Labour’s peers chaired by Toby Harris (pictured) escalated the party civil war over anti-Semitism today as they condemned Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘failure’ and backed deputy Tom Watson
Labour’s peers escalated the party civil war over anti-Semitism today as they condemned Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘failure’ and backed deputy Tom Watson.
The 185 peers – which include a raft of former cabinet ministers including David Blunkett and Peter Mandelson – said the scandal was an ’embarrassing and hugely damaging mess’.
They said Mr Corbyn’s failure to get a grip ‘diminishes the moral authority of the Labour Party’ and was a ‘matter of great shame’.
The group condemned party general secretary Jennie Formby’s criticism of deputy leader Mr Watson for trying to tackle the scandal head on.
The new escalation came as Diane Abbott admitted she ‘feels sorry’ for Luciana Berger after she was driven out of the party by anti-Semitic abuse.
But the shadow home secretary defended Labour over anti-Semitism, insisting the party has ‘tried to do its best’ over rampant abuse.
Mr Corbyn insisted today his party had ‘nothing to hide’ from a probe by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
The letter, by the chairman of the Labour Peers Group Toby Harris, said: ‘This failure diminishes the moral authority of the Labour Party, undermines our whole ethos and calls into question our wider commitment to anti-racism.’
He added: ‘Labour Peers are also firm in their view that the failure to deal with what is now a crisis in the Labour Party is a political failure and not one of process or resourcing.
‘Until the people making the decisions about discipline and expulsions accept as antisemitic words and actions viewed by the Jewish community as antisemitic nothing will change and the crisis will continue.’
Peers demanded answers on whether Ms Formby had written the incendiary letter attacking Mr Watson or if it was drafted in Mr Corbyn’s office.
They also probed whether Corbyn aide Andrew Murray and his daughter Laura Murray were involved in Labour’s complaints process.
The EHRC could compel Jeremy Corbyn’s party to overhaul the way it deals with anti-Semitism cases, which would be enforceable by the courts. Mr Corbyn has so far remained silent over the threat of an investigation
Mr Harris said: ‘We think it wholly right and proper that Tom as Deputy Leader should have taken the initiative that he did.
‘Labour Peers – and I would suggest the vast majority of our MPs – have lost confidence in the processes and in the way that they have apparently been operating.
‘Finally, may I make it clear that this letter is not intended to be a criticism of our Party staff.
‘We have a huge admiration for them and the fantastic job that they do. Our concern is not with them but with a political failure of leadership.’
Labour is facing a humiliating full-scale official inquiry into the anti-Semitism crisis and the resignation of Jewish MP Ms Berger was described as ‘the worst day of shame in the Labour Party’s 120-year history’.
The Liverpool MP, who gave birth to her second child this week, was ‘bullied out of her own party by racist thugs’, Mr Watson said last week.
Today Ms Abbott said she had sympathy for Ms Berger – but defended Labour’s handing of the crisis.
She told The House Magazine: ‘The one I do feel sorry for is Luciana [Berger]. You’ve got all this stress and strain, extraordinary general meetings, votes of no-confidence, it’s the kind of stress no one should endure when they’re eight months pregnant’.
But when asked if the party had handled the anti-Semitism issue she added: ‘I think the party has tried to do its best’.
Of the Harris letter, a Labour spokeswoman said: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has made clear that he is a militant opponent of antisemitism and that rooting it out of our Party is an absolute priority.
‘The Labour Party takes all complaints of antisemitism extremely seriously and we are committed to challenging and campaigning against it in all its forms.
‘Since becoming General Secretary, Jennie Formby has made procedures for dealing with complaints about antisemitism more robust.
‘Staff who work on disciplinary matters have always led on investigations and recommendations on individual cases, and the Leader’s Office is not involved in this process.’
the resignation of Jewish MP Luciana Berger was described as ‘the worst day of shame in the Labour Party’s 120-year history’.
In one of the darkest days in Labour’s history yesterday, Britain’s equalities watchdog admitted the party may have ‘unlawfully discriminated’ against Jews.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) will now consider whether to launch a formal probe.
Labour would have to hand over email and other correspondence so investigators can see how the party dealt with discrimination claims.
The EHRC could then compel Jeremy Corbyn’s party to overhaul the way it deals with anti-Semitism cases, which would be enforceable by the courts.
Labour MP John Mann, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Anti-Semitism, predicted the EHRC’s move would eventually lead to resignations of senior party figures
It would only be the second time the watchdog has taken action against a political party. Nine years ago it forced the BNP to drop its ‘whites only’ membership rule.
Labour said it will co-operate fully with the EHRC, but said it rejects ‘completely’ any suggestion it has acted unlawfully. Last night moderate Labour MPs predicted high-level resignations.
The move comes two days after it emerged that Mr Corbyn’s aide Laura Murray sought to block the suspension of a member who described an anti-Semitic mural of a group of ‘hook-nosed’ men as ‘great’.
It was reported yesterday that another ally of the leader, Thomas Gardiner, had intervened repeatedly to downgrade suspensions for anti-Semitism.
The EHRC – which was founded by the Blair government – said it acted after receiving two dossiers showing examples where anti-Semitism was not dealt with properly by Labour. One was from the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, and the other was from the Jewish Labour Movement.
On a shameful day for Labour, Mr Corbyn remained silent over the threat of an investigation.
Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth, who has been subjected to anti-Semitic abuse, called it a ‘devastating indictment’.
She added: ‘Decent members will be horrified that we have got into this position. I welcome the EHRC intervention but today is another dark day in the history of our party which could and should have been avoided if concerns raised had been heeded last year.’
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson said he was ‘deeply saddened’ at the EHRC move.
He said he would contact Labour general secretary Jennie Formby to ask for all relevant files and data to be retained ‘so that investigators can form a clear picture of the processes and culture around Labour’s response to anti-Semitism’.
Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, said it was ‘utterly disgraceful and unacceptable’ that the party had taken so long to deal with anti-Semitism.
‘We need to remove this stain from our party, and we need to expel these despicable individuals, so we can go into the next election, united by our historic values, not poisoned by this vicious disease,’ she said.
The EHRC will now contact Labour to set out its concerns. If the response is found to be unsatisfactory, it could launch a formal investigation.
A spokesman for the watchdog said: ‘Having received a number of complaints regarding anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, we believe Labour may have unlawfully discriminated against people because of their ethnicity and religious beliefs.
The EHRC said it acted after receiving two dossiers showing examples where anti-Semitism was not dealt with properly by Labour. One was from the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism [File photo]
‘Our concerns are sufficient for us to consider using our statutory enforcement powers. As set out in our enforcement policy, we are now engaging with the Labour Party to give them an opportunity to respond.’
A Labour spokesman said: ‘We completely reject any suggestion the party has acted unlawfully and will be co-operating fully with the EHRC. Labour is fully committed to the support, defence and celebration of the Jewish community and its organisations.’
Labour MP John Mann, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Anti-Semitism, predicted the EHRC’s move would eventually lead to resignations of senior party figures.
‘Obviously there will be resignations from those in power as this fully unfolds,’ he said. ‘Everyone should let the EHRC do its job.’
Gideon Falter, of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, said: ‘It is a sad indictment that the once great anti-racist Labour Party is now being investigated by the equality and human rights regulator it established. Since the Holocaust, Britain has led the world in promoting human rights, and it could scarcely be more important to British society that the Jew hatred festering in the Labour Party is firmly brought to an end.’
The Jewish Labour Movement said it asked the EHRC in November last year to investigate the allegation that the Labour Party was ‘institutionally anti-Semitic’.
Huda Elmi, a Momentum-affiliated member of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC), responded to the EHRC’s decision by calling for the watchdog to be scrapped. A file picture of Momentum’s badges and leaflets is pictured above [File photo]
It said in a statement: ‘After years of anti-Jewish racism experienced by our members, and a long pattern of denial, obfuscation and inaction by those with the power and ability to do something about it, we felt there was little choice but to secure a fully independent inquiry, not encumbered by corrupted internal practices. Everything that has happened in the months since our referral supports our view that the Labour Party is now institutionally anti-Semitic.’
Marie van der Zyl, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: ‘This proposed independent investigation confirms what the Jewish community has known for a long time: that the Labour leadership has a problem with anti-Jewish racism which it is unable or unwilling to solve.’
But Huda Elmi, a Momentum-affiliated member of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC), responded to the EHRC’s decision by calling for the watchdog to be scrapped.
She tweeted: ‘The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a failed experiment. If tomorrow it were to cease in existence, most of the people it was created to support wouldn’t even notice.
‘We need to abolish it and bring back separate, well-resourced governmental bodies for each equality strand.’