Antisemitism, Corbyn and the Labour whip | Letters

Prof Peter Womack is dismayed by the terms of the current discussion, Tim Bailey says Corbyn needs to give a clearcut apology, while Matthew Robb argues that if Starmer disagrees with the disciplinary panel he needs to appeal against its decision, not unilaterally impose extra punishments

I neither know nor care whether Jeremy Corbyn should be accorded the Labour whip (Labour in fresh turmoil as Starmer refuses to restore whip to Corbyn, 18 November), but I’m dismayed by the terms of the discussion. Apparently his offence was to say that the scale of the Labour party’s antisemitism problem had been dramatically overstated by his political opponents. There are two obvious points about this remark. First: there’s a good deal of evidence that it is true – presented, for example, in the book Bad News for Labour: Antisemitism, the Party and Public Belief. And second: it does not imply that there is no problem, or that antisemitism doesn’t matter. There’s no contradiction in thinking both that Labour’s antisemitism must be decisively opposed and that it’s not as extensive as people have been led to believe.

In other words, the view he expressed, right or wrong, is a reasonable one: there are rational grounds for holding it, and it doesn’t necessarily entail any antisemitic assumptions or implications. Yet several participants in the continuing furore have spoken of “zero tolerance” – that is, they demand that the expression of this opinion should be prohibited. It seems to me that in this case they, not Corbyn, are the enemies of liberal principle.
Prof Peter Womack
University of East Anglia

• Why are Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters being so tribal about this? This isn’t an attack by Keir Starmer on “the left”. It’s clear that anyone who did what Mr Corbyn did would have been treated in the same way. He downplayed antisemitism, just when zero tolerance had rightly been announced; he thereby also undermined the Labour party. Too much self-regard is stopping him from admitting that he’s fallible and that he needs to give a full and clearcut apology.
Tim Bailey
Oxford

• In refusing to restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn despite the suspension being lifted, Sir Keir Starmer is guilty of precisely what the Equality and Human Rights Commission said Labour was guilty of under Corbyn – political interference in a disciplinary process. If Starmer disagrees with the disciplinary panel he needs to appeal against its decision, not unilaterally impose extra punishments.
Matthew Robb
Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands

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