Amber Rudd demands Jeremy Corbyn suspend local Labour party over 'crying wolf' anti-semitism motion
Top Tory Amber Rudd has demanded Jeremy Corbyn suspend the local Labour branch in her Hastings constituency after it dismissed claims of anti-semitism as “crying wolf”.
The Work and Pensions Secretary accused the local party of having “goaded and baited Jews” and called on the Labour leader and deputy leader Tom Watson to act.
She said the Hastings and Rye Constituency Labour Party had become "infected" with anti-semitism and that Jewish people in the area "deserve far better".
The branch passed a motion last week backing MP Chris Williamson after he was suspended for saying the party had been “too apologetic” about anti-semitism.
It said allegations of anti-semitism had been used as a “cheap political football” and “criminally mis-used in an unscrupulous bid to destroy the Corbyn-led Labour party”.
It noted that Labour general secretary Jennie Formby had released figures showing that out of hundreds of allegations of Jew-hate, some 96 members had been suspended and 12 expelled.
And it added: “Chris Williamson rightly said Labour had ‘done more to address the scourge of anti-semitism than any political party’ and had nothing to apologise about.
“For that, he is suspended and will forthwith be marked out for slander. This ‘crying wolf’ could cause valid warnings of anti-semitism to go unheard and does no service to Jews. Such cheap exploitation as a political football is also deeply shameful.
“We believe that this orchestrated campaign now rising to a crescendo with staged resignations alongside Brexit and a possible general election, suggests that accusations of anti-semitism are being criminally mis-used in an unscrupulous bid to destroy the Corbyn-led Labour party.”
Ms Rudd said: “Jewish people in Hastings & Rye deserve far better than a local Labour party obsessed with peddling conspiracy theories about Jewish people.
“For too long, the Labour Party in Hastings and Rye has deliberately goaded and baited Jews with hateful language and got away with it.
“This latest salvo is a disgrace and shows that the local party is infected with antisemitism.
“I know there are Labour Party members and councillors in Hastings who are appalled by this. They need to raise their voices.
“And now Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson must immediately place the CLP under special behavioural measures and personally oversee efforts to treat this infection.”
A former shortlisted Labour candidate for Hastings and Rye, Michelle Harris, was pulled out of the race last year after she drew comparisons between Israel and the Nazis.
She had written in 2014: “I have often said the Holocaust victims who died with dignity must be turning in their graves at the horrors done in the name of Judaism. Gaza is a ghetto being shelled.”
Ken Maitland, chair of Hastings and Rye CLP, said: "I reject entirely Amber Rudd’s claims about our local party. We are a vibrant, welcoming and diverse local party which is absolutely committed to fighting racism and antisemitism.
"Anti-semites are a tiny minority within our party of over half a million people but one anti-semite is too many. Polling has shown that anti-semitic attitudes are higher among Conservative voters than Labour voters so clearly all parties must work together to tackle this prejudice across the political spectrum.
"We are very pleased to have a close relationship with members of the local Jewish community and the many active Jewish members in our CLP. We will always ensure our meetings are welcoming, comradely and without any discrimination."
The attack from the Cabinet minister comes after Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said Labour "clearly" had a problem with anti-semitism and must "atone" for it.
"It’s a tiny number but it’s still a problem," he told Sky News' Sophy Ridge on Sunday, noting that party figures showed just 0.1% of members had faced complaints.
"I do not want one anti-semite in our party. I do not want one piece of evidence of someone being anti-semitic.
"We have got to eradicate it from our party because our party has got to be in the lead with others in eradicating it from our society."
Lord Falconer, who the party is drafting in to oversee its complaints process on anti-Jewish abuse, meanwhile warned that a failure to tackle the problem in Labour's ranks could cost Jeremy Corbyn the keys to 10 Downing Street.
"I mean if that characterisation - which doesn't affect 99% of Labour activists or people who work for the Labour Party - but if that characterisation continues within the mainstream Jewish community, then the idea that we could ever be elected seems to me to be very, very remote," he told the BBC's Pienaar's Politics.
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe