Antisemitism: Two-thirds of Britons think Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour has problem with prejudice, poll reveals

Exclusive: A majority also said the Labour leader handled antisemitism claims against Labour 'badly' as MPs debated the issue in the Commons

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Wednesday 18 April 2018 09:33 BST
Ruth Smeeth reads out antisemitic abuse she has recieved online in Parliament

Almost two-thirds of the British public believe Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party has a problem with racism or religious prejudice, a new poll has revealed.

An exclusive survey for The Independent found 61 per cent of people thought Labour had an issue, with Ukip the only other party receiving a comparable score.

A majority of people questioned by BMG Research also believed Mr Corbyn had handled claims of antisemitism “badly”, with the party becoming subject to protests from the Jewish community and Israel’s Labour Party severing ties with the leader’s office.

The Labour leadership may take some comfort in the poll’s finding that almost a third of people also believed claims of antisemitism have been exaggerated to damage Mr Corbyn.

It came as the House of Commons debated antisemitism on Tuesday, with one Labour MP saying it has become more commonplace, conspicuous and corrosive within her party.

The poll asked a weighted sample of more than 1,500 people to what extent, if at all, they believed four parties had “a problem with racism and/or religious prejudice”.

For Labour, almost a fifth of people, 19 per cent, said the party had a “considerable problem”, while 21 per cent said it had “somewhat” of a problem and a further 21 per cent, a “small” problem.

Corbyn: We will not tolerate anti-Semitism or other racism

It means a total of 61 per cent of people thought the party had a problem with racism and/or religious prejudice to some degree, with 12 per cent saying it had no problem at all and 27 per cent saying they did not know.

Of the other parties, only Ukip scored worse, with a total of 67 per cent of people believing it had some degree of problem.

However, a higher proportion of people, around 35 per cent, thought Ukip’s problem to be “considerable”, 19 per cent said it had “somewhat” of a problem and 12 per cent, a “small” problem.

Only 8 per cent said Ukip had no problem at all and 12 per cent said they did not know.

When it came to the Conservatives, those believing the party had some degree of problem amounted to 55 per cent – with 11 per cent believing it to be “considerable”, 20 per cent saying it had “somewhat” of a problem and 24 per cent saying it had a small one. Some 17 per cent said the Tories had no problem and, 28 per cent did not know.

The Liberal Democrats were seen as least prejudiced, with 43 per cent saying the party had some sort of problem – only 4 per cent “considerable” – 21 per cent saying it had no problem at all and 35 per cent saying they did not know.

Members of the Jewish community protest against antisemitism in the  Labour Party (AFP/Getty)

Speaking during the House of Commons debate, Labour’s Liverpool Wavertree MP, Luciana Berger, said people have accused her of being a “paid-up Israeli operative”, a traitor and an “absolute parasite”, and told her to “get out of the country and go back to Israel”, after she spoke out about antisemitism.

Saying her party “urgently needs to address this issue publicly and consistently”, she went on: “We have a duty to the next generation. Denial is not an option.

Prevarication is not an option. Being a bystander who turns the other way is not an option. The time for action is now. Enough really is enough

Labour MP Luciana Berger

“Prevarication is not an option. Being a bystander who turns the other way is not an option. The time for action is now. Enough really is enough.”

The Independent’s poll found that more than half of people questioned believed Mr Corbyn had handled the issue “badly” to some extent, with 25 per cent saying he had dealt with it “quite badly” and 27 per cent, “very badly”.

In comparison, only 21 per cent thought he had handled it “well” – 16 per cent thinking he dealt with it “quite well” and just six per cent, “very well”. Some 27 per cent did not know.

Anti-semitism protesters shout 'Corbyn Out' during demo at Labour HQ

Labour’s Ruth Smeeth read a sample of abuse she received, saying: “My fan base has shown scant regard for appropriate parliamentary language so I apologise in advance.

“‘Hang yourself you vile treacherous Zionist Tory filth, you’re a cancer of humanity’, ‘Ruth Smeeth is a Zionist she has no shame and trades on the murder of Jews by Hitler who the Zionists betrayed’, ‘Ruth Smeeth must surely be travelling first class to Tel Aviv with all that slush, after all she’s complicit in trying to bring Corbyn down’.”

The Stoke-on-Trent North MP, who wept in the chamber, went on to tell colleagues it was “truly heartbreaking” that she had to stand in Parliament Square to protest against the antisemitism that was “engulfing” parts of her party.

Tony Blair says the people around Jeremy Corbyn don’t take antisemitism seriously

But the BMG poll also suggested that around a third of the public believe there is a political element to the scandal that has dogged the Labour party for weeks.

Some 32 per cent agreed to some extent with the statement, “the problem of antisemitism is exaggerated to damage Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour leadership”.

A total of 28 per cent disagreed with it, 20 per cent did not know and 20 per cent “neither agreed nor disagreed”.

A Labour Party spokesperson said in response to the poll that the party was committed to challenging antisemitism in all its forms, adding that Mr Corbyn had asked Labour’s new general secretary to make tackling antisemitism in the Labour Party “her number one priority”.

The spokesperson also said the leader would meet the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council to listen to their concerns and discuss how to “best root out antisemitism”.

In the Commons debate, shadow communities secretary Andrew Gwynne said “much more work needs to be done” on antisemitism, adding: “No political party has the monopoly on vice or virtue but we will put our house in order.”

Mr Corbyn’s party has been embroiled in an on-going furore since the leader gave his backing to an antisemitic London mural, something he later retracted and apologised for.

But two Jewish groups organised a protest to highlight a series of allegations of antisemitism by Labour members, with the party facing a backlog of disciplinary cases. MPs who attended the rally then faced criticism from Mr Corbyn’s supporters; film director Ken Loach called for them to be expelled from the party.

Soon after came the resignation of Christine Shawcroft from the party’s national executive committee when it emerged she had stepped in to defend a council candidate accused of Holocaust denial. She was also head of the NEC’s dispute panel, responsible for overseeing disciplinary hearings into cases of alleged antisemitism in the party.

With the row escalating the chairman of the Israel’s Labour Party wrote to Mr Corbyn, accusing him of having shown “hostility” to the Jewish community and of failing “to adequately address” antisemitism.

BMG interviewed a representative sample of 1,562 adults living in Great Britain between 10 and 13 April. Data are weighted. BMG are members of the British polling council and abide by their rules

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