Labour leadership candidates clash over antisemitism in fiery TV debate

‘We’ve allowed high-profile cases of antisemitism to go undealt with and unaddressed, and by doing so, we’ve given a green light to antisemites everywhere that they had a home in Labour,’ says Lisa Nandy

Andrew Woodcock
Politics Editor
Thursday 27 February 2020 22:32
Keir Starmer accuses Rebecca Long-Bailey of not speaking out about antisemitism in shadow cabinet meetings

Labour’s leadership candidates have clashed over antisemitism, as frontrunner Keir Starmer accused his left-wing rival Rebecca Long-Bailey of failing to speak out on the issue in shadow cabinet, while Lisa Nandy said both the other contenders faced a “serious question of judgement” about their records.

The exchange came in a Sky News debate in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, where Sir Keir also confirmed that he would keep the 50p top rate of tax for high earners promised in Labour’s manifesto for the December 2018 general election.

And all three candidates to replace Jeremy Corbyn dodged the question of who will get their second-preference vote in the ballot.

Ms Nandy was critical of both her rivals for remaining in Mr Corbyn’s shadow cabinet at a time when the party leadership was failing to deal adequately with prejudice against Jewish people.

“We’ve had a collective failure of leadership at the top of the party for years, where we’ve allowed high-profile cases of antisemitism to go undealt with and unaddressed, and by doing so, we’ve given a green light to antisemites everywhere that they had a home in Labour,” said Ms Nandy.

“I spoke up about this. I spoke about it when I was in the shadow cabinet. It’s the only time I broke collective responsibility. And I spoke up on every occasion in the three years after that.

“The reason that I did that is because I am half-Indian, and I know what racism feels like and I know that it cannot be your battle alone to fight it. There is no such thing as being not racist. There is either being a racist or there is being an anti-racist. It requires you to take an active stance and to go out and challenge and fight for better. That is what I did.

“There is a serious question of judgement here. And I’ll just say this to Keir – I believe that you are sincere about this, but if we do not acknowledge how badly the shadow cabinet as a whole got this wrong, we will not earn the trust of the Jewish community.”

Sir Keir retorted: “Lisa, you were in the shadow cabinet when this issue came up as well.”

But she replied: “And I spoke out publicly and I left and I didn’t return.”

Sir Keir said that he had battled for months in shadow cabinet for the adoption of an international definition of antisemtism.

“I argued that we should have automatic expulsion of clear cases. And in the end of those arguments, we did it, so we made some difference,” he said.

Asked by moderator Sophy Ridge whether Ms Long-Bailey had spoken out in shadow cabinet meetings, Sir Keir replied: “Rebecca didn’t speak out in the same way as I did, in my view.

“But I really, really don’t think ... I don’t think it’s fair and it’s right for us to just try to score points now off each other in relation to this.”

Ms Long-Bailey replied: “I’m not pointing fingers or making a note of the exact dates and times that particular individuals spoke at shadow cabinet.

“Keir knows that I spoke at shadow cabinet a number of times about this. I was often the shadow cabinet member that did the media to try and explain what was happening and expressed my concern many, many times about how we weren’t tackling this in the way that I thought we should.

“But the time for retrospective criticism of each other has gone. We’re in a crisis.”

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