Sir Keir Starmer is ready to step up his campaign against “morally repugnant” antisemitism within his party because he is convinced he will not become Prime Minister without winning this fight, sources close to the Labour leader have told the JC.
The former Director of Public Prosecutions has already developed a plan of thoroughgoing changes to the party’s structure to deal with anti-Jewish racism, the JC can reveal. Sir Keir will use the imminent publication of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report into allegations of institutional antisemitism in Labour as a legal framework to force through major changes to the party’s structures.
The findings of an independent inquiry into a leaked report into Labour’s handling of antisemitism under previous leader Jeremy Corbyn are likely to prove “a help rather than a distraction” when published next month, one source insisted.
“Sir Keir finds antisemitism morally repugnant - but he also wants to become Prime Minister,” said the source.
“He has absolutely nothing to lose by aggressively trying to sort this mess out. Politically it will show him to be strong and it’s doing the right thing.”
“Keir’s a realist,” said another senior party source. “He knows Labour cannot win an election with the stain of antisemitism still hanging over it.
“He will come straight out and say I am the leader of the Labour Party and I accept all the things this report says. It is a statutory body, so we have to accept it, and we are going to implement it all.”
In a key development the JC has learned that strategists connected to Sir Keir’s close-knit team are exploring plans for a special one day party conference – to be held early next year – to deal specifically with issues relating to recommendations made in the EHRC report.
Sir Keir told the JC in April of his decision to “begin work immediately” to establish an independent complaints process to deal with antisemitism and other disciplinary cases within his party.
If, as expected, the EHRC report recommends that Labour establish an independent complaints process, Labour’s rule book is such that such a move would have to be voted through at a party conference.
This year’s conference, which was planned for September, has been postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Discussions have already begun about staging the conference at possible venues such as the Birmingham NEC or even in the newly constructed Nightingale Hospital site in London.
“This all depends of course on rules around social distancing being relaxed enough at this point for a conference like this to be ahead,” explained a source.
But another Labour source close to Sir Keir warned that the conference may backfire, telling the JC: “There is a real risk of any rule changes not being passed if you look at the current makeup of the party.”
Meanwhile in move designed to help speed up the backlog in dealing with antisemitism complaints, a trusted ally of the Labour leader has already been moved into the party’s Southside headquarters in central London as a “management enforcer” to ensure that allegations of anti-Jewish racism are properly dealt with. The JC has agreed not to name the member of staff, who has worked closely with Sir Keir in the past.
Speaking to the JC last week Sir Keir insisted he had “already taken step” to try to tackle a backlog of over 130 outstanding complaints into alleged antisemitism from party members.
“Labour’s compliance unit are now being very closely managed,” a party source told the JC. “For anyone seeking to stay in their jobs it would not be sensible to disobey the new managers’ requests. The manager has also been given the power to step in and make decisions himself about cases if need be.”
In a further effort to speed up Labour’s disciplinary machine, Sir Keir has asked the National Executive Committee (NEC), which rules on what action to take, over cases to meet weekly rather than monthly as now.
The JC has reported on a string of new disciplinary cases, resignations and expulsions over antisemitism allegations in recent weeks. Last week Bristol University Professor David Miller resigned from Labour blaming “the Zionist movement” only weeks after he was suspended from the party (over allegations that did not involve antisemitism claims).
Although Sir Keir has a slim majority on the NEC, it is still packed with pro-Corbyn loyalists. Huda Elmi, a Constituency Labour Party representative, called for the EHRC to be scrapped after it announced it was investigating Labour. Darren Williams, another CLP rep on the NEC, has repeatedly denied antisemitism was a problem under Mr Corbyn. And Pete Willsman, who claimed Israel was behind the antisemitism row in the party, would return to the NEC if his suspension from the party was lifted.
But sources close to Sir Keir believe they can keep their majority over crucial decisions relating to anti-Jewish racism and the EHRC. They point to role of trade unions such as GMB on the NEC who are now solid supporters of “doing the right thing on antisemitism.”
They also point out the significance of Sir Keir’s ability to win the vote over his favoured candidate for the Labour General Secretary’s role, which was by no means certain in advance.
New General Secretary David Evans starts his later this month. Sources close to Mr Evans have told the JC that he is determined to act more efficiently that his predecessor over the stain of antisemitism in the party. As assistant general secretary of the party between 1999 and 2001 under Tony Blair, he played a leading role in Labour's victory in the 2001 election.
A staunch opponent of hard-left politics, Mr Evans is also said to share Sir Keir’s belief that antisemitism must be stamped out of the party as quickly as possible if Labour is to be in a position to win the next election.
Mr Evans is also known to be a fierce critic of anti-Zionism, stretching back to his early days in politics at York University.
Meanwhile, in a meeting with the Jewish Labour Movement last month, Sir Keir was told that the organisation would not undertake antisemitism training for all Labour staff, as he had requested, while staff who were central to the failure to deal with antisemitism under Mr Corbyn remained in their jobs.
“It helped ram home to Sir Keir the urgency of what is needed to be done,” said a Labour source.
But allies of Sir Keir believe that the party’s National Constitutional Committee (NCC) – which has the ultimate power to expel members – presents a problem, containing numerous pro-Corbyn figures including Stephen Marks, a Jewish Voice For Labour member who has previously called for those making allegations of antisemitism to be suspended.
Russell Cartwright, treasurer of the hard-left Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, also remains on the NCC.
In recently weeks left-wingers including Mr Corbyn and former shadow chancellor John McDonnell have stepped up attacks on the EHRC’s alleged lack of independence.