Starmer was forced to suspend Corbyn, but will this be seen as a Clause IV moment?

By Mark Glover

Reacting to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report today which saw Labour found guilty of three breaches of the Equality Act: political interference in anti-Semitism complaints; failure to provide adequate training to those handling anti-Semitism complaints, and harassment, Sir Keir Starmer said the report brought “a day of shame” for the Party and promised to implement its recommendations as soon as possible in the New Year. 

He was then left with little room to manoeuvre as former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn stated that his team had “acted to speed up, not hinder the process” and that the scale of anti-Semitism in the party had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons.” In suspending Corbyn, Labour said: “in light of his comments made today and his failure to retract them subsequently, the Labour Party has suspended Jeremy Corbyn pending investigation. He has also had the whip removed from the Parliamentary Labour Party”. 

This all comes at a time when Starmer is beginning to assert his authority within the Party as his poll rating increases and commentators have begun to talk about Labour as a potential party of government. But he still does not have it all his own way. In Scotland, Richard Leonard’s leadership could be described as ‘Corbyn minus the charisma’ and there are a number of loyal Corbyn supporters occupying positions of influence within the Party. Hard Left members are in the middle of a campaign to challenge more moderate members for seats on the ruling National Executive Committee and the leadership of the three biggest Labour-affiliated unions is in doubt with strong pro-Corbyn candidates challenging for both the General Secretary positions within Unite and Unison. 

It is a critical time inside the Labour Party and this suspension will have potentially one of two effects. Either it will activate the Corbynite base and we will see a resurgence of Momentum activity or, alternatively, many true believers in the Corbyn Project might just rip up their membership cards and retreat to continue their political struggle outside the confines of Labour, leaving the power in the hands of more loyal Starmer supports. If the second happens, this may well be seen as a Clause IV moment. 

Yet the ditching of Clause IV by Tony Blair, whilst important to members, was more important in signalling to the electorate that Labour was serious about power and was not purely a protest movement. Along with Kinnock’s speech attacking Militant, it was one of a small number of critical points in Labour politics which reached beyond the party faithful and influenced the electorate‘s perception of the party. Ordinary voters in large parts of the country will understand the reasons that Starmer has done what was needed and this just might mean that they are willing to give Labour another chance to demonstrate that its thinking and behaviour is more in line with their views. With Johnson’s Conservative Government not covering itself in glory at the moment, maybe, just maybe, this is another of those moments when Labour, in tackling an internal party issue, reaches beyond party ranks and does something which wins the attention and plaudits of those for whom politics is just an annual discussion.