For people used to the absolute monarchy (‘moderated by regicide) that is the Conservative Party, watching Labour much more feudal arrangements can be very odd.
Less than a month ago, Sir Keir Starmer was being fêted for taking decisive action against Jeremy Corbyn after the latter reacted to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s investigation into anti-Semitism by once again downplaying the whole issue. The message was clear: Labour had changed.
Yet today’s papers are full of reports of a fresh bout of Opposition infighting after the National Executive Committee (NEC) voted to lift Corbyn’s suspension from party membership with only the mildest of sanctions.
Starmer’s defenders can make two points. First, he has refused to restore the whip to Corbyn – although there is a quite arcane row over whether this is in fact him undoing an automatic restoration of the whip following the NEC’s decision. Second, and related, is that whilst the whip is in his gift has leader he doesn’t control the NEC, which remains well-stocked with Corbyn loyalists.
But his critics apparently smell a rat. Whilst the NEC panel is out of the leader’s hands, the decision on when to hear a case is usually determined by the General Secretary, whom Starmer appoints. There was no reason Corbyn’s case needed to be heard so quickly, and Paul Waugh reports that his successor is now under fire for not waiting so all outstanding cases could be heard under the new, independent procedures ordered by the ECHR.
Instead, Starmer is accused in some quarters of having struck a deal with Corbyn in which the latter would accept sanction in exchange for being quietly re-admitted. If so, it has blown up in his face. This incomplete rehabilitation and second snub of their idol will be far more aggravating than simply leaving him in limbo would have been.