What is the whip in politics? Meaning of the term and why Jeremy Corbyn won’t have whip restored as Labour party suspension is lifted

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been reinstated as a member of the Labour party but he will now sit as an independent MP after the party whip was withdrawn

By Chelsea Rocks
Wednesday, 18th November 2020, 5:20 pm

Following a meeting by executives of the Labour party’s National Executive Committee on 17 November, Jeremy Corbyn will no longer have his party membership suspended.

Despite this, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has refused to reinstate the whip - resulting in the Islington North MP continuing to sit as an independent MP as he is no longer a member of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP).

So what does this mean for the former labour leader and the wider party? Here is what you need to know about the whip and Jeremy Corbyn’s reinstated role.

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Jeremy Corbyn has been denied the party whip by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer

What is the party whip in politics?

The whip refers to a parliamentary process whereby members of the same party can be instructed to vote in a specific way and attend parliamentary business.

Being given ‘the party’ whip’ means you are an approved representative of that party in parliament.

This means you may be asked to speak on behalf of the party during committees or debates. You are also subject to three-line whips - unusually withheld for major events such as second readings of significant bills or when a minority party has the chance to overturn the opposition’s votes - and refusing to vote in the way the party requests under a three-line whip can see an MP expelled or suspended from the party.

MPs who behave in a controversial or socially unacceptable manner - such as making comments which could be detrimental to the party or public - may also have the whip removed and be thrown out of the party.

Why was Jeremy Corbyn suspended from the Labour party?

Jeremy Corbyn was suspended on 29 October due to controversial comments he made following the publication of a human rights watchdog’s investigation into antisemitism within the Labour party.

The former labour leader refuted findings that he did not act to end Jewish discrimination within the party, saying he had done his utmost to “root out the cancer”.

He also made claims that antisemitism within the party had been ‘overstated’.

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission’s report found the party had broken the law in their handling over membership complaint about anti-semitism, failing to properly train staff who were handling complaints and to prevent “acts of discrimination and harassment” against Jewish people.

Corbyn’s successor, Sir Keir Starmer, who took over in April, then commented that those who felt the report had been "exaggerated" should "be nowhere near the Labour Party", as Corbyn was suspended by the party’s general secretary, David Evans.

Why is Corbyn no longer suspended?

Following an investigation by the party, a panel of five National Executive Committee members decided - allegedly unanimously - to reinstate Mr Corbyn’s membership.

Corbyn’s also commented on a ‘clarification’ statement - submitted to the NEC and made public following their decision - that "concerns about anti-Semitism are neither 'exaggerated' nor 'overstated'.

Why has Sir Keir Starmer not reinstated the whip?

Despite the panel’s ruling to allow the Islington North MP to hold a party membership, Starmer has said he will not reinstate the whip at this time - though added that this would be continuously under review.

In a statement on Wednesday 18 November, Starmer addressed the panel’s decision, stating: “The disciplinary process does not have the confidence of the Jewish community.

“That became clear once again yesterday.

“It is the task of my leadership to fix what I have inherited. That is what I am resolute in doing and I have asked for an independent process to be established as soon as possible.”

He added: “Jeremy Corbyn's actions in response to the EHRC report undermined and set back our work in restoring trust and confidence in the Labour Party's ability to tackle antisemitism.

“In those circumstances, I have taken the decision not to restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn. I will keep this situation under review."

Therefore, for the foreseeable future at least, the former labour leader will stand as an independent MP.

What could this mean for the Labour party?

In the immediate aftermath of Starmer’s statement and decision not to reinstate the whip, there have been several comments by Labour MPs agreeing with and arguing against his decision.

Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge - Chair of the Parliamentary Jewish Labour movement - took to Twitter to rage that she: "simply cannot comprehend why it is acceptable for Corbyn to be a Labour MP if he thinks antisemitism is exaggerated and a political attack, refuses to apologise, never takes responsibility for his actions & rejects the findings of the EHRC report. Ridiculous."

Meanwhile, Political activist Jon Lansman,founder or Momentum, a publicly Corbyn-supporting movement, said the decision to refuse Corbyn the whip had "driven a coach and horses through the party's disciplinary process".

The decision not to welcome Jeremy Corbyn back into the party could be seen to drive a wedge between the left-leaning MPs and Starmer’s supporters, resulting in an internal feud.