Tony Blair accuses Jeremy Corbyn’s inner circle of failing to accept urgency of Labour’s antisemitism crisis

Exclusive: Mr Blair said the problem was being dismissed as a 'plot' to oust the Labour leader

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Thursday 29 March 2018 19:02 BST
Tony Blair says the people around Jeremy Corbyn don’t take antisemitism seriously

Tony Blair has accused Jeremy Corbyn’s inner circle of failing to accept the urgency of Labour’s antisemitism crisis.

Speaking exclusively to The Independent, the former prime minister said the leader’s close advisers do not “really take [the problem] this seriously” and even believe it is part of a plot to oust Mr Corbyn.

He argued that unless the leader now acted swiftly to “root out” and eliminate antisemitic people in the party, Mr Corbyn would fail a key test of his own personal leadership.

Mr Blair’s intervention comes as the crisis gripping Labour creeps upwards, with a senior member of its ruling executive forced to quit a key post amid claims she defended a holocaust denier.

The party’s new general secretary was also said to have played a role in giving union work to a woman expelled from Labour for saying Jews had “big noses” and were responsible for “slaughtering people”.

Mr Blair said: “The trouble is there are people certainly around Jeremy Corbyn and around the leadership, who I don’t think really take this seriously.

“I think they think it’s really all just a plot to get at Jeremy Corbyn ... they are not coming to the disciplinary questions with the attitude in mind that they should.

Protesters gather outside Parliament in opposition to antisemitism in the Labour Party

“You need to send a very strong signal that antisemitic behaviour will not be tolerated and people who are engaged in it have no place in the Labour Party and you have got to be very, very clear.”

Labour was desperately trying to get the crisis under control on Thursday, with shadow chancellor John McDonnell promising adequate “mechanisms” to deal with the problem.

The trouble is there are people certainly around Jeremy Corbyn and around the leadership, who I don’t think really take this seriously. I think they think it’s really all just a plot to get at Jeremy Corbyn

Former prime minister Tony Blair

But Mr Blair told The Independent: “Where this thing starts properly is with a determination in the leadership, and I don’t just mean Jeremy Corbyn, I mean the leadership as a whole and that group of people around him, that this is a serious problem that needs to be dealt with as a problem.

“This is not a media management issue, it’s not keeping people pacified by token actions, it’s actually understanding that there is a sort of politics that has come into the Labour Party in these last few years that has got to be put back out again.”

An earlier attempt to solve the problem – an inquiry conducted by Shami Chakrabarti – failed to quell claims the party was not tackling the issue. She was later nominated for a peerage by Mr Corbyn.

Tom Watson defends Jeremy Corbyn over antisemitic mural

Mr McDonnell admitted on Thursday that the Chakrabarti recommendations had also “not been implemented effectively”, but said they would be now.

Mr Blair said that he had initially been reluctant to believe the problem was as big as it is, but now said the leader has to “eliminate it”.

He added: “It’s a real test of leadership on whether he is prepared to accept that this is a problem, that should have been dealt with a long time ago, should have been taken much more seriously.

“He hasn’t up to now, he’s got to do it now, and if he doesn’t, it’s going to say something deep and damaging about the Labour Party.

“He’s got to understand that, the strength of feeling is such that it’s not going to go away.”

Anger flared up over the problem recently, when it emerged Mr Corbyn had offered his backing to a street artist whose mural featuring antisemitic tropes was due to be removed following complaints.

Mr Corbyn conceded he was wrong to have supported the mural, but senior aides are said to have removed the word “sorry” from his initial statement.

This week the leader gave a lengthy interview to the Jewish News in an attempt to draw a line under the escalating crisis, but it was overshadowed when it emerged that Christine Shawcroft, head of Labour’s disputes panel, had opposed the suspension of a council candidate accused of Holocaust denial.

In a statement announcing her resignation from the panel, she said she was sorry and had not been aware of the “abhorrent” Facebook post that led to the candidate’s suspension.

Ms Shawcroft had only just started the job on the disputes committee, which investigates allegations of antisemitism, in January. She will still retain her seat on the party’s ruling executive.

New general secretary Jennie Formby will now be tasked with pushing through the reforms from the Chakrabarti review. But she also was under the spotlight recently when it emerged she was involved in giving work to someone who had previously been suspended from Labour for antisemitism.

Vicki Kirby found work under Ms Formby at Unite despite having been suspended by Labour in 2014 over tweets in which she claimed Jews had “big noses” and were responsible for “slaughtering people”, and called Adolf Hitler a “Zionist God”.

On Thursday it emerged that more than 2,000 supporters of Mr Corbyn backed an open letter suggesting a Jewish-organised protest against antisemitism in Labour was the work of a “very powerful special interest group”.

It claimed the organisers of Monday’s demonstration had used their “immense strength” to “employ the full might of the BBC” in order to launch an “onslaught” against the Labour leader. The event was organised by Jewish community groups the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council.

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