“That’s why we had to rip antisemitism out by its roots”: Sir Keir Starmer gets standing ovation at very different Labour Conference, but concerns remain
Sir Keir Starmer received a standing ovation for saying “That’s why we had to rip antisemitism out by its roots” in his speech at this week’s Labour Party Conference, which proved a marked contrast to the Party’s conferences under Sir Keir’s predecessor.
Sir Keir was ambiguous as to whether he believed that the task of tackling Labour antisemitism, which he described in the past tense, had been completed or whether it was still in progress – an ambiguity that he has cultivated for some time. Indeed, at the Labour Friends of Israel reception at Conference, he said: “I knew when I became leader of this party we had a big task before us. We had to root out antisemitism, and we have made progress, but I’m not complacent. We will never, ever end this work. We have made progress, but there is more to do.”
Wes Streeting MP, who, like Sir Keir, remained in the Party as it became institutionally antisemitic, has asserted that Labour is now safe for Jewish people to support again: “My message to all of those Jewish Labour voters whose doors I knocked and who felt heartbroken by what happened to the Party would now be, ‘You’ve got your Party back.’”
Also at Conference, a proposed rule change that may have helped the antisemitic former leader of the Party, Jeremy Corbyn, stand as a Labour candidate at the next general election, failed to pass. Elsewhere, Mr Corbyn settled a defamation case that had been brought against him.
Meanwhile, Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, the recently-elected member of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee who was suspended last week, apparently had her Conference pass removed, while fellow Jewish Voice for Labour figure Jenny Manson was reported to have suggested that the controversial antisemitism-denial group and sham Jewish representative organisation may disaffiliate from Labour.
Concerns remain about the Labour Party, however. As the conference took place, it was reported that yet another Labour councillor is under investigation amid antisemitism allegations. Cllr Tariq Khan of Coventry City Council reportedly said that he does not remember sending the offending images, which the BBC claimed would be considered antisemitic and anti-trans, three years ago. Cllr Khan has not, however, been suspended. It comes as a fellow Labour councillor on the same council, Christine Thomas, was embroiled in controversy over alleged antisemitism just last month.
There was also a marked contrast at this year’s Labour Conference between how Rupa Huq MP immediately had the whip removed after she made comments about the Chancellor of the Exchequer widely viewed as racist – including by Sir Keir – while complaints by Campaign Against Antisemitism against numerous Labour MPs have been languishing for years without investigation. The appropriately rapid response to Ms Huq’s remarks demonstrated that Sir Keir and the Party do have the power to move quickly when they choose to do so – often, it must be said, and as in Ms Huq’s case, when there is media scrutiny.
A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “This Labour Party conference was certainly a positive contrast to those held during Jeremy Corbyn’s tenure as leader, and reflects the progress that has been made in the fight against Labour antisemitism.
“However, Sir Keir Starmer’s persistent ambiguity about whether he feels that that fight is over or ongoing is troubling, particularly as it was announced during Conference that yet another Labour councillor is under investigation. The rapid response to Rupa Huq’s comments is also in marked contrast to Labour’s failure to take any action so far against the MPs against whom we have lodged complaints.
“Sir Keir has pledged repeatedly to tear out antisemitism by its roots, but there remains much more to be done.”
Campaign Against Antisemitism has lodged a complaint against Jeremy Corbyn, holding him responsible for conduct that is prejudicial or grossly detrimental to the Labour Party, as the Leader during the period of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) shameful findings. Given the serious detriment that this conduct has caused, we are seeking Mr Corbyn’s immediate resuspension and, if the complaint is upheld, we will be requesting his expulsion. On the day of the publication of the EHRC’s report, we also submitted a major complaint against Mr Corbyn and other sitting MPs. These complaints are yet to be acknowledged by the Party, and they must be investigated by an independent disciplinary process that the EHRC has demanded and Sir Keir has promised but has yet to introduce.
The Labour Party was found by the EHRC to have engaged in unlawful discrimination and harassment of Jews. The report followed the EHRC’s investigation of the Labour Party in which Campaign Against Antisemitism was the complainant, submitting hundreds of pages of evidence and legal argument. Sir Keir Starmer called the publication of the report a “day of shame” for the Labour Party.
Campaign Against Antisemitism’s Antisemitism Barometer 2019 showed that antisemitism on the far-left of British politics has surpassed that of the far-right.
Campaign Against Antisemitism advocates for zero tolerance of antisemitism in public life. To that end we monitor all political parties and strive to ensure that any cases of concern are properly addressed.