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Behind the masks, the need for debate

26 November, 2020 — By John Gulliver

Protesters with face masks in Finsbury Park on Sunday in support of Jeremy Corbyn, calling on Labour leader Keir Starmer to restore the whip to the MP

IT was a kind of game of hide-and-seek played out by masked adults in a park on Sunday afternoon – and all to avoid a punishment they all feared.

More than 50 men and women held banners, many home-made, all proclaiming support for Jeremy Corbyn who has been suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party, apparently initially for three months, until he “unambiguously” apologises for stating the scale of alleged anti-semitism in the party established by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) had been “exaggerated”.

They had gathered in clandestine fashion, texting or ringing each other with the code “Let’s take a stroll in the park”. When assembled they stood far apart from each other, held up their banners, and then left – before they feared the police would arrive.

And so they melted away.

Why the cloak-and-dagger affair? Because all of them as Labour Party members could face suspension and expulsion simply for proclaiming support for the former party leader – an MP for nearly 40 years with more than 26,000 majority in Islington North.

The strange political charade was held in Finsbury Park in Corbyn’s constituency.

Even stranger, perhaps, is a decision taken by the party’s general secretary David Evans and the leader Sir Keir Starmer that bans party members from discussing disciplinary matters such as Corbyn’s loss of the parliamentary whip on the ground of their lack of ‘competency.’

Which committee or body decided this? None, it seems. Was it ever debated publicly within the party – no, apparently. The party appears to be governed by arcane rules – and democratic debate becomes a whisper.

Jeremy Corbyn

Instead of open debate there is fear. I have received many anxious calls from party members who do not want their names made known or published for fear of suspension from a party they have been members of for years – and do not want to be thrown out of it.

You could say they have voluntarily joined a club and must abide by its rules but would they have done that had they known that at times free open debate – free speech – would be banned?

Keir Starmer

David Evans is an administrator, a technocrat, but Starmer is a lawyer of some standing, who has undoubtedly postulated arguments around the Human Rights laws in his career. He, of course, would know the value of free speech. None of this can be debated openly in the party, it seems, because it all turns on the question of a banned subject – the withdrawal of the whip from Corbyn.

There is turmoil in the party with wounds that run deep. But more disturbingly it exposes a kind of totalitarian thinking that reminds me of that great political thriller Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler.

But letters received for publication in the New Journal and Islington Tribune, openly signed by dozens of party members seeking the restoration of the whip for Corbyn, suggest the cloud of fear hanging over the party may be lifting – allowing a debate long denied.

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