In a letter to all local party chairs, MPs and MSPs, general secretary David Evans warned that any motions about Keir Starmer’s decision to withhold the parliamentary whip from Corbyn would be ruled “out of order”.
Any “expressions of solidarity” with Corbyn would also fall foul of tough new guidance, which strengthens existing rules that prevent discussion of ongoing disciplinary cases.
MPs believe that the crackdown could spark the wider suspension of entire local constituency Labour parties (CLPs) where activists have been most vociferous in their condemnation of Corbyn’s treatment.
Some 60 local parties are estimated to have passed motions of support for the former leader and around 100 were due to take place on Thursday night. It remains unclear if suspensions will be automatic for party officials who allow such motions to be discussed.
Evans has already suspended the chair and other activists in Bristol West after they held a Zoom meeting that discussed a motion critical of the whipping decision, although insiders say a raft of other allegations prompted the action.
Several constituencies in London and other cities are expected to see members suspended as part of the process.
One senior party source told HuffPost UK that the driving reason for the move was concerns that Jewish party members had been made to feel very uncomfortable when such motions were tabled and discussed.
“In his response to the EHRC, Keir vowed to fix the processes. But he also said he would fix the culture. He said ‘I want the Labour party to be a safe place for Jewish people again’. And that’s what this is about. This is about changing the culture and making it a safe place again,” they said.
“Because we all know that among some party members, a discussion on a seemingly innocent motion can be designed to trigger a much more frankly nasty discussion.
“Discussions about Jeremy’s status in the parliamentary party or about the EHRC could quickly turn into that, and we are not going to allow that to happen. This also about the Labour party being under new leadership.”
The fresh clampdown came as a new Survation poll of Labour members for the LabourList website found that 48% felt Starmer was “wrong” not to restore the whip to Corbyn. Some 46% think the move was “right”.
Corbyn, who was suspended for suggesting anti-Semitism was “overstated” for factional reasons, was reinstated as a member by a disciplinary panel of the ruling National Executive Committee (NEC).
After a backlash, Starmer withheld the whip and Corbyn has been since ordered to apologise for his remarks.
In his letter, Evans stressed that he is acting with the full authority of the NEC.
“I am aware that..motions (including expressions of solidarity, and matters relating to the internal processes of the PLP) are providing a flashpoint for the expression of views that undermine the Labour Party’s ability to provide a safe and welcoming space for all members, in particular our Jewish members. Therefore, all motions which touch on these issues will also be ruled out of order,” he wrote.
“Please rest assured that when I took up post as General Secretary, I had no desire at all to hamper discussion by our local parties, but until we can improve our culture such restrictions may be required to stay in place.”
The Jewish Labour Movement last week wrote to its members advising them not to put their mental or physical wellbeing at risk if they worried a local party discussion would provide an “unhealthy or discriminatory” environment.
One of the party’s veteran Jewish activists told HuffPost UK: “After five years of pleading, the Labour Party are finally taking this as seriously as they should have from the outset.
“If we had seen this kind of leadership when these issue started arising, the party wouldn’t have been stained with anti-Jewish racism. The EHRC wouldn’t have been necessary and we might have been in Government by now.”
However, the Left of the party reacted with outrage at what it saw as a draconian move to stifle legitimate dissent.
Grassroots organisation Momentum said the new guidance was “yet another disturbing attack on the rights of members to democratically discuss matters vital to the party”.
“It is a grossly irresponsible move that purposefully confuses the fight against anti-semitism with a fight against the left and risks tarring Labour members who disagree with the leadership as racists,” it said.
Momentum welcomed the LabourList poll, which was of more than 5,000 LabourList readers and weighted to reflect the current party membership’s makeup.
Some 58% had a “negative” view of Corbyn’s response to the Equality and Human Rights Commission report on Labour anti-Semitism, compared to 31% who had a “positive” view of his remarks.
Asked whether the party is “currently moving in the right direction or the wrong direction”, 55% replied “right” and 40% “wrong”.
The general secretary’s letter in full:
Following the publication of the EHRC report into antisemitism in the Labour Party on 29 October, I provided some guidance to CLPs on what were and were not appropriate topics of discussion for branches and CLPs. The situation has clearly moved on since then, so I wanted to provide you with some updated guidance.
It remains the case that motions which seek to repudiate the findings of the EHRC or question its competency to conduct the investigation remain not competent business for branches or CLPs. Motions relating to ongoing disciplinary cases are also not in order, in line with the instructions of my predecessor.
I am aware that other motions (including expressions of solidarity, and matters relating to the internal processes of the PLP) are providing a flashpoint for the expression of views that undermine the Labour Party’s ability to provide a safe and welcoming space for all members, in particular our Jewish members. Therefore, all motions which touch on these issues will also be ruled out of order.
A number of CLPs have asked for further information on the basis on which myself and the NEC are able to rule on what can and cannot be discussed by local parties, and I am very happy to provide that explanation.
The Labour Party’s ‘Code of Conduct: Antisemitism and other forms of racism’ rightly states that “the Labour Party will ensure the party is a welcoming home to members of all communities, with no place for any prejudice or discrimination based on race, ethnicity or religion.” The NEC has the power to uphold the rules and standing orders of the Labour Party and to take any action it deems necessary for such purposes. The Rule Book is also clear that such powers can be delegated to, amongst others, the General Secretary. For the avoidance of doubt my previous rulings on these matters have all been properly reported to the NEC, which is supportive of my approach.
The Labour Party is committed to implementing the EHRC report in full, and part of that is to accept our previous failure to deal with antisemitism and adopt a genuinely zero tolerance approach which will ensure all members, and in particular our Jewish members, feel safe and welcome within the Labour Party. Please rest assured that when I took up post as General Secretary, I had no desire at all to hamper discussion by our local parties, but until we can improve our culture such restrictions may be required to stay in place.