Chris Williamson Chris Williamson on his election in 2010. Photo: John Whitby

The attacks on Chris Williamson are first and foremost about delegitimising the Corbyn project, writes Isabel Carr

The case of Chris Williamson has to be seen in the context of the groundswell of support for Jeremy Corbyn and the anti-racist, egalitarian, and socialist politics he represents. Hundreds of thousands of people have joined the Labour Party to support him and many, many more in the wider movement and beyond are part of an unprecedented surge in political awareness. It should be clear by now that a key strategy of the establishment in response has been the weaponising and subversion of specific issues to gaslight and intimidate Corbyn supporters into inaction and silence. 

The deliberate conflation of antisemitism with anti-zionism, along with the continuing furore around Brexit, are currently the two most prominent examples. The need to stand against the very real and rising threat of antisemitism everywhere it is found has never been in doubt, and Corbyn’s exemplary record on antisemitism is well documented. It is part of a deeply held anti-racism Corbyn has clearly been committed to throughout his life. The right know that. The irony is his principled anti-racism is a key strength that has helped to win Corbyn deep-rooted support across the country. It’s that support and that commitment to principle that the right fear and are aggressively seeking to undermine. 

Corbyn supporters who want to see the hope we have turned into reality must come to terms with the nature of this situation, and what it looks like in practice, for the project to keep moving forward. 

In this ongoing battle, calls for mandatory re-selection of Labour MPs to enable true democratic representation of the many struck fear into the Labour establishment’s hearts. MP Chris Williamson’s proactive support for mandatory re-selection and his ‘Democracy Roadshow’ initiative are amongst the reasons that he has been singled out for attack.

Technically, Williamson’s suspension happened after he booked a room in Parliament for a screening of Jackie Walker’s film “Witch hunt”.  He referenced the conflation of anti-zionism with antisemitism as a weapon to intimidate supporters of the Corbyn project in Labour and ultimately remove Corbyn from the leadership and he made the statement

“The party that has done more to stand up to racism is now being demonised as a racist, bigoted party. I’ve got to say, I think our party’s response has been partly responsible for that. Because in my opinion… we’ve backed off too much, we’ve given too much ground, we’ve been too apologetic.” 

Whilst the wording is perhaps a little more bold than some might like, it is very clear and there is certainly nothing in that statement that can possibly be construed as antisemitic. It is an opinion about Labour Party strategy which many people would agree with and precisely tries to point to the need to stand up for Corbyn’s anti-racist record. Last week the investigation cleared Williamson. But no sooner had Williamson been cleared by due process than Tom Watson (again) led the charge against a decision that threatens to unmask a strategy used against the majority of Corbyn supporters in and outside the Labour Party. Keith Vaz, who sat on the panel which cleared Williamson, declared the decision needed to be revisited and as a result, Labour Party General Secretary Jennie Formby has held off restoring the whip pending the decision being revisited by the Labour Party National Executive on July 9.

How the left approaches this situation now is crucial for the future of the Corbyn project. Taking the attacks on Chris Williamson as being based on good faith and genuine concern about antisemitism is no longer plausible. Making tactical retreats in order to regroup has over and over again proved counter productive. It simply encourages the right. Their attacks are relentless. They continue despite the fact that Williamson was cleared by due process and this is because they are not about the specifics of Williamson’s case, they are about causing maximum damage to the left and to Corbyn’s leadership and about dictating the terms of the battle. 

Corbyn’s strength and the strength of the movement around him (which is far wider than the Labour Party) doesn’t come from him being ‘squeaky clean’ or ‘above the fray’; it comes from the anti-racist, egalitarian, socialist principles he – uniquely in electoral politics in the UK – represents.