Why hasn’t Peter Willsman been sacked over his antisemitic rant caught on tape? Here are five reasons why Jeremy Corbyn may be reluctant to get rid of him.
1 He’s mates with Jeremy Corbyn
Willsman has been pals with Jeremy Corbyn since the 1970s when they moved in the same left-wing circles surrounding Tony Benn. They remain close confidantes today, as revealed by the news that Corbyn texted Willsman during a service to commemorate the Somme for advice on parts of the Chakrabarti report on antisemitism “we need to be a bit careful about”.
2 He’s a key figure on the far-left
As the secretary of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, Willsman is one of a handful of far-left figures including Momentum’s Jon Lansman that meet ahead of internal Labour elections to cut backroom deals over which candidates will stand. That’s why seven members of CLPD are on the Corbyn-supporting ‘JC9’ slate of candidates in the current NEC election.
3 Punishing Willsman raises questions about Corbyn himself
Sacking Willsman would be an admission that his taped remarks were antisemitic – but the tape shows that despite being in the room Jeremy Corbyn did not speak up. If Willsman goes, the question turns to why Corbyn and many of his closest allies on the NEC including general secretary Jennie Formby remained silent, and why they allowed Willsman to escape without punishment or even an investigation when a written account of his remarks emerged last week.
4 Suspending Willsman hands moderates a seat on the NEC
If Willsman is suspended, just eight candidates will remain on the far-left slate for elections to Labour’s NEC. That will mean the highest ranked candidate not on the slate – most likely one of the two independent candidates, Ann Black or Eddie Izzard – is guaranteed a place. Labour’s NEC is already finely balanced, forcing Corbyn supporters to avoid votes on controversial issues like the party’s definition of antisemitism, making the loss of Willsman a serious setback.
5 Sacking Willsman risks fracturing Corbyn’s power base
Willsman is not the first far-left NEC member to face suspension over antisemitism. His CLPD ally Christine Shawcroft was forced to step down in similar circumstances after defending a council candidate accused of denying the Holocaust – but not before she had accused trade unions of “sticking it to the rank and file members” when they failed to support her on antisemitism cases. Her suspension provoked an angry backlash from other far-left groups too, some of whom accused Corbyn of capitulating to his critics. It shows that sacking Willsman could have unpredictable consequences for the coalition of far-left figures and trade unionists that helps Corbyn rule his party.