Paris Gourtsoyannis: Anti-semitism row puts Labour unity out of reach

Doubts have resurfaced about Jeremy Corbyn's leadership and judgment (Picture: PA)
Doubts have resurfaced about Jeremy Corbyn's leadership and judgment (Picture: PA)
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It was a month ago yesterday that Jeremy Corbyn wrongfooted the government and forced pro-EU critics within Labour to give him grudging credit by backing membership of a customs union after Brexit.

The savvy and well-executed move seemed to open the door to a period of relative peace within Labour. No sooner had it creaked open than Corbyn slammed it shut again. First came his most Eurosceptic speech yet, in Remain-voting Scotland. Labour was sucked into a new bullying row over claims that shadow welfare spokeswoman Debbie Abrams was forced out of her job. Then Corbyn got his response to the Salisbury attack badly wrong. Late on Friday, he sacked shadow Northern Ireland secretary Owen Smith for repeating his long-held support for the single market and a referendum on the final Brexit deal.

READ MORE: Jewish leaders tell Jeremy Corbyn ‘enough is enough’ in anti-semitism row

Now Labour’s response to anti-semitism is drawing protest. In just four weeks, every category of doubt about Corbyn’s leadership and judgement has resurfaced. Most of it is self-sabotage. Labour made Corbyn’s defence of an obviously anti-semitic mural in a 2012 Facebook post worse by claiming he didn’t see it properly. As an excuse, it wasn’t far off, because Corbyn is metaphorically blind in his left eye: the pillars of his politics — in this case, belief in diversity and opposition to Israel’s actions in Palestine — obscure the reality that too many of his supporters buy into conspiracy theories and anti-semitic tropes. Constant fear of a plot against him doesn’t help either.

The past month has shown Corbyn is unable to escape the baggage of being himself. As the results of two leadership campaigns and a general election have shown, that won’t stop Labour cleaning up in English local elections in May.

But any chance for Labour to reconcile with itself under Corbyn is surely gone.

READ MORE: Jeremy Corbyn backs new post-Brexit customs union with EU