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The fight over Jeremy Corbyn’s internal exile gets murkier and murkier. In refusing to readmit Jeremy Corbyn to the Parliamentary Labour Party, has Keir Starmer reneged on a deal struck with the former leader over the weekend? Allies of Corbyn certainly think so, claiming Starmer’s office negotiated Corbyn’s “clarification” statement and agreed to its wording, with the promise that he would be able to return to the Labour Party – including the parliamentary party – if he published it.
Corbyn stuck to his side of the deal, allies claim, by retracting the most damaging part of the statement that got him suspended. Concerns about antisemitism under his leadership were “neither ‘exaggerated’ nor ‘overstated’,” he said on Tuesday, after previously claiming the issue had been “overstated”.
It all had the feel of being a coordinated part of a plan agreed in advance to expedite matters.
An anti-Semitism disciplinary panel of the party’s ruling National Executive Committee rapidly convened hours after the clarification to readmit Corbyn to the party with a mere “reminder of values” – the lowest level of the possible sanctions he could have been given. Cases usually take months or years to reach this panel, so the suspicion is that there was backroom dealing to expedite it.
Corbynites say it is difficult to imagine this taking place without the blessing – or at least purposeful ignorance – of the Labour Leader’s office.
Whatever was agreed, it all fell apart soon after. Starmer’s office appeared to be surprised by the strength of the backlash from Jewish Labour groups and also the threats by Margaret Hodge that she would resign.
While the Labour leader could claim to have no control over the NEC’s disciplinary process, he clearly realised something had to be done to stave off a full-blown crisis the following day, leading to the decision to not lift the suspension of the whip from Corbyn in Parliament.
Furious left-wing media types last night briefed journalists that Corbyn is considering taking legal action against the party, which would bring backroom agreements into public view. In any event, Corbynites won’t have to wait long for a political victory, as the Parliamentary Labour Party standing orders say that an MP can be suspended only for a maximum of six months.
That will bring Starmer to a second crunch point, when Corbynites expect him to quietly concede.