Labour could suspend ‘thousands’ of members over antisemitism, Angela Rayner says

Andy Gregory
·5-min read
Angela Rayner denounced those denying the scale of antisemitism within the Labour Party (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Angela Rayner denounced those denying the scale of antisemitism within the Labour Party (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The Labour Party will suspend “thousands and thousands” of members unless they “get real” about antisemitism, Angela Rayner has warned, as an internal row rages over the removal of the whip from Jeremy Corbyn.

Following Sir Keir Starmer’s decision not to allow Mr Corbyn to sit as a Labour MP over his reaction to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report, dozens of constituency parties are reported to have passed motions in support of the former leader – despite the party’s general secretary David Evans banning them from doing so.

Earlier this week, a meeting in Nottingham East with such a motion on the agenda left a Jewish attendee “feeling they had no choice but to leave”, according to local MP Nadia Whittome, who later issued a statement describing the “atmosphere and tone” of the meeting as “wholly unacceptable”.

Responding to the incident during an address at the Jewish Labour Movement’s One Day conference, the party’s deputy leader reportedly told delegates: “I want people to know that there has been suspensions and we’re on it and we are supporting Nadia, the MP there who spoke out and I completely commend her for doing that.

“Our members need to get real about this, our Labour members. If they don’t think antisemitism is within the Labour Party and that there’s problems now, then there’s really no place for them in the Labour Party.

“If they think making people feel unsafe or unwelcome in our meetings is a response to the EHRC report, then they need to be out of our party immediately. People need to understand what our Jewish community have been through.”

According to LabourList, Ms Rayner added: “I feel really, really angry actually that there’s been scenes like that in our CLP meetings.

“If I have to suspend thousands and thousands of members, we will do that. Because we cannot and we will not accept an injury to one, because an injury to one is an injury to all. That’s what we say in our movement.”

A Labour spokesperson clarified that Ms Rayner’s comments addressed a wider context of denialism and the safety of Jewish members, rather than specific motions.

The threat of mass suspensions could serve to further inflame tensions within the party, with left-wing members of the National Executive Committee (NEC) already having accused the leadership of trying to “censor debate and ignore our processes”.

The row first erupted with Mr Corbyn’s respose to the EHRC’s report, which stated that “one antisemite is too many” but also said the scale of the problem had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons” by opponents and the media.

Mr Corbyn later said he did not intend to “belittle concerns” about antisemitism and regretted the “pain this issue has caused the Jewish community and would wish to do nothing that would exacerbate or prolong it”.

He was eventually readmitted to the party by an NEC panel, but was immediately banned by his successor Sir Keir from sitting in the parliamentary party.

According to LabourList, Sir Keir told delegates at Jewish Labour’s event on Sunday that Mr Corbyn’s response to the EHRC report was “just about as bad as you could get”.

The Labour leader was reported as saying that while he believed the party had been “making good progress” in tackling antisemitism, Mr Corbyn’s response “undermined me and what I was trying to achieve”.

And Ms Rayner – who had defended Mr Corbyn on the issue of antisemitism while serving in his shadow cabinet in 2019 – said: “I truly hope he reflects. I understand that he thinks he’s always tackled issues of antisemitism. I understand he thinks he’s always tackled issues of racism.

“But on this, he’s wrong. He has to accept as a leader that we failed.”

However, pro-Corbyn figures have suggested that the current discussions around members’ suspensions could contradict the report’s findings – which stated that while the party leadership may decide how to respond to decisions on complaints, “it is not legitimate for the leadership to influence, make recommendations, or make decisions on complaints outside of the formal complaints process”.

Former Corbyn aide Matt Zarb-Cousin tweeted: “Since the EHRC report was published the leadership’s made no progress on the recommendations at all, while contravening the very guidance contained within it to make a series of rhetorical and political gestures amounting to hot air.”

However, Jewish Labour Movement chair Mike Katz welcomed Ms Rayner’s “commendably strong words”, telling The Independent: “If anything shows the need for a cultural change as well as better processes in the Labour Party, the last few days have done.

“There’s been some really, really ugly scenes in CLP meetings across the country as offices and constituencies choose to ignore direction from the Labour Party and pass motions about Jeremy Corbyn. The conduct in the meetings make them clearly not a safe space for Jews. And thinking about Jewish Labour members, this has to change.”

He called for a “bottom-to-top reform” of the party’s culture and processes, adding: “We really want to be in a position where suspensions aren’t necessary, and thinking about whether you’re going to okay going to a meeting isn’t necessary because the culture of the party has changed."

Mr Katz said there must be “the commitment to follow up suspensions with expulsion”, adding that “the process has to be done not under the broken, factionally-aligned process that we currently have, but under the process recommended by the EHRC”.

Sir Keir has pledged to uphold the recommendations of the EHRC report in full, in a move supported by Mr Corbyn.

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