Labour in crisis as anti-Semitism row deepens
Will Labour split? With more than a dozen MPs reportedly on the brink of breaking away from the party, Labour has finally voted to adopt the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism. Is it too late?
In the streets of Westminster yesterday, a group of protesters carried placards reading “anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism” and “Labour against the witch-hunt”. Further down the road, rival demonstrators bearing Israeli flags chanted “Labour fascists off our streets”.
They were gathered at the party’s head office for a crunch meeting of its governing committee. After hours of wrangling, the body voted to adopt the IHRA’s full definition of anti-Semitism.
The decision follows months of anger from Jewish groups after Labour voted to reject parts of the same definition in March over concerns it could restrict freedom to criticise Israel’s actions in Palestine.
Commentators have even speculated that MPs angry with Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of the row could break away from the party.
Last week, veteran MP Frank Field resigned the whip, attacking what he called the party’s “tolerance” of anti-Semitism. Dame Margaret Hodge later alleged that Corbyn has “a hatred of Jews”.
They are not the only dissenters. Anti-Corbyn plotters are holding secret meetings and up to 15 MPs could unleash a wave of resignations. Earlier this week, shadow chancellor John McDonnell warned a split in the party must be avoided “at all costs”.
As his comment shows, fear is growing among the leadership that Labour faces its biggest crisis since 1983, when a group of MPs broke away to form the SDP. But how did we get here?
Corbyn’s summer of woe began last month when it emerged that he attended a wreath-laying ceremony in 2014 which allegedly honoured the perpetrators of the 1972 Munich terror attack.
Shortly after, footage was released from 2013 showing the Labour leader saying that a group of British Zionists had “no sense of English irony”. His comment was lambasted by former chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks as “the most offensive statement” by a politician since Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech.
With discord only set to increase as the party’s conference approaches, will Labour split?
It’s inevitable, argue others. The tight grip of Corbyn’s supporters on the party will leave his political opponents with no choice but to break away, while his shambolic handling of the anti-Semitism row will push others out on moral grounds. Besides, a new party may stand a chance. Just look at Macron’s harnessing of the centre vote in France.
It’s still unlikely, say some. While Corbyn has many critics in the Labour Party, only a small percentage of these would be willing to take the radical step of launching a rival party. The lessons of the SDP remain fresh and, with Brexit around the corner, many pro-remain MPs think now is not the time to move. A split could ensure Tory rule for another decade.
- Will the Labour Party split?
- Does the Labour Party have an anti-Semitism problem?
- Research the creation of new UK political parties from 1900 to the present day. Make a timeline to show your findings.
- What would a new party look like? Design your own manifesto for a new centre-left party, including its logo and policies on key issues such as Brexit, immigration and the economy.
Some People Say...
“We are increasingly seen as a racist party.”Frank Field
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Yesterday, Labour’s governing body voted to adopt the full IHRA definition of anti-Semitism when dealing with internal disciplinary cases. The decision follows months of anger from Jewish groups after Labour voted against adopting the definition, which says it is anti-semitic to call Israel a racist endeavous in March, which bans describing the creation of Israel as racist and comparing Israel to the Nazis. The move angered Jewish groups. As in Labour argued change would silence criticism of Israel’s role in the Palestinian conflict over territory in the Middle East, the new rules include a ‘free speech clause’ clarifying that Labour members may criticise Israel as they would any other country.
- What do we not know?
- What a new party would look like. Some commentators say policy-making would be chaotic as Corbyn’s critics are agreed on little except their dislike of him.
- A Zionist is a person who believes in a self-ruling state for Jews in Israel, while anti-Zionists oppose Israel. Anti-Semitism, meanwhile, is prejudice against Jews.
- International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. The IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism includes describing the creation of Israel as a racist endeavour.
- Party whips ensure that a party’s MPs vote as they are told to by the leadership. As he has resigned the whip, Field will no longer be bound by Labour rules, but the party could still expel him.
- The Social Democratic Party was a centrist political party formed by the “Gang of Four”, a group of Labour MPs who broke away from the party in 1981. The leftist vote was split and many think the party’s formation allowed the Conservatives to stay in power in the 1980s.
- Terror attack
- A Palestinian terror group took 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team hostage and killed them.
- Rivers of Blood
- A fiercely anti-immigration speech by Enoch Powell, the former Conservative shadow defence secretary, in 1968. It also criticised the new Race Relations Act.