Rory Stewart: I was insensitive. I didn’t mean to minimise the horrifying Jew-hate in Corbyn’s Labour

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Rory Stewart: I was insensitive. I didn’t mean to minimise the horrifying Jew-hate in Corbyn’s Labour

In an exclusive article for Jewish News, the former Tory MP, who condemned the decision to bar Corbyn as a Labour candidate, offers an apology to the community but insists no party leader should have such power.

There is horrifying antisemitism in British society, including a disturbing amount in British political parties. That was particularly true in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. As leader, he should have taken responsibility for the party’s failures in this regard.

I, of course, profoundly disagree with Corbyn’s political philosophy. He would have made a terrible prime minister.

People were right to be angry about Corbyn’s equivocations over the findings of the EHRC report into antisemitism in his party. Labour should not tolerate antisemitism. Nor should any party.

My point was not to exonerate Corbyn but to oppose the principle of leaders  barring fellow members from standing as candidates as happened here. In a first past the post system like the US or the UK this operates – as I discovered personally – as a de facto expulsion from Parliament.

But there is a constitutional principle here. British leaders before Johnson did not behave in this way. Traditionally the whip was restored before an election. American presidents or Senate leaders are not able to do this. Trump or Biden could not do this.

A representative democracy depends on members of Parliament being able to operate independently of their leaders. This is particularly important in a first-past-the-post system where you need the parties to be broad coalitions with different wings.

I may be over influenced by personal experience. Boris Johnson did the same to me and 20 colleagues.

It is even more important when there are increasing pressures or polarisation and division in society.

Members of Parliament should be subject to the law and parliamentary customs, committees and regulations, and above all should be subject to voters through mechanisms of recall and elections. But I do not believe that they should be able to be barred in this way by their party leaders.

None of this is to excuse the horrifying antisemitism that existed and was not addressed in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. I heard about it directly from many friends who I trust. Corbyn has a great deal to answer for.

I also feel very uncomfortable trying to maintain a constitutional point over an issue which was so deeply hurtful and offensive and disturbing to so many. And I realise Corbyn is not the constitutional hill I would have wanted to choose to die on.

Seeing the passionate responses to my original comments, I wanted to express many many apologies for stepping into this so insensitively.

I don’t believe Starmer was right to expel Corbyn from Parliament, but Starmer has done the right thing in demonstrating that antisemitism will not be tolerated in his party.

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