One of Labour’s most generous private donors, who dramatically quit the party over antisemitism, has signalled he is ready to rejoin in a further sign that Keir Starmer is winning back Jewish supporters.
Sir David Garrard revealed he had quit in 2018 as Labour struggled with accusations of antisemitism within the party. He said at the time that he no longer felt “any affinity or connection” with the party, adding that the Labour he joined “no longer exists”.
Garrard said “it should be taken for granted that I will almost happily rejoin the party” should Starmer tackle antisemitism in the way he has pledged. In a sign that Labour is attempting to reach out to previous supporters, Garrard is also due to meet the party’s new general secretary, David Evans.
It comes with Starmer attempting to cast his leadership as a new beginning. As Labour’s virtual conference began this weekend, the party revealed that its new slogan would be “a new leadership”. It is designed not just as a contrast to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, but also that of Boris Johnson. The conference is also the first staging post to a major round of local elections next May. Angela Rayner, the deputy leader, has already used the virtual conference to demand that Britain’s care workers be paid a “living wage” of £9.30 an hour (£10.75 in London) .
Stark party divisions remain, however. The forthcoming publication of a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which is investigating the party over its handling of alleged antisemitism, is likely to reopen them. Many on the left maintain the issue was exaggerated by opponents of Jeremy Corbyn to undermine his leadership.
Garrard said he had been “encouraged by what I have perceived to be Sir Keir Starmer’s position with regard to the elimination of antisemitism in the party and an even-handed and balanced approach, which I am hopeful the party will now take to the Palestinian/Israeli issue.
“I am particularly comforted by Sir Keir’s comments made during a meeting held with LFI [Labour Friends of Israel] and chaired by LFI’s parliamentary chair, Steve McCabe MP. In that meeting, Sir Keir said that under his leadership, Labour will once again be an honest broker on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It gave me further comfort to learn that the ending of the disproportionate obsession with Israel is also vital to making our party a safe and welcoming space for Jewish members once again, as well as winning back the trust of the Jewish community. Surely if the historic events of this week with two Arab nations [the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain] signing peace treaties with Israel, it is time for the party to at least be seen to start to forge a positive and constructive approach.
“So, you can see why I am cautiously optimistic. You have asked me whether I will be rejoining the Labour party. On the assumption that Sir Keir, with his leadership of the party, will ensure that it moves forward on the basis he has suggested, then it should be taken for granted that I will almost happily rejoin the party, which I have worked both for, and so closely with, over many decades.”
It is understood that Garrard, who has donated about £1.5m to Labour since 2003, regards it as too early to decide whether or not to take the further step of backing the party financially again. Labour currently receives the vast majority of its income from membership fees and donations from affiliated unions, rather than private donations from wealthy backers. Other senior Jewish figures have suggested that Starmer is repairing relations after the accusations of antisemitism that plagued it. Lord Sacks, the former chief rabbi, said last week that the Jewish community felt “very reassured” by Starmer’s leadership so far.