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Labour leadership hopeful Jess Phillips accuses rivals of keeping quiet on anti-semitism

Labour leadership hopeful Jess Phillips accuses rivals of keeping quiet on anti-semitism
4 min read

Jess Phillips attacked her leadership rivals over their part in handling Labour’s anti-semitism crisis at the party’s first hustings in the contest.

The prominent backbencher took a swipe at those within the shadow Cabinet over dealing with anti-Jewish hatred, while also repeatedly hitting out at contender Rebecca Long-Bailey.

In a heated exchange in Liverpool, Ms Phillips said: “The Labour party needs a leader who has spoken out against antisemitism and other forms of harassment.

“When others were keeping quiet – as someone who was in the room struggling for an independent system during lots and lots of meetings … I don’t remember some of the people here being in that particular room or in those particular fights when we were really pushing for this to change."

And she added: “Jewish people were scared of the Labour party winning the election. That is deeply serious ... we have lost the moral high ground to fight racism in this country because of the way we have handled antisemitism.”

The MP for Birmingham Yardley also went on the offensive towards Ms Long-Bailey, lashing out at the party’s manifesto pledge for free broadband coverage which the Shadow Business Secretary launched. 

She also mocked the frontrunner over her pledge to replace the House of Lords with an elected senate based outside of Westminster. 

“We have to speak in a language that people speak on the doorstep. No one talks about . . . wanting this senate or that senate; we have got to start talking like people actually talk about the things they actually talk about,” Ms Phillips argued. 

According to a YouGov poll Ms Phillips is on track to secure 11% of votes in the first round of the contest, trailing a long way behind Keir Starmer on 46% and Ms Long-Bailey, on 32%. 

During the hustings Ms Long-Bailey, who has been dubbed the “continuity Corbyn” candidate, said she was appalled that some people had not voted Labour because they thought the party was anti-semitic.

She said Labour should remember itself as “the party of the Lever brothers and Ralph Miliband” and speed up the complaints process.


Meanwhile, deputy leadership candidates Richard Burgon and Dawn Butler sparked a backlash for refusing to sign a set of anti-semitism pledges issued by the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

The 10 pledges include making an independent provider responsible for handling complaints, banning members expelled over anti-semitism for life and engaging more with “main representative groups” rather than “fringe” bodies on the issue. 

The commitments are backed by all five leadership contenders, but the two deputy leadership rivals told members in Liverpool why they were not also signing up.

Shadow Justice Secretary Mr Burgon said while he would support fighting anti-semitism in the party he had “some concerns” over the pledges.

“Firstly, I'm concerned about outsourcing our complaints procedure and how that would work in practice, so I think that needs clarifying,” he explained.

"But secondly I want to work with the Board of Deputies and all Jewish organisations against discrimination.”

Ms Butler, Labour’s shadow women’s and equalities minister, added: "The EHRC (Equalities and Human Rights Commission) are investigating us at the moment. It's nothing to be proud of.

"And I don't want to jump the gun on whatever they come out with. So I haven't signed the 10 pledges because I want the EHRC report to be implemented in the party.

"And then we sit down with the Board of Deputies, JLM, the other Jewish groups, and we have a discussion about where we go next.

"I don’t want to rush this. It’s too important to rush it and we have to get it right."

But the Board of Deputies of British Jews hit back, its President Marie van der Zyl saying: "It beggars belief that after four and half years of failure on antisemitism, Richard Burgon and Dawn Butler still think that they know better than the Jewish community how to fight this vile prejudice".

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