Farewell – and good riddance – Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn

In one way, and in one way only, Jeremy Corbyn’s expulsion from the Labour Party was not his fault.

He was suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party in 2020 after his ham-fisted response to the conclusions of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) inquiry into anti-Semitism in the party under his leadership. The media had exaggerated the problem, Corbyn suggested, thereby minimising the entire issue that had caused so much angst and upset for Jewish party members and many others.

But why should he have had any reason to believe that the new leadership of the party would take such comments seriously? As Corbyn himself could attest, it was possible to say and believe virtually anything and yet be immune to any disciplinary action by the party.

At the end of his very first term as an MP, during the 1987 general election campaign, Corbyn had been reported in the press as having attended a memorial event at Conway House in London to commemorate eight IRA terrorists shot dead by security forces as they sought to bomb Loughall police station in County Armagh. “I’m happy to commemorate all those who died fighting for an independent Ireland,” the Islington North MP is reported as saying when he was challenged about his attendance.

This was only a year after Corbyn was arrested outside the Old Bailey for protesting the trial of the Brighton bomber who murdered five people and injured dozens more at the Conservative Party conference in 1984. All of this occurred more than a decade before the final IRA ceasefire, while British citizens and soldiers were still being targeted for their political beliefs.

And yet Corbyn was allowed to remain as a Labour candidate and went on to wear the party’s colours in nine more general elections. So why on earth would he imagine that speaking his mind, undermining the EHRC’s report, belittling those who had suffered from his supporters’ anti-Semitism, could possibly lead to disciplinary action against him?

The injustice of Corbyn’s case is not that he was unfairly removed as a Labour Party candidate; it was that he was not dismissed as a candidate after his first term in office.

So what happens next? He has announced he will stand against whoever the party selects as the official Labour candidate, a statement which precipitated his formal expulsion today. This is a long-standing and uncontroversial rule, one which Corbyn himself, as leader, saw no reason to seek to change.

Since 1997 the fate of independent candidates standing against the might of the main parties has improved somewhat. Martin Bell beat the incumbent Conservative MP, Neil Hamilton that year, thanks to the decision of the other parties to stand aside. Such a favour was not granted to Dr Richard Taylor, who nevertheless went on to win the Wyre Forest constituency off Labour in 2001 and held on until 2010.

But perhaps the most relevant precedent – and the most promising in terms of Corbyn’s chances – is Dennis Canavan. The former Labour MP was spitefully and bizarrely denied the right to stand as a Labour candidate for the first Scottish Parliament elections in 1999, despite having campaigned harder and longer for devolution than any of his colleagues. So he stood as an independent, inviting expulsion from the party and securing a larger majority than any MSP elected that year, confounding the expectations of his Labour Party detractors.

The odds might be against Corbyn winning his current seat against a Labour challenger, but such a prospect should not be ruled out. Stranger things have happened many times in the last 30 years. And by all accounts, Corbyn’s blend of bland aphorisms and one-dimensional political sloganising goes down well with a large proportion of Islington voters.

And if he does become the independent MP for Islington North, so what? Without his former party, sitting alone on the opposition benches next to the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and whatever’s left of the SNP, he will be an isolated figure, still making the same speeches he’s been making for more than 40 years, still persuading no one other than himself.

If the polls are accurate, one less seat in London will have no impact on Keir Starmer’s majority anyway. And even if he had been allowed to retain the Labour whip and stand as a Labour candidate, Corbyn as a Labour MP could be expected to vote against the next Labour government no less frequently than he would as an independent.

Keir Starmer was the first Labour leader to run out of patience with Corbyn. That is to his credit, and much to the discredit of all his predecessors as leader who opted for the quiet life instead of confronting and ending the appalling behaviour of a man who should never have been an MP in the first place.