Earlier this year, an internal report from the UK’s Labour Party revealed that some of its influential members worked to sabotage former leader Jeremy Corbyn’s electoral chances in 2017, the election in which he nearly achieved an unexpected victory against Prime Minister Theresa May.
Over the next two and half years, leading up to last December’s election, a group of diligent party members, echoed by much of the media, including The Guardian, collaborated on undermining Corbyn’s chances in the 2019 snap election called by Boris Johnson. They did so by focusing on the theme of anti-Semitism.
How Do You Fix the Soul of the Nation?
After Labour’s defeat last December that confirmed Johnson as an elected prime minister and led to Corbyn’s resignation as the party leader, Labour’s establishment elected Keir Starmer to replace him, but apparently that wasn’t enough. As discreetly as possible, they continued relentlessly to shame Corbyn. Last week, exploiting the anti-Semitism theme thanks to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report, Labour took the extraordinary initiative of suspending Corbyn from the party in an act that Joseph Stalin’s politburo could only have admired.
With a tone resembling a subdued cry of victory, The Guardian announced that “Labour has suspended its former leader Jeremy Corbyn after he said antisemitism in the party was ‘overstated’ following a damning report from the equality watchdog.” The article contained this somewhat surprising assertion: “A separate issue for Labour officials to work out is their precise legal culpability for online sentiments expressed by officials and others.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
Ideas, opinions or feelings expressed on the dangerous borderline between public and private discourse known as on social media, which means that random utterances in that medium can be targeted by groups specialized in shaming individuals who fail to agree with or conform to their own agendas.
By suspending Corbyn, Labour has demonstrated that today’s technology has enabled Stalinist tactics far more sophisticated than Uncle Joe could have imagined. It provides them with the power to neutralize opponents without the bother of having to eliminate them physically.
Perhaps a better comparison to today’s public shaming would be to the Spanish Inquisition, immortalized in modern times by Michael Palin who famously cited its three weapons, “fear, surprise and ruthless efficiency,” before adding a fourth, “an almost fanatical devotion to the pope.” Labour’s equivalent to the pope is, of course, Tony Blair, the former prime minister. In terms of papal politics, Blair could best be compared to Benedict XVI as a quiet voice in the wings, who shouldn’t even be there, working discreetly to undermine his successor.
Starmer demonstrated his ruthless efficiency when, as The Guardian reports, he “spoke at a press conference where he said those who ‘deny there is a problem are part of the problem … Those who pretend it is exaggerated or factional are part of the problem.’” Like the Spanish Inquisition, the Labour Party has seized on a hint of criticism of the true faith (the EHRC report) that brooks no criticism but stands as infallible dogma. Suggesting that the report — which identified a total of two culprits in a party of 500,000 members — may have “overstated” the case or that there may be factions in the political church can only be deemed heresy.
Whether the Labour Party subjected Corbyn to the rack or even the “comfy chair” remains unknown. What is clear is that after Corbyn’s claim that the case may have been overstated, the inquisitors noticed that the former leader had committed the ultimate sin: failing to “retract” his heretical statement. “In light of his comments made today and his failure to retract them subsequently, the Labour party has suspended Jeremy Corbyn pending investigation,” a Labour spokesman said.
In the guise of reporting political news, The Guardian, known as the respectable newspaper of the left, has played a major role in remodeling the Labour Party in the image of an anonymous group of improvised moralists who, through their mostly invisible lobbying, have demonstrated their sentimental attachment to the Tony Blair era and to everything Blair himself still represents.
Angela Rayner, for example, offered this gentle version of excommunication: “Jeremy is a fully decent man, but as Margaret Hodge said, he has an absolute blind spot, and a denial, when it comes to these issues. And that’s devastating.” If she believes he’s a decent man, she should object to his being accused of anti-Semitism. It’s all about perspective. If Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t see the same things as Rayner or Hodge it may be that he sees something else that they may be blind to: the question of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
Corbyn has not accused Hodge, Starmer or anyone else of being anti-Semitic, which he might do on the grounds that Palestinians are also Semites and are the target of not just hatred but physical oppression. Corbyn’s anti-Semitic crime is simply that his defense of one group of Semites calls into question the unconditional support every British citizen owes to another group of Semites, a nation considered an indefectible ally.
This sums up the hypocrisy of the entire controversy. It turns around a denial of two dimensions of historical reality. None of Corbyn’s accusers, nor The Guardian itself, dares to mention the significance of events in the Middle East and the effect they can have on judgments and opinions that may or may not entail the evocation of stereotypes.
The second obvious but unmentioned historical dimension concerns the recent history of the leadership of the Labour Party. It is also linked to events in the Middle East. Blair has been the most electorally successful Labour Party leader in recent times. He has also been its most egregious warmonger, responsible — along with former US President George W. Bush — for a vast and ongoing humanitarian disaster, extensively documented in the Chilcot report. Clearly, electoral success in politics counts more than probity or human rights, even though the worst perpetrators of human suffering, such as Blair, claim they are acting in the name of human rights.
The drama of Labour leadership reveals that the entire anti-Semitism campaign had a single purpose. It was designed not just to cripple the left but to definitively crush it. The Guardian quotes Peter Mason, the national secretary of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), who, before Corbyn’s suspension, made the intentions clear: “Jeremy Corbyn does not have a future in the Labour party, he is yesterday’s man.”
In an interview with Chris Williamson, Aaron Maté, the American investigative journalist, explores the historical background of the issue. Williamson had earlier been suspended from Labour on the grounds of anti-Semitism but was fully exonerated by the EHRC inquiry. His detailed testimony, critical of Corbyn on political grounds, provides some much-needed context.
The late and deeply regretted David Graeber — an influential American anthropologist who taught in the UK before his premature death in September — provided a thorough historical perspective on the anti-Semitism question in a video apparently no one at The Guardian seems aware of. Had they seen it, they might have used some of Graeber’s historical knowledge to nuance their judgment of Corbyn.
For a declared and condemned anti-Semite, Corbyn had a surprising number of Jewish supporters ready to claim that he “has a proud record of fighting all forms of racism and antisemitism.” Will those Jewish supporters and the 60,000 members who signed the petition also be suspended? Will they be asked to retract?
The Guardian’s role in promoting the controversy and shaming Corbyn has been as appalling as it has been successful. The only trace of someone offering pertinent historical perspective published in The Guardian is a letter to the editor they can easily dismiss as someone’s mere opinion.
The New York Times at least offered a dry appreciation of the meaningless of Corbyn’s suspension: “The party did not immediately make clear what rule Mr. Corbyn had breached, though analysts said it likely had to do with bringing the party into disrepute.” Labour didn’t need Corbyn to bring it into disrepute. Blair accomplished that with panache 17 years ago. Keir Starmer has jumped on Blair’s bandwagon.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer. *[Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed the following quote to Dame Margaret Hodge instead of Angela Rayner: “Jeremy is a fully decent man, but … he has an absolute blind spot, and a denial, when it comes to these issues. And that’s devastating.”]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.