The full statement protecting free speech delivered by Labour leader Jeremy to the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) today was not, ultimately, voted on by Labour’s ruling body today. Instead, ultimately, it was parcelled up with other items in the ongoing consultation agreed at the last NEC meeting and will be voted on either at the full NEC meeting on 18 September, or at the first meeting after Conference, with new NEC members in place.
Either way, Labour’s leadership expects to win the vote.
The full statement is an exemplar of sound political language, offering full support to Jewish people against antisemitism, but also full of commitment to the rights of Palestinians.
In fact, so strong is it that there is nothing in it for any reasonable person whose primary concern is to protect Jewish people in this country to object to:
“Take whatever action necessary”; “full IHRA working definition and examples”; “eradicating the social cancer of antisemitism” – these are firm commitments, backed by the full set of IHRA examples. Antisemitism and its proponents have no place in the Labour Party.
The statement emerged from discussions with Jewish and Palestinian people – and along with any other recommendations from the current consultation it will be voted on by the NEC once the consultation ends – either in two weeks’ time or in October.
In two weeks, the leadership is confident that there will be enough support to pass the package – which was not the case today, because of the absence of at least one NEC member and the possibility of a small group of members abstaining because of their objection to the adoption of the examples at all.
Those members have now committed themselves to supporting it – and a handful of the NEC’s more right-leaning members who appreciate the importance of protecting free speech and Palestinian rights will also support it.
This means that the vote can carry, even if Jon Lansman, Rhea Wolfson, Eddie Izzard and Ann Black vote against – as they indicated they would today.
If the vote does not take place until after Conference, Wolfson, Izzard and Black will no longer be on the NEC, making the voting arithmetic even clearer.
Lansman, newly re-elected to the NEC and the only one of the four who will still be a member after Conference, has damaged his credibility among Labour activists, perhaps fatally after his bid for the general secretary position and his part in withdrawing Momentum support from Peter Willsman’s candidacy in the latest NEC election, which had already been condemned widely by local Momentum groups.
In the first hours after today’s NEC meeting, the Labour leadership’s internal and external opponents were delirious at the supposed defeat they had inflicted. But then the public comments changed, reflecting the newly-lit landscape ahead – and turned to outraged comments about the supposed neutering of the IHRA examples:
Margaret Hodge was so stunned she performed backflips. In late July, she argued that if anyone had issues, they could add extra comments to the IHRA ‘definition’:
But today she claimed to be mystified that anyone might do so:
Progress’ Richard Angell was fairly beside himself, tweeting a stream of criticism of which a few examples are shown below:
Others followed similar lines. But it was perhaps the right-wing Jewish Leadership Council’s hyperbolic response that was most telling:
According to the JLC, the ‘free speech caveat’ – which is specifically and exclusively about free speech on the subject of Israel and Palestine and the rights of Palestinians,
undermines the entire IHRA definione [and] drives a coach and horses through the IHRA definition.
Protection from Jewish people against hate speech: check. Solidarity with all Jewish people and a commitment to eradicate the cancer of antisemitism: check. Adoption of all the IHRA examples: check.
But according to the JLC, protecting the rights of Palestinians and their supporters to express themselves about the oppression of the Palestinians and to discuss the circumstances of the foundation of modern Israel and differentiating between anti-zionism and antisemitism “undermine the entire“ thing. The ‘free speech caveat’ doesn’t do anything else.
The visceral reaction of Corbyn’s critics to his statement – and the rapid u-turn from the triumphalism that immediately followed today’s NEC meeting – strongly suggest two things.
First, that the recognition quickly became general that Corbyn has the numbers, support and circumstances to pass his full statement when it comes up for a vote.
Second, that the real issue in the IHRA definition is indeed a desire to clamp down on free speech about Israel and about the history, current plight and rights of Palestinians. Supporters of the full set of IHRA examples have often claimed that they do not prevent free speech about Israel.
But free speech about Israel is the only thing that Corbyn’s statement vouchsafes apart from protection for Jewish people.
Code Plus – Labour’s existing Code of Conduct, strengthened to accommodate the full IHRA examples without compromising the rights of Palestinians or of free speech on the issue – is back on track.
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