These days, it is rare that a piece of political news can make your jaw drop. But the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn from Britain’s Labour Party lit up social media—and my phone—like a fireworks display.
Until April, Corbyn was the leader of Britain’s main opposition party. (He stood down less than four months after leading Labour to a thumping general-election defeat last year.) The man who replaced him, former lawyer Keir Starmer, supported the punishment.
The immediate cause of Corbyn’s suspension was his reaction to an independent report, published this week by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, a British watchdog group, on anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. The report found that his office had interfered with complaints about anti-Semitic postings and comments, objected to an investigation into Corbyn himself, and contributed to a hostile environment for Jews in the party. Significantly, it found that the offenses amounted to three breaches of equalities law. One section was entitled “A Failure of Leadership.”
In this context, taking action against the man who oversaw this failure might seem obvious. Yet our political climate encourages partisans to dismiss or even cover up wrongdoing by their side. The American comparison underlines how extraordinary Starmer’s action is. If Donald Trump loses the upcoming U.S. presidential election, absolutely no one expects the Republican leadership to repudiate his racism, sexism, and contempt for democracy. There will be no reckoning with the man who corrupted the values of his party. In a hyper-partisan era, the temptation to excuse and obfuscate the mistakes of one’s own side will surely prove irresistible, even to those who have privately expressed their disgust with the president.