Jeremy Corbyn to hold emergency meeting over Labour's antisemitism crisis

July 15, 2019

Jeremy Corbyn has been forced to hold an emergency meeting of his shadow cabinet and a showdown with his MPs as the antisemitism crisis engulfing Labour threatened to spiral out of control.

The Labour leader bowed to demands for action after coming under fierce attack from the party's most senior peers and from current and former staff members over his response to a TV documentary.

Mr Corbyn's reaction to the peers and staffers' attacks was announced at another heated meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) at which Mr Corbyn was condemned by Jewish MPs and the PLP chairman, John Cryer.

The antisemitism row has escalated since the Labour leadership reacted to a BBC Panorama documentary by claiming former staff interviewed in the programme were "politically motivated" and had "axes to grind".

At the weekend, the row became intensely bitter and personal when Unite leader Len McCluskey unleashed an expletive-laden onslaught on Tom Watson over his criticism of Labour general secretary Jennie Formby, who is battling cancer.

At the regular Monday evening meeting of the PLP, a furious Mr Cryer told MPs that party officials attacking staff was a "gross misjudgement". One peer present told Sky News later: "Cryer put the boot in."

Mr Cryer then announced that a special shadow cabinet meeting on antisemitism would be held next Monday, ahead of the regular weekly meeting of the PLP, which he said Mr Corbyn would attend.

The PLP chairman also said Labour's parliamentary committee would write to the whistleblowers interviewed in the documentary pledging its support for them.

Mr Cryer told Labour MPs: "The bottom line is we have got racists in our party and they are not being dealt with."

He was immediately backed by the shadow brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, who was due to address the meeting.

On antisemitism, Sir Keir said: "Throw open the books. Throw open the files. Give full access to members of staff. We cannot carry on circling the wagons."

There were angry outbursts at the PLP meeting from Labour backbenchers too.

Siobhan McDonagh declared: "The Labour Party? The party of the workers? It makes me sick."

Ms McDonagh said Sam Matthews, a former Labour staff member who appeared in the programme and is now threatening to sue the party, was her constituent in Mitcham and Morden, south London.

She said that if this was any other employer she would have been outside its headquarters with a placard.

MPs' anger boiled over at the PLP meeting just a few hours after an attack on Mr Corbyn and the Labour leadership by the party's four most senior peers in the House of Lords.

Labour's leader in the Lords, Baroness Smith of Basildon, wrote to Mr Corbyn offering to review the substance of allegations made in last week's Panorama programme.

The hard-hitting letter was also signed by Labour peers' chairman Lord Harris of Haringey, deputy leader Baroness Hayter and chief whip Lord McAvoy.

On Labour's response to antisemitism, the peers wrote: "It is now a toxic and endemic problem that we have failed to eradicate.

"It is deeply saddening, but not surprising, that three of our valued colleagues recently resigned the Labour Lords whip. The scale of abuse that they and others have suffered is heartbreaking."

The peers proposed that a small panel from the Lords could review the Panorama allegations and report back to the leader, national executive committee and wider party.

"This would necessarily mean that they have full access to existing and former party staff, as well as all paper and electronic records," they said.

They offered to draw on trade union, legal and other experience in the Lords to set up a new complaints process and that the party's governance arrangements could be improved to foster transparency and proper decision-making.

The peers wrote: "The purpose of these proposals is to ensure that the Labour Party can regain the trust of its members, supporters and the wider public.

"As the leader of our party you have a responsibility to ensure that we do this.

"In particular, you need to demonstrate decisive leadership that Labour is determined and committed to do everything possible to remove antisemitism, and those that defend it, from our party.

"Without full openness, this is a cancer that will continue to grow and, in hurting us, it will most hurt those that need a Labour government. We are prepared to do all we can to assist."

At the same time, more than 200 former and current Labour staffers have written to Mr Corbyn asking for more support for whistleblowers.

They wrote: "The revelations in the Panorama documentary deserve to be treated with the utmost seriousness. But the party's response has been to smear Jewish victims, and former staff, accusing them of acting in bad faith.

"These are dedicated 'civil servants' of the party, who quit jobs they cared deeply about because their working environment was so toxic that it had severe consequences on their mental wellbeing, prompting one staff member to consider suicide.

"The way the party has threatened and denigrated these whistleblowers is appalling, hypocritical and a total betrayal of Labour's core values. Exposing racism and corruption represents Labour values in action, and these whistleblowers should be thanked, not demonised.

"This shameful communications strategy is the creation of your office, which was criticised in the documentary for interfering in disciplinary cases involving alleged antisemitism, and has cynically used the party, and its outriders, to amplify a smear campaign against critics."

And the letter concludes: "As its leader, the moral responsibility for Labour's antisemitism crisis ultimately sits with you. Own that responsibility, or give it away to someone who will."

In a third attack on Mr Corbyn, the GMB union representing Labour staff members is to debate a motion condemning the party's response to the documentary and demanding an apology to staff and Jewish party members.

But Labour remained defiant on its response to Panorama.

A spokesman said: "The Labour Party's comprehensive rebuttal of the Panorama programme did not in any way criticise Jewish members who have suffered antisemitism.

"As we said after the programme aired, we will fully investigate any complaints alleging antisemitic incidents reported by party members in interviews in the programme.

"We stand in solidarity with Jewish people, and we're taking decisive action to root out antisemitism from our movement and society.

"Our response highlighted the Panorama team inventing a quote, editing emails and making no serious attempt to understand the party's procedures for dealing with antisemitism.

"This is an important issue in the public interest and it is essential that it be assessed in a balanced and impartial way. Instead, Panorama pre-determined the outcome of its investigation and misrepresented the evidence to present a biased and selective account."

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