‘Mad’. ‘Disgusting.’ These are the words Rory Stewart, the great centrist king over the water, uses to describe Sir Keir Starmer’s decision to expel Jeremy Corbyn from the Labour party. He goes on: ‘Jeremy Corbyn, whatever you think of him, is a major figure who represents a very significant part of Labour history and heritage.’
Well, it’s a view. And perhaps it is not surprising, since Stewart was one of the Conservative MPs Boris Johnson expelled for collaborating with the opposition against the government’s Brexit policy in 2019.
It’s still an odd association for Stewart to make. It would not be difficult to draw a clear distinction between the way Stewart and his comrades opposed their party over a matter of constitutional policy, and Corbyn, expelled over his refusal to accept the scale of the anti-Semitism which wracked the Labour party under his leadership.
But notwithstanding the specific charges levelled at the Rt Hon Member for Islington North, Stewart’s distaste for the way he and 20 other Tory MPs lost the whip seems to be a widely-held view, and not just amongst the usual chorus of FBPE fanatics.
Even Jonathan Sumption, a prominent conservative constitutionalist who recently spoke out in favour of the United Kingdom withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights, argues in his book Law in a Time of Crisis that the expulsion of Stewart, David Gauke, Sir Nicholas Soames, and their colleagues was a shocking impropriety on Boris Johnson’s part.
To those of a more progressive bent, it is a simple thing to combine the expulsion of these MPs with the prorogation row to paint a woefully inaccurate portrait of a prime minister prepared to shred the constitution to get his way.
Yet the withdrawal of the whip is perfectly proper. More broadly, it is essential to the proper functioning of parliamentary democracy – the very model high-minded critics such as Sumption and Stewart claim to prefer over the vulgar, plebiscitary model which delivered Brexit.