Labour staffers condemn Corbyn's 'appalling and hypocritical' response to antisemitism claims as backlash intensifies

Senior Labour peers also voice 'concerns' over anti-Jewish abuse, calling it 'toxic and endemic problem that we have failed to eradicate'

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Monday 15 July 2019 17:23
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Emily Thornberry on Labour antisemitism: 'Nobody can pretend that there isn't an ongoing problem'

Labour employees are to vote on whether to formally condemn the party’s “obscene” response to fresh revelations about antisemitism.

A motion tabled by the main trade union branch representing party staff says Labour should formally apologise for its reaction to whistleblowers speaking out about how cases of anti-Jewish abuse were handled.

It said the response to the former employees who spoke out during a special edition of BBC Panorama was “a source of embarrassment” and condemned “obscene” threats of legal action against them.

In a separate move, more than 200 current and former Labour staffers and supporters condemned the party's "appalling and hypocritical" response to the programme and demanded that Jeremy Corbyn answer questions about his team’s involvement in the crisis.

Senior Labour peers also wrote to Mr Corbyn to raise “concerns” over his handling of the issue.

In the motion to be voted on on Tuesday, the GMB union branch representing Labour staff said issues about Labour’s working culture raised by whistleblowers were “reprehensible and a great source of shame”.

The text, which is expected be approved, claims there is a “mental health crisis” among party staff because of the antisemitism issue and “unsustainable” workloads.

It criticised the party’s decision to attack the former employees who spoke out during the programme, saying Labour has a “proud history in standing in support of whistleblowers”.

The motion says the branch notes that: “As trade unionists, it is unacceptable for an employees workload or the culture of an organisation to cause staff to have breakdowns or to contemplate suicide.

“The fact that there is even a suggestion that this culture exists within the Labour Party is reprehensible and a source of great shame

“There is a mental health crisis amongst Labour Party staff caused by the culture, rise in antisemitism and unsustainable workloads.”

It said whistleblowers should be “commended and supported, never attacked – particularly not by the Labour Party” and claimed that the party’s argument that former employees were only forced to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) for data protection reasons was “misleading and is a source of embarrassment”.

It proposed that the GMB branch should “condemn the Labour Party’s official response to the Panorama programme and the attacks on former staff who we have found to be committed, principled and honest” and demanded that the party apologise for comments made by party spokespeople and “outriders”.

There should also be an urgent review to prevent the hiring of staff who “minimise antisemitism or dismiss it as a smear”. Doing so was as “shocking betrayal of Labour staff, the Jewish community and Labour’s history as an anti-racist party”, it said.

As the party leadership faced growing pressure over its handling of the latest antisemitism crisis, 200 current and former staffers and supporters added their voice to the criticism.

In a letter to Mr Corbyn, they said they had watched the Panorama episode with “alarm and anxiety” but were “immensely proud” of the employees who spoke out. The claims made during the documentary deserved to be treated “with the utmost seriousness”, they said.

They continued: “But the party’s response has been to smear Jewish victims, and former staff, accusing them of acting in bad faith.

“These are dedicated ‘civil servants’ of the party, who quit jobs they cared deeply about because their working environment was so toxic that it had severe consequences on their mental wellbeing, prompting one staff member to consider suicide.

“The way the party has threatened and denigrated these whistleblowers is appalling, hypocritical and a total betrayal of Labour’s core values.”

Labour's former head of disputes: department's 'mental health went through the floor' while investigating antisemitism claims

The group told Mr Corbyn that the “shameful” response to the Panorama episode was “the creation of your office” and that the crisis was “ultimately your responsibility”.

It demanded that the Labour leader clarify whether his office had intervened in antisemitism cases and explain why Labour HQ had “become such a toxic workplace”.

During another damaging day for the party leadership, four senior Labour peers also wrote to Mr Corbyn to raise "concerns” over antisemitism, saying it was a "toxic and endemic problem that we have failed to eradicate".

Given this, they said, it was "deeply saddening but not surprising" that three Labour peers resigned the whip over the issue last week.

The letter, signed by Angela Smith, Labour’s House of Lords leader, and Tommy McAvoy, its chief whip, proposed that peers should establish a panel to assess the allegations in the Panorama programme, draw up plans for an independent complaints procedure and suggest how the party’s structures could be changed to improve transparency and leadership.

A Labour spokesperson said: “The Labour Party’s comprehensive rebuttal of the Panorama programme did not in any way criticise Jewish members who have suffered antisemitism. As we said after the programme aired, we will fully investigate any complaints alleging antisemitic incidents reported by Party members in interviews in the programme. We stand in solidarity with Jewish people, and we’re taking decisive action to root out antisemitism from our movement and society.

"Our response highlighted the Panorama team inventing a quote, editing emails and making no serious attempt to understand the party’s procedures for dealing with antisemitism.

"This is an important issue in the public interest and it is essential that it be assessed in a balanced and impartial way. Instead, Panorama pre-determined the outcome of its investigation and misrepresented the evidence to present a biased and selective account."

The spokesperson doubled down on criticism of the whistleblowers, saying they had made a number of "inaccurate" claims and that "some of the individuals have a clear record of political opposition or hostility to the Labour leadership".

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