Published: 14:25, 29 October 2020
| Updated: 14:30, 29 October 2020
After more than half a century, Jeremy Corbyn’s association with the Labour Party dangles by a thread.
On Thursday, the 71-year-old described how he hoped his political legacy would be his “determination to achieve a world of peace and justice and human rights”.
But it was in relation to those human rights, not least the equalities watchdog’s scathing assessment of how Labour handled anti-Semitism allegations under his leadership, that, moments later, it was announced Mr Corbyn was formally suspended from the party he had been a proud member of since the age of 16.
For Mr Corbyn, sometimes pilloried for his cranky and resentful demeanour, said he did not accept all the EHRC’s findings, which included political interference in complaints by his office, and claimed that the scale of the problem had been “dramatically overstated”.
His successor and north London neighbour, Sir Keir Starmer, repeatedly refused to condemn Mr Corbyn following publication of the report, though he signalled there was the potential to remove the party whip from those who felt the problem of anti-Semitism was “exaggerated”.
“You are part of the problem, too,” he said.
Sir Keir was speaking at a press conference with a backdrop stressing “a new leadership”, undoubtedly seen as a further sign of his desire to distance the party from four and a half years of Mr Corbyn’s brand of Labour.
His suspension marks a gradual fall from grace after what many felt was an incredible rise up the Labour ranks following years on the backbenches.
The veteran rebel was put forward for the leadership by fellow left wingers as it was seen as “his turn” to stand, with seemingly little hope of success, after Ed Miliband quit in the wake of taking the party to defeat in 2015 against David Cameron.
But something unusual happened, Mr Corbyn appeared to catch a mood on the centre left as Labour members insisted they needed a more “genuine” leader.
The opposition to the Corbyn surge was also fractured when neither Yvette Cooper or Andy Burnham was willing to stand down to try and blunt the rise of the Corbynistas.
The result was that, in September 2015, Mr Corbyn romped home on the first ballot with a commanding 59.5% of the vote.
The bulk of the parliamentary Labour Party was perplexed at the turn of events, though the majority of the rapidly swelling membership was delighted.
Tensions soon exploded over the June 2016 Brexit referendum.
Critics accused Mr Corbyn of not taking the situation seriously enough, and polls showed that 40% of Labour supporters did not know where their party stood on the key issue as the closely fought referendum loomed into view.
In the aftermath of the surprise Brexit vote, Mr Corbyn faced a shadow cabinet rebellion led by then-foreign affairs spokesman Hilary Benn.
Mr Corbyn moved quickly to sack the son of former left wing standard bearer Tony Benn, which led to a mass exodus from the shadow cabinet.
The Labour leader refused to be bowed, and appointed supporters to fill the vacant spaces as he saw off a challenge to his leadership by Owen Smith, increasing his backing among party members in the process with 61.8% support in the contest.
Mr Corbyn was re-elected Labour leader with a bigger mandate than before, and then faced Theresa May’s snap general election in June 2017.
Despite some early polls putting Labour more than 20 points behind the Tories, the party received its biggest election upsurge since 1945 and helped deprive Mrs May of a Parliamentary majority.
Mr Corbyn used the electoral boost to solidify his position, but continuing controversy over the way Labour was dealing with anti-Semitism allegations among members dogged the party.
The Labour leader tried to walk a tightrope on Brexit in the run-up to the snap December 2019 general election, insisting he would seek new terms on EU membership, but refusing to say which option he would back in a subsequent referendum.
Boris Johnson’s blunt “get Brexit done” message smashed all before it, and Mr Corbyn’s hopes of a socialist victory were left buried under the collapse of Labour’s so-called “red wall” in Wales and Northern England.
In recent months he was even overshadowed by his older brother, conspiracy theorist Piers Corbyn, who appeared to command more attention by addressing crowds at an anti-mask, anti-vaccination, anti-5G protest.
Jeremy Corbyn said he would “strongly contest” his suspension, though a failure to do so could bring the curtain down on his peculiar political career.