Labour anti-Semitism claims prompt dismay in party

Senior Labour figures have expressed anger and alarm over claims some of Jeremy Corbyn’s closest allies tried to interfere in disciplinary processes involving allegations of anti-Semitism.

Deputy leader Tom Watson and London Mayor Sadiq Khan were among those who spoke out following accusations made in Wednesday’s BBC Panorama documentary.

Mr Watson said he was “shocked” and “appalled” by the claims.

Labour has insisted the programme was inaccurate and denied any interference.

‘Harrowing’ testimony

Labour’s disputes team is supposed to operate independently from the party’s political structures, including the leader’s office.

BBC Panorama spoke to former party officials, who alleged they had to deal with a huge increase in anti-Semitism complaints since Mr Corbyn became Labour leader in 2015.

Eight former officials who worked in the team and dealt with anti-Semitism cases claimed to the BBC that:

  • The leader’s office was “angry and obstructive” when it came to the issue
  • Officials brought in by the party’s general secretary, Jennie Formby, “overruled” some of their disciplinary decisions and “downgraded” punishments to a “slap on the wrist”
  • Seumas Milne, one of Mr Corbyn’s closest aides, laughed when advised by a long-serving party official about what Mr Corbyn should do to tackle anti-Semitism in the party
  • On one occasion, Mr Corbyn’s office ordered batches of anti-Semitism complaints to be brought to his Commons office for processing by his aides

Labour has rejected claims of interference and described the programme as “seriously inaccurate” and “politically one-sided”. It has insisted the former staff making the claims were “disaffected”.

But Mr Watson said those who had come forward to the BBC had been “incredibly brave”.

“Hearing the testimony of party members and former staff was harrowing,” he tweeted.

“They are not ‘disaffected’ – they have been incredibly brave. Very serious questions now have to be answered.”

Mr Khan tweeted: “It breaks my heart that Jewish Labour members will have watched #Panorama and felt that there is no place in the Labour Party for them. It is more imperative than ever that Labour continues to cooperate fully with the @EHRC investigation.”

In May, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) launched a formal investigation to look into whether Labour has “unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people because they are Jewish”.

Other MPs and peers in the party also offered their support to the former staff in the documentary, adding that it showed Labour was failing to effectively tackle anti-Semitism in its ranks.

Labour peer Lord Falconer said the leadership had to “change gear” over the issue.

Fellow Labour peer Lord Levy, a former party fundraiser under ex-PM Tony Blair and a leading voice in the British Jewish community, said the party should feel ashamed of what was going on.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that if the party’s leadership could not deal with such a sensitive issue then the leadership must look at themselves and see if they needed to be changed.

He said he considered leaving the party every day because it was so difficult to stay. However, he said, friends had told him that walking away would “allow them to take over our party”.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews said the programme added weight to the group’s suspicion that the issue of anti-Semitism had been “treated with disdain”.

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Labour has been engulfed in a long-running dispute over anti-Semitism within its ranks, which has led nine MPs and three peers to leave the party.

The leadership has been accused of failing to get to grips with the problem, with allegations of hundreds of complaints against members remaining unresolved.

But Labour said it “completely” rejected any claims it was anti-Semitic.

It accused the Panorama programme of being a “seriously inaccurate, politically one-sided polemic, which breached basic journalistic standards, invented quotes and edited emails to change their meaning”.

The party said that “no proper and serious attempt was made to understand our current procedures for dealing with anti-Semitism, which is clearly essential to reach a fair and balanced judgement”.

“Since Jennie Formby became general secretary the rate at which anti-Semitism cases have been dealt with has increased more than four-fold,” it added.

“We will build on the improvements to our procedures made under Jennie Formby, and continue to act against this repugnant form of racism.”

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