The row over former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension has reignited after his successor refused to readmit him to the Parliamentary party – despite his reinstatement by the party’s executive.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer announced on Wednesday lunchtime that the veteran left-wing MP would not have the Parliamentary whip restored - and vowed he would launch another "independent" process, this time against his former boss Corbyn.
That was less than 24 hours after the party's National Executive Committee (NEC) voted to lift Corbyn's suspension over comments on anti-Semitism allegations that was imposed by Starmer 19 days earlier.
"The disciplinary process does not have the confidence of the Jewish community. That became clear once again yesterday," Starmer said in a clear challenge to the NEC's authority.
"It is the task of my leadership to fix what I have inherited," he insisted. "That is what I am resolute in doing and I have asked for an independent process to be established as soon as possible."
Starmer stressed that as leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), he had the right to withdraw the whip from MPs regardless of the decisions of the NEC - on which he sits along with representatives of the PLP and shadow cabinet.
"Since I was elected Labour leader, I have made it my mission to root out anti-Semitism from the Labour Party," Starmer stated. He said Corbyn's response to the report published three weeks ago by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) had "undermined and set back our work in restoring trust and confidence in the Labour Party’s ability to tackle anti-Semitism."
Corbyn's response was that, while "one anti-Semite is one too many" in the party, "the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media." Starmer promptly suspended Corbyn's Labour party membership and withdrew the whip for that comment - which the former leader quickly backtracked on.
Following Corbyn's suspension, Labour saw a boost in the polls to overtake Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservatives. But the NEC's decision and Starmer's response was already sowing strife within the Labour ranks on Wednesday.
Corbyn's close ally on the Labour Left, former shadow chancellor John McDonnell, tweeted that the move would cause more "division and disunity".
— John McDonnell MP (@johnmcdonnellMP) November 18, 2020
The Socialist Campaign Group of left-wing Labour MPs called it "wrong and damaging".
— Socialist Campaign Group (@socialistcam) November 18, 2020
Former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said it would not bring "closure or unity".
— Diane Abbott MP (@HackneyAbbott) November 18, 2020
RT TV presenter and former Labour and Respect party MP George Galloway branded Starmer's manoeuvre move the death knell for his party.
— George Galloway (@georgegalloway) November 18, 2020
But the Board of Deputies of British Jews backed Stamer's decision.
President Marie van der Zyl said the leader had "taken the appropriate leadership decision", claiming that Corbyn had been "shameless and remorseless for what he has put the Jewish community through".
And Campaign Against Anti-Semitism chief executive Gideon Falter said the NEC's vote reinstate Corbyn proved that "the Jewish community has been conned" and that his suspension was "nothing more than a media stunt to blunt the blow of the report last month".
The suspension of Corbyn ally Chris Williamson in February 2019 - for saying the party had been "too apologetic" over anti-Semitism claims, given its record of fighting prejudice - saw him deselected in his Derby North constituency and losing his parliamentary seat in the December general election.