Walkout threat led to Corbyn whip removal

Hodge told Starmer she would quit unless he blocked Corbyn from returning as an MP for the party


Dame Margaret Hodge told Sir Keir Starmer she would quit Labour unless he confirmed to her that he would not allow Jeremy Corbyn to return as an MP for the party.

In an angry showdown with the Labour leader on Tuesday night, the Jewish Labour Movement’s parliamentary chair warned him that her decision to walk out of the party was no idle threat.

On Wednesday, Sir Keir said he would not bring Mr Corbyn back into the Parliamentary Labour Party, even though the former leader will remain a party member following a decision on Tuesday by a panel of the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) to drop his suspension.

Dame Margaret’s demand came as the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Labour Movement, along with several other Labour parliamentarians and senior members of the party, bombarded Sir Keir with messages expressing their outrage at the decision taken by the five-person NEC panel.

Following the decision to drop the former leader’s suspension, Dame Margaret said she could not comprehend the move, describing it as “a broken outcome from a broken system...a factional, opaque and dysfunctional complaints process could never reach a fair conclusion.”

“This is exactly why the EHRC [Equality and Human Rights Commission] instructed Labour to set up an independent process!” she tweeted.

On Wednesday, sources close to the Labour veteran said she was reflecting on the emotional showdown with the Labour leader and that she issued another statement on social media to relay her thoughts on the decision to remove the whip from Mr Corbyn that morning.

The JC has also learned that the five-person panel chosen to review Mr Corbyn’s suspension at the meeting of the NEC disputes committee was not unanimous in its decision to reinstate him with only a “reminder of party values” after the former leader had challenged the findings of the EHRC report last month on the day it was made public.

Mr Corbyn had claimed the extent of antisemitism in Labour had been exaggerated by political opponents and the media.

In a “clarification” submitted to the NEC and made public this week, Mr Corbyn said claims of antisemitism had not been “exaggerated”. But he failed to apologise for his actions.

Labour sources confirmed to the JC that Gurinder Singh Josan and Wendy Nicols both opposed the decision to readmit Mr Corbyn.

Sources said there was anger that some media outlets had been briefed that the decision to readmit Mr Corbyn to the party had been “unanimous”.

But in a bizarre move, all five panellists were told that, following legal advice, they could not decide to continue Mr Corbyn’s suspension nor recommend that the former leader be expelled from the party.

Two panellists known to be supporters of Mr Corbyn in the past, Yasmin Dar and Ian Murray, both agreed to allow him back into the party with the minimum sanction that could be given.

The only other option available was a more formal reminder of conduct but the pair declined to go down that route.

The fifth member of the panel, Alice Perry, was not previously known for her pro-Corbyn views but is a councillor in the former leader’s Islington seat. Labour sources told the JC she seemed to be cautious about backing the opinions of Ms Dar and Mr Murray at Tuesday’s hearing.

But Ms Perry did not oppose the duo's eventual decision.

Ms Dar, Labour disputes panel chair, has previously said about the party’s antisemitism crisis: “I haven’t seen any evidence that this prejudice among a minority of members is an institutional problem. Recently published data showed that complaints received by the party about antisemitism related to just 0.1 per cent of members.”

There was also confusion around the events leading up the surprise NEC hearing into Mr Corbyn’s case. 

Last Friday, election results for nine seats on the 39 person NEC had appeared to strengthen Sir Keir’s majority on the committee, which is used to pass and uphold the party’s rules.

The full NEC is set to hold its first meeting since the election on 24 November, with the Labour leader now able to count on the confirmed support of 21 members of the committee. 

This could make implementing changes on issues such as antisemitism rules easier — and will also help with implementing the recommendations of the EHRC report. 

But unexpectedly, a panel to discuss Mr Corbyn’s suspension was arranged for Tuesday, ahead of the November meeting.

Sources close to Sir Keir say he had deliberately kept away from the case because the EHRC stressed the importance of disciplinary decisions being independent of political interference.

But Mr Corbyn himself appeared to have been tipped off about the NEC hearing in advance – even though the fact it was taking place should have remained confidential. 

One source claimed that a rogue member of Labour’s staff was involved in informing someone close to Mr Corbyn.

Sources have also told the JC that the release of the former leader’s statement on Tuesday ahead of the hearing seemed to be perfectly timed to come to his assistance. “Maybe it was a stroke of luck that Corbyn decided to release his non-apology for his EHRC comments at more or less the same time that five members of the NEC got their papers informing them they would be discussing Mr Corbyn’s case,” one source told the JC. “Or some might say that both occurrences were choreographed almost to perfection.”

Other Labour sources also expressed concern over a possible deal being struck by someone connected to the Labour leader’s office and Mr Corbyn’s team to resolve the stand-off over the former leader’s suspension once and for all. 

There have been unconfirmed claims that Unite general secretary Len McCluskey was the power broker behind the deal. There have also been claims (again unconfirmed) that Unite’s legal head Howard Beckett provided the legal advice that suggested Mr Corbyn could not be re-suspended or expelled by the NEC.

Sir Keir has pledged to press ahead with setting up an independent complaints process as recommended by the EHRC report. But it is unclear how quickly this can be implemented as it may require a change in the Labour Party rules. Rule changes need to be passed first by the NEC and then by a vote at the annual conference in September. The EHRC report accepts that some of its recommendations require a rule change to be implemented. Sir Keir is likely to hammer out his plans for changes an “away day” event with the NEC on 24 November.

In a strongly worded statement on Wednesday, Sir Keir said he would not be welcoming Mr Corbyn back into the parliamentary Labour party (PLP). “Jeremy Corbyn’s actions in response to the EHRC report undermined and set back our work in restoring trust and confidence in the Labour party’s ability to tackle antisemitism,” he said. “In those circumstances, I have taken the decision not to restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn. I will keep this situation under review.”

In a clear criticism of the NEC disciplinary processes he added: “The disciplinary process does not have the confidence of the Jewish community. That became clear once again yesterday. It is the task of my leadership to fix what I have inherited. That is what I am resolute in doing and I have asked for an independent process to be established as soon as possible.”

A Labour spokesman confirmed Mr Corbyn was informed of the decision by the chief whip by phone on Wednesday morning. Left-wing Labour MPs immediately rallied behind the former leader, with former shadow chancellor John McDonnell calling it “just plain wrong” and saying it would “cause more division and disunity”.

Marie van der Zyl, President of the Board of Deputies, welcomed the decision and criticised the process that led to Mr Corbyn’s readmission to party membership. “Labour’s disciplinary process is clearly still not fit for purpose. Keir Starmer has now taken the appropriate leadership decision not to restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn,” she said. “We continue to say that ‘zero tolerance’ must mean precisely that, whether for antisemites or their apologists.”

Labour MP Neil Coyle, an outspoken critic of Mr Corbyn, said the case must be looked at by the independent process that Sir Keir said he would set up under the EHRC recommendations.

“Keir is trying to deliver on his self-confessed first priority as Labour leader — to rebuild trust with the Jewish community,” he said. “The whip cannot be restored until the new, genuinely independent complaints process assesses this case and ensures a fair decision is made. This is also the legal requirement under the EHRC report; the Labour Party has to do this in order to avoid further inquiry. So it is the morally right thing to do as well as the only option available.”


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