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Tue, 29 September 2020

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WATCH: Labour MPs confront John McDonnell over party's handling of anti-semitism

WATCH: Labour MPs confront John McDonnell over party's handling of anti-semitism
3 min read

Two Labour MPs have angrily confronted Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell over the party's handling of anti-semitism in the wake of the Chris Williamson's suspension.

Mr Williamson, the Derby North MP, was suspended by Labour on Wednesday after footage emerged of him saying the party had been "too apologetic" about its problems with anti-Jewish racism.

The move came after Labour bosses initially said Mr Williamson, who issued an apology for his comments, would not lose the whip while an investigation into his "pattern of behaviour" went on.

The initial decision triggered an angry backlash from some MPs, with members of the party's parliamentary committee deciding to ban Mr Williamson from weekly meetings of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Speaking to ITV's Peston on Wednesday night, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell denied that the party had been too slow to act.

"What happened was a complaint was made, Jennie [Formby, Labour general secretary] gave a notice of investigation, investigated and then suspended and the chief whip did as well, within hours," he said.


But he clashed with Labour MPs Lisa Nandy and Wes Streeting after saying the party's handling of an earlier case of anti-semitism had been a "shining example" of how to deal with the problem.

Naz Shah - then serving as a parliamentary aide to the Shadow Chancellor - was suspended over her own anti-semitic comments in 2016.

Mr McDonnell said: "We suspended her from PPS and the party. She apologised, she went through an exercise with her local Jewish community.

"She's now held up by the local Jewish community as a shining example of how you address these matters."

But Ms Nandy interrupted him to say that was "not true".

"I was in the Shadow Cabinet at the time and I was trying to get answers out of the leader's office about [this]," the MP for Wigan said. "I was live on telly being asked questions about it.

"It had been going on at that point for 24 hours and no action had been taken and the official line coming out the party was we'll draw a line under it.

"And that changed under pressure from members of the shadow cabinet and members of the PLP."

Mr McDonnell shot back: "She was my PPS. I took that decision. I'm sorry, you're wrong."

Ilford North MP Mr Streeting then jumped in to accuse top Labour aides of taking a different view of the case.

He said: "I'm not going to name individual members of Labour Party staff - you know as well as I do that the most senior member of staff responsible for strategy and communications did not think that she should be suspended, did not think she should resign."

Mr McDonnell branded that claim from Mr Streeting "just unfair".

"I dealt with that," he said of Ms Shah's case. "I think it is a shining example of how we deal with things effectively.

"The issue for me then is why weren't we quicker on other cases as well and we're learning those lessons."

The Shadow Chancellor also defended Labour's recent steps to try and beef up its response to anti-semitism - but he admitted the party had not been "quick enough" at dealing with a backlog of cases.

"We've brought in Charlie Falconer, former attorney general to give us advice on those procedures," he said.

"I've said time and time again, we've doubled the number of staff dealing with it. We've also said whatever resources Jennie needs she can have."


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