Jeremy Corbyn accused of 'racial discrimination' by Labour MP Chi Onwurah

The MP said the Labour leader had 'prevented two of its few black employees from doing their jobs'

Jon Stone
Monday 22 August 2016 18:40
Jeremy Corbyn has been accused of incompetence by his MPs
Jeremy Corbyn has been accused of incompetence by his MPs

A Labour frontbencher has suggested that Jeremy Corbyn might be hauled before an employment tribunal for “racial discrimination” if he worked outside politics.

Chi Onwurah, shadow minister for culture and the digital economy, accused the Labour leader of “picking on” her and another black woman MP, which she said was “statistically interesting, to say the least”.

She said Mr Corbyn had dealt with her and Thangam Debbonaire incompetently by splitting a job between them and then failing to properly communicate the changes.

“If this had been any of my previous employers in the public and private sectors, Jeremy might well have found himself before an industrial tribunal for constructive dismissal, probably with racial discrimination thrown in – given that only 5 per cent of MPs are black and female, picking on us two is statistically interesting to say the least,” she wrote in the New Statesman.

“Indeed, as Thangam was undergoing treatment for cancer at the time, he could have faced disability action as well. In any other job I would have called on my union for support in confronting an all-white management that prevented two of its few black employees from doing their jobs.”

Ms Onwurah remains in Mr Corbyn’s frontbench team but is backing Owen Smith for leader of the party.

A spokesperson for Mr Corbyn told The Independent: "Chi Onwurah's comments relate to a discussion about the delineation of Shadow Cabinet roles last January, as is not uncommon in both shadow cabinets and cabinets.

"Chi was appointed by Jeremy Corbyn to be shadow minister for culture and the digital economy last September. When Thangam Debbonaire was appointed as a dedicated shadow minister for the arts in January, there was a negotiation about the division of responsibilities with Chi and Thangam, but at no point was anyone sacked.

Chi Onwurah remains on the Labour front bench

"We regret that Chi feels she was singled out, but this was clearly not the case."

The latest attack against Mr Corbyn comes as he lays out plans to increase democracy across society. The Labour leader said he would devolve more power to regions and local councils, introduce participatory budgeting, put workers on company boards, and democratise the party.

“I am determined to democratise our country from the ground up, and give people a real say in their communities and workplaces,” he said.

“We need to break open the closed circle of Westminster and Whitehall, and of the boardrooms too.

“Decisions in Britain are overwhelmingly taken from the top down. And that’s crucial to why our country is run in the interests of a privileged few.”

The announcement followed a further rift between Mr Corbyn’s supporters and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan – after Mr Khan’s name was booed at a rally in support of Mr Corbyn on Sunday night.

Meanwhile the leader’s rival Mr Smith sought to reassure left-wing Labour voters that the he would not tack to the political centre if he won the contest with new pledges on policymaking.

“I would bind myself to the decisions made by the party on party policy. I would not seek to overturn it,” he said in a speech in his home constituency of Pontypridd.

“Crucially I would give conference a new role and responsibility in our party to sign off on our manifesto.

“I believe it is necessary to reassure people across the party that there would be no backsliding on my watch and that the radical and credible policies I laid out in this leadership contest will be laid out in a manifesto, guaranteed.”

He also announced measures to strengthen the party’s policy forum, suggesting that affiliated organisations should be more closely involved in the process.

Left-wingers may still be wary of Mr Smith tacking to the right, however. He has made few pledges on immigration and welfare during the course of the contest – two areas Labour centrists believe the party needs to move rightwards on to win over swing voters.

New right-wing policies on these issues are still therefore consistent with Mr Smith following through on pledges made in the campaign.

Earlier in the campaign Mr Corbyn’s team accused Mr Smith of copying his policies on a number of issues.

Ballot papers in the leadership contest went out to Labour members at the start of this week, with 640,000 eligible to vote, according to the party.

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