Labour MPs criticise party leaders over response to antisemitism: ‘Platitudinous, dismissive and far from acceptable’

Party’s most senior official accused of ‘unacceptable’ response to fresh concerns after she refuses to publish data on cases being investigated

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
@BenKentish
Monday 04 February 2019 18:53
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Jeremy Corbyn releases video apologising for antisemitism in the Labour party

The row over antisemitism in the Labour Party has reignited after furious MPs condemned party leaders for their “unacceptable” response to anti-Jewish abuse.

During a heated showdown between MPs and senior officials, the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) unanimously passed a motion calling on the leadership to “adequately tackle” antisemitism and said it was “very concerned” that disciplinary action against a number of individuals has been dropped.

MPs and peers warned that failure to address the issue risked anti-Jewish sentiment in the party “appearing normalised” and giving the impression of Labour being “institutionally antisemitic”.

The vote, at the PLP’s weekly meeting, followed a number of cases in which high-profile Labour members accused of antisemitism were let off without punishment.

Former MP Jim Sheridan, now a councillor in Scotland, was suspended by the party last year after saying he had lost “respect and empathy” for the Jewish community.

He was reinstated last week, with no further action taken.

In another case, Bristol University professor David Miller was found not to have broken any party rules despite claiming the creation of Israel was a “racist endeavour” and insisting that “most of the allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party have been false”.

The PLP motion called on party officials to release figures on how it is dealing with cases of antisemitism, including data on how many reports are being investigated, which Jewish groups are being consulted and how many members have received antisemitism training.

However, Labour general secretary Jennie Formby told the meeting that she would not be providing the information, saying she was accountable to the party’s National Executive Committee and not its MPs.

In a heated exchange, Labour grandee Dame Margaret Hodge, who has faced antisemitic abuse, told Ms Formby that transparency was needed to tackle the “terrible, terrible cancer of antisemitism” and end the impression that the party was “institutionally antisemitic”.

Speaking afterwards, Dame Margaret said: “The resolution was unanimously supported by the Parliamentary Labour Party and the general secretary of the Labour Party basically said she wasn’t prepared to give us the information that was required in the resolution.

“For me if you want to get rid of the cancer of antisemitism in the Labour Party, you have to have complete transparency, and she’s refusing to do that. That’s why I’m angry.”

Ilford North MP Wes Streeting described Ms Formby’s report as “platitudinous, dismissive and far from acceptable”.

He said: “In not giving us data, she’s ruled out any possibility of Jewish members and Jewish constituents having confidence in the Labour Party’s ability to tackle [antisemitism] and is also falling considerably short of the standards that we expect from government.”

Ms Formby also sparked fury after telling MPs that she would not be able to fully eradicate antisemitism in the Labour Party.

Labour MP Luciana Berger, another victim of antisemitic abuse, said: “We have a responsibility as a party, if we’re true to the values of equality and anti-racism against all, to root this out.

“One antisemite in our ranks is one too many for a party that is supposed to pride itself on having equality at its core, and yet we were told by the general secretary today that she cannot eradicate antisemitism. Frankly that’s not good enough.

“For a party that is supposed to have [equality] as one of its central values, at its core, that we all hold dear, on the membership cards that we carry in our wallets, that is not acceptable.”

The PLP motion was tabled by Newcastle North MP Catherine McKinnell and Stoke-on-Trent North MP Ruth Smeeth.

It read: “In the months that have followed the PLP is dismayed that there remains such a backlog of antisemitism cases that are still to be investigated and a decision reached – in particular the high-profile cases that it was promised would be concluded by July 2018.

“The PLP is very concerned by recent reports that a number of cases of alleged antisemitic activity from high-profile members have been dropped. The PLP calls on the party leadership to adequately tackle cases of antisemitism, as a failure to do so seriously risks antisemitism in the party appearing normalised and the party seeming to be institutionally antisemitic.”

Writing for Jewish News, Ms McKinnell said: “Despite the warm words and promises of action, far too many cases of antisemitism remain unresolved, whilst often serious complaints are apparently being concluded with letters simply ‘reminding’ perpetrators of what is appropriate behaviour with no further sanction beyond that.

“Only recently we learnt – on the Friday evening before Holocaust Memorial Day of all times – that a number of high profile cases had apparently been concluded in this way.”

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However, Ms Formby insisted that “significant progress” has been made in tackling antisemitism in recent months.

In an email to Labour MPs shortly before the PLP meeting, she wrote: “I am proud of the progress that has been made but I’m not complacent. Fundamental change takes time, in particular in a democratic, member-led organisation like the Labour Party, where rule changes must be approved at our annual party conference. However, wide-ranging changes are already in place.

“There is more work to be done to ensure all cases are dealt with quickly and fairly, and to eliminate the evil of antisemitism from our movement once and for all. I am personally committed to ensuring that Jewish members feel safe and welcome in our party, and in reassuring the Jewish community that we stand with them against oppression and prejudice.

“That is my mission. That is what I as general secretary, our staff and our whole party must work towards and be committed to achieving together.”

A Labour spokesperson said: “Jennie Formby gave a comprehensive update on the significant work that’s been done to strengthen and speed up procedures and addressed the points in the motion. Complaints processes are confidential and the party has a responsibility to protect members’ data.”

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