Here’s how cancel culture finally bit the hand that fed it.

Keir Starmer’s decision to suspend the whip from Jeremy Corbyn is a gross politicisation of Labour’s anti-Semitism debacle. The Labour leader may genuinely be concerned about racism in the party, but the suspension of the whip is utterly contrary to the recommendations made in the EHRC report, which specified that complaints must be dealt with by an apolitical body. Corbyn certainly should have kept his mouth shut when the report was published, but to suspend the whip after he was cleared of wrongdoing by the Nation Executive Committee (NEC) is a sinister and authoritarian move.

What goes around comes around?

More sinister and authoritarian still, is the party’s approach towards dissenting members. The leadership has outright banned Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) from discussing Corbyn’s suspension and debating anti-Semitism. Last week, the deputy leader — Angela Rayner — threatened to suspend ‘thousands of members’ if she had to, and a number of CLPs including Bristol West, one of the largest in the country, have been suspended by the party. This is an outright attack on democracy; privileging those who have access to journalists and the breakfast shows over the party’s grass roots.

Those now suffering from the party’s anti-free-speech-in-the-name-of-anti-racism approach are overwhelmingly on the left of the party. Those keen to implement it are predominantly on the right. Yet this way of conducting politics is nothing new to the left. The only difference is that we’re not used to being on the receiving end of it. This is a development that some of us have been warning about for some time. Political correctness, safe spaces, and silencing people that you disagree with on trumped up charges of racism and ‘Islamophobia’, have ben part and parcel of left-wing politics for quite some time. To deploy a phrase that always gets its user in trouble; the chickens are coming home to roost.

The gagging order on CLPs has been couched in the rhetoric of creating a ‘safe space’ for Jewish members. If Jeremy Corbyn was on the Labour right, and stood accused allowing a culture of anti-black racism to permeate the party, many now facing suspension would have been calling gleefully for a ban on discussion themselves. After all, some things just aren’t up for debate. The left’s moral certainty on identity politics has made it perfectly acceptable to silence people you disagree with. This has in the past included speakers at universities, actors, journalists, and even friends and family. It is also the very thing that has made it so difficult for the movement to refute accusations of anti-Semitism in a credible way.

Cancel culture just got meaner

To many in the party, the charge of anti-Semitism has seemed necessary to deny outright, or claim that it is all a political conspiracy. But in the present climate, to admit any ambiguity or failure on questions of race or identity is to become cancellable by our own standards. It was only a matter of time before the political establishment caught on. At first, the strategy was to cry ‘cancelled’ when criticised at all. The new approach is to co-opt cancel culture and identity politics, and use them against their creator. Those accused of anti-Semitism and silenced for critiquing Israel now know how it feels to be accused of Islamophobia and silenced for critiquing political Islam. In the words of W.H. Auden, ‘those to whom evil is done do evil in return’.

The co-option and manipulation of identity politics by the political establishment is not isolated to the Labour Party. In America, the imminent Biden administration is betting that if it offers enough positions to women of colour, their abysmal anti-poor, pro-war record will be overlooked. This obsession with identity is allowing the political and financial establishment to retain power and influence whilst the left fusses about the window dressings. It is an obstacle to genuine structural change, and has created a hushed and authoritarian atmosphere. Many that once derided the slippery slope analogy are now finding out what happens when political correctness is enforced by an ideology other than their own.

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