Margaret Hodge denies Labour claim she 'expressed regret' over Corbyn confrontation

Lawyers for veteran MP accuse party of false claims in 'cynical attempt to save face in your necessary climb-down' - after investigation into incident dropped

Tom Embury-Dennis
Tuesday 07 August 2018 09:57
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Margaret Hodge speaks about being on the receiving end of antisemitism as a Labour MP

Dame Margaret Hodge has hit back at the Labour leadership, insisting an investigation into allegations she called Jeremy Corbyn an antisemite was not dropped because she “expressed regret”.

The party had made the false claim in a 'cynical attempt to save face in your necessary climb-down', said lawyers for the veteran MP.

Despite her refusal to apologise over the incident, Labour abandoned its inquiry into the former minister amid accusations the probe was fuelling the damaging antisemitism row engulfing the party.

Dame Margaret said she was “pleased” after general secretary Jennie Formby wrote to inform her she would face no further action for her alleged “abusive behaviour”.

The investigation was opened after a row between the Labour grandee and Mr Corbyn in parliament, during which Dame Margaret allegedly accused her party leader of being a “racist and antisemite” and said he did not want “people like me” in the Labour Party.

It was dropped after a backlash from Labour MPs, including allies of Mr Corbyn such as John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, and Jon Lansman, chair of the Momentum campaign group.

Journalists were briefed that the probe was abandoned after she expressed “regret” to Labour chief whip Nick Brown for the way she raised her views, but Dame Margaret strongly denied the suggestion.

In a letter from her lawyers Mishcon de Reya, posted on Twitter by Dame Margaret, the firm accused Ms Formby of an “entirely disingenuous” attempt to save face over the party’s climbdown.

“She did not express regret – in those words or any others,” the letter reads. “As you are aware, our client will not apologise for her conduct or words, as she did nothing wrong,” it said. “You have entirely misrepresented our client’s discussions with the Opposition Chief Whip in a cynical attempt to save face in your necessary climb-down.”

Gideon Falter, of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, said the decision to drop the inquiry against her was a “humiliating capitulation” by the party.

“The entire Jewish community was disgusted by the way that Dame Margaret was victimised simply for confronting antisemitism in the Labour Party,” he said. “We applaud her for standing up against antisemitism in the party and for refusing to bow to the considerable pressure put on her to apologise.”

Jeremy Corbyn releases video apologising for antisemitism in the Labour party

The decision to drop the inquiry comes after deputy leader Tom Watson called for the investigations into Dame Margaret and a second Labour MP Ian Austin – who clashed with party chairman Ian Lavery over the issue – to be abandoned.

His comments, warning the party faced a “vortex of eternal shame” unless it tackled antisemitism within its ranks, prompted a furious Twitter campaign to oust him under the hashtag #ResignWatson.

Earlier, the party confirmed George McManus, a member of Labour’s national policy forum, had been suspended following a Facebook posting referring to Mr Watson and “Jewish donors” and comparing him to Judas.

Mr McManus subsequently removed the comments and apologised to Mr Watson and the Jewish community.

Writing on his Facebook page, Mr McManus said Mr Watson had received “£50,000+ from Jewish donors”, adding: “At least Judas only got 30 pieces of silver.”

His comments were condemned by Labour backbencher Wes Streeting who called them “100 per cent a classic antisemitic trope”.

After deleting the original remarks, Mr McManus wrote: “I’d like to apologise to Tom Watson and to the Jewish community for my drawing an analogy between him accepting money from Jewish donors and the biblical story of the betrayal by Judas.

“I fully accept that such an analogy is wrong and am sorry for making the comparison.”

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “The Labour Party takes all complaints of antisemitism extremely seriously and we are committed to challenging and campaigning against it in all its forms. Complaints about antisemitism are always fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures, and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken.”

Additional reporting by PA.

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