Labour's affiliate Jewish group remains with party amid threats of a split over antisemitism allegations

Members of the JLM, which has been affiliated to Labour since 1920, vowed to ‘stay and fight’ for the party

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
,Lizzy Buchan
Wednesday 06 March 2019 21:50 GMT
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Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson on antisemitism in Labour party: Corbyn needs 'to rebuild trust' of British Jewish community

Labour‘s officially affiliated Jewish group has opted to “stay and fight” after deliberating whether to sever its ties with the party over the handling of antisemitism allegations.

Jewish Labour MPs Dame Margaret Hodge, Ruth Smeeth and Dame Louise Ellman joined around 200 Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) members for an emergency meeting on how the group should respond to the antisemitism row that has engulfed the party in recent months.

With emotions running high during the two-hour meeting at a synagogue in west London, speaker after speaker stood up to insist the group must “stay and fight”.

But many present also called for fresh action against antisemitism and a party leadership they claimed was enabling it.

Members of the JLM, which has been affiliated to Labour for nearly a century, voted overwhelmingly to remain with the party at the gathering in London on Wednesday night, while a concurrent meeting in Manchester also supported the move.

It comes after more than a 100 Labour MPs, including shadow cabinet members, wrote to the JLM to urge them to stay.

Mr Corbyn also wrote a letter acknowledging the “enormous distress” caused by antisemitism and expressing his “very strong desire for you to remain a part of our movement”.

Anger at Mr Corbyn was clear during the meeting, with the Labour leader named personally by almost every speaker. Many speakers proposed remaining affiliated to the party but finding a way to express their opposition to Mr Corbyn and the prospect of him becoming prime minister.

Concerns were also raised about who would take JLM’s place as Labour’s official Jewish affiliate if the group left.

Dame Louise Ellman, JLM’s president, said: “This is a fight for the soul of the Labour Party. A party that allows antisemitism to go unchecked unless it is exposed in the public glare is not an anti-racist party.”

The Liverpool Riverside MP claimed Mr Corbyn and his allies would be happy to see JLM disaffiliate, but added: “At this critical moment, it’s not the time to go away – it’s the time to intensify our work to end the scourge of antisemitism within the Labour Party and preserve the soul of our Labour Party.”

Dame Margaret said the meeting was a “very, very emotional moment”.

She told JLM members: “The Labour Party been around for over 100 years. This organisation has been around for nearly 100 years and it’s been affiliated to the Labour Party longer than any trade union. I’ve been a member for 56 years. Jeremy Corbyn, has only been leader of the Labour Party for three years.”

She added: “Jews are fighters – we’re not going to run away, we’re going to fight.”

Referencing her fight against the British National Party (BNP) in her Barking constituency in 2010, she said: “I’ve fought the fascists on the right and I will fight the fascists on the left.”

She said she’d had “a zillion times more” antisemitic abuse from supporters of Jeremy Corbyn than she did from far-right activists when she stood against BNP leader Nick Griffin.

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JLM national secretary Peter Mason said: “The message from the Jewish Labour Movement this evening was absolutely clear. If the Labour Party fails to show solidarity to us, we will not show solidarity to it.

“That counts for MPs who do not sign their names to letters showing solidarity with us, that counts for members of the Scottish parliament, that counts for councillors.

“But we as a Jewish movement will make it very clear to the party leadership: we are not going anywhere, we are staying, we are standing and we are fighting against the corrupted antisemitism that has gripped our party.”

It comes amid fresh controversies over the perceived involvement of Mr Corbyn’s office in the handling of antisemitism complaints, which he has repeatedly said he is not involved with as the complaints are not a political matter.

MPs were furious when they were told by a senior party official that one of his aides, Laura Murray, had been appointed as acting head of Labour’s independent complaints unit.

Her father Andrew, an ally of the Labour leader, is a former Communist party member and chief of staff at Unite the union.

Labour sources had claimed on Monday that she was one of two junior staffers moved over simply to offer “administrative support” to cope with the volume of antisemitism cases.

But at a meeting of Labour’s Parliamentary Committee, MPs heard that Ms Murray would be shadowing the role for a fortnight before being appointed on an interim basis, The Independent understands.

The party then appeared to backtrack, saying the comments were made in error and the head of complaints was still in post.

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