Chuka Umunna blasts back after Len McCluskey accuses him of exaggerating Labour anti-Semitism
Labour MP Chuka Umunna has said he “won’t be bullied” by Len McCluskey after the Unite union chief accused him of exaggerating anti-Semitism in the party to undermine Jeremy Corbyn.
The Streatham MP, who earlier this week warned that his colleagues were at “breaking point” over Labour’s handling of anti-Jewish abuse, branded the latest intervention from the Unite boss “shameful”.
Labour has faced criticism over a decision by its ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) not to fully adopt an internationally-agreed definition of anti-Semitism along with its examples of anti-Jewish abuse.
The NEC has since agreed to revisit the code – which it argues will avoid stifling legitimate criticism of Israeli policy - following a backlash from Jewish community groups and some Labour MPs.
But Mr McCluskey today tore into the leaders of three key Jewish groups, saying they had refused to "take 'yes' for an answer" as the Labour leader sought to address their concerns.
And he accused Mr Umunna of “inflating and maintaining" the dispute in a bid to damage Mr Corbyn.
Writing for HuffPostUK, the union chief said: “Given the paucity of evidence that he actually produces to sustain his charge that he is a member of an ‘institutionally anti-Semitic’ party, it is fair to ask whether Umunna is merely exploiting the latest episode to justify his moves to breakaway from Labour, the plotting for which has been widely reported elsewhere.”
That prompted a furious response from the Labour MP, who said: “I stand by what I've said on racism in the Labour Party and won't be bullied into silence, not least because my family have experienced racism too.
“Jeremy Corbyn himself has said it is a problem Labour has not properly dealt with. If Len McCluskey doesn't like that, so be it.”
The Streatham MP shot back at the claim he had failed to provide evidence of widespread anti-Jewish abuse in party, saying he had “set out in detail why it is wholly justified to reach this conclusion many weeks ago”.
And he added: “Instead of attacking the victims of racism, our values dictate that we stand up for them - that is what I have done.
“It’s shameful the General Secretary of the union of which I am a member should make a personal and political attack against me instead of facing up to this issue.”
Mr McCluskey’s blast at the Labour MP came as he acknowledged that the party’s decision not to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism in full had been “insensitive”.
Joining those urging the party’s ruling National Executive Committee to adopt the code, Mr McCluskey said: “Clearly, it would have been far better for the party to have adopted at least ten of the eleven IHRA examples in their original wording.
“Not doing so - and particularly without adequate consultation - was insensitive and bound to lead to misunderstanding, and also served to distract attention from the real issues at stake.
“It would be for the best if all eleven were now agreed, so the party can move on.”
However, the Unite chief – whose trade union is Labour’s biggest financial backer – also urged the party not to descend into “a vortex of McCarthyism”, and said there were “free speech problems” with the IHRA example which focuses on descriptions of Israel as “a racist endeavour”.