Labour activist who said Jewish protest against antisemitism was work of ‘powerful special interest group’ selected as election candidate

Exclusive: Author of open letter that said organisers of ‘Enough is Enough’ demonstration were using ‘immense strength’ to ‘employ the full might of the BBC’ is now standing for party in Staffordshire

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Sunday 21 April 2019 17:39 BST
Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson on antisemitism in Labour party: Corbyn needs 'to rebuild trust' of British Jewish community

The author of an open letter that claimed a protest organised by Jewish community groups over antisemitism in the Labour Party was the work of a “very powerful special interest group” has been selected as a Labour council candidate.

The letter, which was endorsed by thousands of Jeremy Corbyn supporters and reported by The Independent last year, claimed the organisers of the protest used their “immense strength” to “employ the full might of the BBC” and “dictate who the rest of us can vote for or how we vote”.

It was written and publicised by Frances Naggs, a Labour activist in Staffordshire. Ms Naggs has since been selected as a Labour councillor in Staffordshire Moorlands for next month’s local elections and is included in official council documents as a candidate in the Bagnall and Stanley ward.

Her letter was shared widely on social media last year and received thousands of “likes”. It was posted the day after the “Enough is Enough” protest in Parliament Square last March, which was organised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council, although Ms Naggs later said she had not been referring to Jewish groups.

It said: “Yesterday we witnessed the full onslaught of a very powerful special interest group mobilising its apparent, immense strength against you.

“It is clear this group can employ the full might of the BBC to make sure its voice is heard very loudly and clearly. It is a shame not every special interest group can get the same coverage.”

It added: “But, and it is a very big BUT, we live in a democracy, a one member one vote democracy and no special interest group, regardless of their history or influence, can be allowed to dictate who the rest of us can vote for or how we vote.”

Ms Naggs told The Independent that the letter was a “naive mistake” and that she had not been referring to Jewish groups.

She said: “I’m upset that this has come up again. My case was dealt with swiftly as it was understood by all that know me that this was a naive mistake; I was completely unaware of even the idea of antisemitic tropes, and the ‘special interest group’ I was thinking of was the anti-Corbyn wing of the Labour Party. I am much more aware and educated on this issue now. I have apologised to anyone who may have misread my meaning.

“I was horrified to have caused offence and heartbroken to be labelled as an antisemite as nothing could be further from the truth.”

Commenting on the revelation that Ms Naggs is standing as a council candidate, Stoke-on-Trent North MP Ruth Smeeth, the parliamentary chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, said: “This is becoming an all too common story about the Labour Party. We have not got our own house in order, we’re not doing anywhere near enough to ensure that people of all ethnic minorities are comfortable in the Labour Party.

“Instead we’re rewarding people and putting them forward for elected office when they’ve gone out of their way to make other people’s lives miserable.

“If we really have got a zero tolerance policy towards antisemitism then it’s time to start showing it, but at this point I’ve got no faith that is the case.”

Of Ms Naggs’ letter, she said: “The overt conspiracy theory that is being promoted is extraordinary in the 21st century. Anybody who believes in those sort of conspiracies does not have a place in elected office anywhere in the UK, never mind in my home country of Staffordshire.”

Margaret Hodge on Jeremy Corbyn's 'inner circle' accused of interfering in cases of antisemitism in Labour's ranks: 'What is so awful about this is that Jeremy always proclaims zero tolerance of antisemitism'

It comes as a new poll showed that a majority of voters think Mr Corbyn’s handling of antisemitism means he is unfit to be prime minister.

Fifty-five per cent of people said the Labour leader’s record on the subject should disqualify him from entering No 10, while 21 per cent disagreed, according to a ComRes survey for Jewish News.

Half of voters said Labour has a serious problem with antisemitism – a significant rise from the 34 per cent who said the same last year. Worryingly for Mr Corbyn, this includes more than a quarter (29 per cent) of Labour voters.

Mr Corbyn has insisted he has “an absolute determination” to stamp out antisemitism in his party but 48 per cent of people polled said they did not believe him.

Andrew Hawkins, chair of ComRes, said: “Given the existential crisis facing the Conservative Party, it is also a stunning failure by Labour not to be powering ahead in the polls. Being seen as soft on racism must account for a major part of Labour’s malaise given that almost one in three of the party’s own voters at the last election believe its leader is not fit to be prime minister because of the issue.”

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “The Labour Party is fully committed to the support, defence and celebration of the Jewish community and its organisations. We are taking action against antisemitism, standing in solidarity with Jewish communities, and rebuilding trust.”

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