All hell will break loose if Corbyn is expelled from Labour

Days after being involved in a minor road accident which left his car dented and scratched and a Deliveroo cyclist with an injured arm, Sir Keir Starmer is on collision course with the Labour left.

But while his car can be repaired and the cyclist’s arm will hopefully heal speedily, the Labour leader is now facing a lengthy and bloody battle with his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn and his left-wing allies.

Did Sir Keir plan this outcome all along? Was he looking for an opportunity to take on the left, like Neil Kinnock crushing Militant or Tony Blair abolishing Clause 4 of the Labour Party constitution?

Well, not exactly. But it’s claimed Sir Keir had decided in advance on his course of action if Mr Corbyn refused in his response to the equalities watchdog report to show remorse and apologise for the antisemitism debacle.

For his part, Mr Corbyn was certainly taken by surprise by the decision to suspend him from the party and withdraw the whip.

“What!” he exclaimed when told the news by a TV crew shortly after recording a TV interview.

Earlier this year Sir Keir sacked his pro-Corbyn leadership rival Rebecca Long-Bailey from the shadow cabinet when she refused to retract and apologise for backing an antisemitic tweet by the actress Maxine Peake.

Many in the party believe the Labour leader and his new general secretary, former Blair aide David Evans, planned to follow the same strategy this time: That the offence was the defiance and lack of apology, not the original wrong-doing.

“I’m sure they had their finger on the ‘send’ button,” one insider said waspishly.

Throughout this day of high drama, Mr Corbyn was holed up in talks with the same inner circle that served him as leader: Wife Laura Alvarez, gatekeeper Karie Murphy and spin doctors Seamus Milne and James Schneider.

As one of them put it: “The old band was put back together for this moment.”

It is claimed that at one point the group held a “council of war”, joined on Zoom by Mr Corbyn’s most senior ally in Parliament, John McDonnell, along with representatives of the Unite union, Momentum and the left-wing Campaign for Labour Party Democracy.

Although Mr Corbyn declared publicly in his second TV interview of the day that he would “strongly contest the political intervention to suspend me”, the strategy agreed by his inner circle – on the advice of veteran allies Mr McDonnell and Unite’s Len McCluskey – was to stay calm, for now.

In other words, don’t get mad, get even.

Some of the younger members of the pro-Corbyn Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs, from the 2019 intake, were persuaded not to inflame the row – for now – by resigning the party whip in protest against Mr Corbyn’s suspension.

But several hours after the suspension was announced, Mr McCluskey – the biggest trade union beast in the Labour jungle under Mr Corbyn’s leadership – finally roared, condemning it as “an act of grave injustice”.

Mr McCluskey claimed if the suspension wasn’t reversed it would create chaos in the party and compromise Labour’s chances of a general election victory, declaring: “A split party will be doomed to defeat.”

He too, though, appealed to Labour members angered by the suspension not to leave the party, though that plea came too late to prevent some resignations.

Numbers matter in politics, after all. It was Lyndon Johnson who said the first rule in politics was to be able to count.

And at some point in the future the left may need members in large numbers to save Mr Corbyn, in a vote at the Labour conference, for instance.

From Mr Corbyn’s enemies, however, there was gloating.

“Corbyn had me expelled from the Labour Party for objecting to thuggery and antisemitism,” Frank Field tweeted. “Now he knows what it’s like to have the party machine which one’s contributed to for decades to sling one out.”

Although Mr Corbyn said in his second TV interview of the day that he had yet to receive any official communication, it is likely that by now he will have received an email asking him a series of questions to respond to.

After that, the appeal process will begin and his response will be considered by the national executive’s disputes panel, which will report to the full executive, which in turn will then decide whether to re-admit him or – potentially – expel him.

If it’s the latter, the left won’t remain calm any longer. All hell will break loose and the battle could very well end up in court.

The Corbyn inner circle believes Sir Keir, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, is in “big trouble” and on “dodgy legal ground”.

Earlier this week a witness to Sir Keir’s road accident claimed the Labour leader had been attempting a U-turn. Not true, a Labour Party source insisted.

And Sir Keir is adamant there will be no U-turn on antisemitism – or his battle with the left over Mr Corbyn – either.

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