Tuesday, 24 Nov 2020

Labour cornered as union top brass explode at Starmer: ‘Sir, explain yourself!’

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Former Labour leader Mr Corbyn has garnered the support of several high-profile left-wing figures following his suspension from the party. The socialist politician, who in 2019 led Labour to its worst election defeat since 1935, was given the boot after he claimed a report looking at antisemitism in the party was “political”. He has since said he plans to “strongly contest” new leader Sir Keir Starmer’s decision.

Several Labour MPs have sided with Sir Keir and commended the leader for taking the decision.

Harriet Harman, the MP for Camberwell and Peckham, tweeted: “This is the right thing to do. If you say that AS exaggerated for factional reasons you minimise it and are, as Keir Starmer says, part of the problem.”

However, factions of the Labour Left have come out in support of Mr Corbyn, warning that his departure could irrevocably damage the party and its reputation.

Howard Beckett, Unite the Union’s “hardman” Assistant General Secretary for Politics and Legal issues, immediately took to social media to condemn Sir Keir.

Writing on Twitter, he referred the leader to page 27 of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report, and said: “Perhaps you Sir want to explain why you take a different view than the EHRC?”

Page 27 states that “Article 10 will protect Labour Party members who, for example, make legitimate criticisms of the Israeli government, or express their opinions on internal Party matters, such as the scale of antisemitism within the Party, based on their own experience and within the law. It does not protect criticism of Israel that is antisemitic”.

However, before, on page 26, the report sets out: “The European Court of Human Rights has held that speech that is incompatible with the values guaranteed by the ECHR, notably tolerance, social peace and non-discrimination, is removed from the protection of Article 10 because of Article 17.

“This may include antisemitic speech and Holocaust denial.

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“Furthermore, speech that is within the scope of the right to freedom of expression in Article 10 may still be restricted, or sanctioned, where it is proportionate to do so.”

The former Labour Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, was specifically named as having “committed harassment against its members in relation to Jewish ethnicity”.

The report explains that it took into account Mr Livingstone’s right to freedom of speech – protected by Article 10 – however, his breach came in supporting Naz Shah’s comments on the Israeli government, which she recognised were not protected by Article 10, and in which he suggested that scrutiny of them was part of a smear campaign by “the Israel lobby”.

Mr Beckett did not include the aforementioned cases in his message to Sir Keir.

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It is unclear whether Sir Keir’s decision to suspend Mr Corbyn was in any way related to the report’s findings which suggested the latter’s lack of action over Ms Shah and Mr Livingstone.

His decision came in light of Mr Corbyn’s comments that the issue of antisemitism had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons”.

Sir Keir told reporters: “If – after all the pain, all the grief, and all the evidence in this report – there are still those who think there’s no problem with antisemitism in the Labour Party, that it’s all exaggerated, or a factional attack, then, frankly, you are part of the problem too.

“And you should be nowhere near the Labour Party either.”

Mr Beckett made a jibe at this, and tweeted: “Anyone who fails to understand the need to oppose the Covert Human Intelligence Surveillance Bill has no understanding of the history of the establishment infiltrating & persecuting our labour & trade union movement and is frankly part of the problem too.”

Sir Keir has also come under fire from Unite’s General Secretary Len McCluskey.

He said Sir Keir’s decision to suspend Mr Corbyn risks “chaos”, going as far as to warn the debacle could cost the party the 2024 election.

Mr McCluskey added: “A split party will be doomed to defeat.”

Unite is the Labour Party’s single biggest donor.

It has given the party more than £7million since the start of 2019, according to Electoral Commission records.

Mr Beckett has a track of record of snapping at Sir Keir via social media.

Earlier this year he posted a video to Twitter amid his campaign to become the next leader of Unite.

In it, he accused Sir Keir of turning his back on working class Britons.

He said: “Boris Johnson & Keir Starmer, I have a message for you both.

“We won’t stand idly by while you dump the pandemic fall-out on the working class.”

A matter of days later, he called the leader out on his few policies, and said: “Keir Starmer, you sacked Burgon and Lavery from cabinet, criticised BLM, pushed for schools opening, sacked Rebecca Long-Bailey who disagreed, you abandoned wealth taxes, failed to defend black MPs bullied and you changed NEC election rules without conference – I called him out for every single one.”

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