago this Sunday, Sir Keir promised in his first speech as leader that he would rip antisemitism out “by its roots”, adding that he would judge his success by the return of Jewish members. But his attempts to clean out the party have fuelled a bitter civil war within Labour.

YouGov polled more than 1,000 Labour members to assess rank-and-file attitudes to antisemitism in the wake of the EHRC report published last October, which ordered the party to overhaul its complaints processes. 

The powerful 130-page report, branded Labour’s “day of shame” by Sir Keir himself, found “significant failings in the way the Labour Party has handled antisemitism complaints” with “specific examples of harassment, discrimination and political interference”.

Mr Corbyn became the first former leader in Labour’s history to be suspended after downplaying the findings. He caused outrage by claiming that the problem had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons” by opponents. 

The former leader was readmitted by the governing NEC just two weeks later, but has so far not had the party whip restored.

With almost a third of members maintaining their loyalty to Mr Corbyn, it is clear that his successor needs to face down a substantial hard-left faction within his own party that remains fiercely at odds with his attempts to take Labour back to the centre ground of British politics.

Writing in today’s JC, former Labour Minister Ian Austin – who resigned from Labour in 2019 in protest over its failure to tackle antisemitism – said the YouGov findings made for depressing reading.

The chairman of the anti-extremism campaign group Mainstream UK said:  “Sir Keir took the Labour whip off Corbyn and is taking action against antisemites. But the pace is too slow, there is much more to do and, as the JC’s poll shows, it is far too early to give Labour a clean bill of health.”

A spokesman for the campaign group Labour Against Antisemitism added: “While progress in tackling antisemitism was not expected to be easy, it is concerning that so little appears to have changed during a year of Sir Keir’s leadership. Our activists are reporting as many incidents as before, while the expulsion rate for serious cases of antisemitism is lower than a third. That’s a long way from the zero tolerance policy that Starmer has promised. 

“Doing just enough will not be enough: the antisemitism crisis requires a categorical and substantial culture change across the Labour Party that does not appear to have even begun yet.”

A Labour spokesperson said:  “There is absolutely no place for antisemitism of any form in the Labour Party and we are committed to rooting it out. 

“Under Keir Starmer’s leadership, we are getting on with implementing our action plan agreed with the EHRC, and we are working hard to restore the trust and confidence of the Jewish community.

COMMENT: The hard left must be beaten

By Ian Austin

I want to be fair to Keir Starmer.  He’s clearly a huge improvement on Jeremy Corbyn and no one could say he is an extremist or an antisemite. 

His poll ratings are higher than his party’s, even though the pandemic prevents him introducing himself to the country. He took the Labour whip off Corbyn and is taking action against antisemites.  But the pace is too slow, there is much more to do and, as the JC’s poll shows, it is far too early to give Labour a clean bill of health.  

Even after the EHRC proved the Labour Party broke the law in its treatment of Jewish people, seven out of 10 members still think there is no antisemitism in the party or that it has been exaggerated.  

Corbyn’s toxic leadership saw people on the extreme fringes welcomed into Labour. Worse, well-meaning but naïve young people who would usually have campaigned on mainstream concerns such as food banks or homelessness and defended people from racism were taught to dismiss antisemitism as a Jewish plot. 

Half the members think that the Middle East’s only democracy is an apartheid state and 60 per cent support targeting the world’s only Jewish homeland with boycotts. Expelling people responsible for overt anti-Jewish racism is one thing, but what will the new Labour leadership do to ensure members take a reasonable approach to Israel? 

The party needs to work with the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel to educate members about anti-Jewish racism and teach them the truth about Israel and its relationship with the UK. 

It obviously needs to speed up the disciplinary processes and expel the hard left who poisoned the party, starting with Corbyn and John McDonnell. The hard-left was tolerated as an irrelevant and harmless fringe under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, but Labour clearly can’t revert to its traditional complacency. Anything less and the public will wonder whether they could seize control again. 

All of this is not just the right thing to do, but necessary if Labour is to have any chance of winning elections again. Brexit and Corbyn were the biggest factors at the last election but lots of lifelong Labour voters also refused to vote for a party that had been poisoned by anti-Jewish racism.  

Is it possible to sort this problem out? It will take a long time and real determination, but let’s hope so.  

Britain needs a choice between decent political parties, both capable of running the country; lifelong Labour voters who turned away in disgust need a political home; and, most of all, Britain’s Jewish community have the right to choose who to vote for on the basis of issues other than antisemitism. 

Lord Austin is Chair of Mainstream, the campaign against extremism and the UK Trade Envoy to Israel

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