Fresh Labour row erupts as party chief accused of failing to tackle anti-semitism 'cancer'

Posted On: 
4th February 2019

Deep splits in Labour have been re-opened after angry MPs accused the party's most senior official of failing to tackle the "cancer" of anti-semitism by some of its members.

Jennie Formby told Labour MPs it was impossible to eradicate anti-semitism.
PA Images

An ill-tempered meeting of Labour MPs and peers unanimously passed a motion giving party bosses a week to set out what they are doing to deal with the problem.

Among a string of demands, the motion also called for the leadership to outline how many anti-semitism cases remained outstanding, and how many times party officials had used their discretion to dismiss complaints.

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But general secretary Jennie Formby - a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn - sparked an angry response by claiming it is "impossible to eradicate anti-semitism and it would be dishonest to claim to be able to do so".

She also insisted that the party was making huge progress in dealing with the problem - but said she would not disclose how many cases had been dealt with or remained outstanding.

Speaking after the meeting, veteran Labour MP Margaret Hodge said: "The general secretary said she wasn't prepared to give us the information required. For me, if you want to get rid of the cancer of anti-semitism in the Labour party you have to have complete transparency and she's refusing to do that."

Mrs Hodge, who is Jewish, also claimed she had submitted a "dossier" of abuse she has received from Labour members, and claimed the only response she has had was one of her alleged abusers, who criticised her for reporting him to the party.

She added: "This isn't a plot to undermine Jeremy Corbyn, this is about tackling anti-semitism."

Before the weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Ms Formby sent an email to MPs in which she said: "I am proud of the progress that has been made but I’m not complacent. Fundamental change takes time, in particular in a democratic, member-led organisation like the Labour Party, where rule changes must be approved at our annual party conference. However, wide-ranging changes are already in place.

"There is more work to be done to ensure all cases are dealt with quickly and fairly, and to eliminate the evil of antisemitism from our movement once and for all. I am personally committed to ensuring that Jewish members feel safe and welcome in our party, and in reassuring the Jewish community that we stand with them against oppression and prejudice.

"That is my mission. That is what I as general secretary, our staff and our whole party must work towards and be committed to achieving together."

But she angered the meeting by declaring: "I don’t answer to the PLP, I answer to the NEC." One MP told PoliticsHome: "That is just code for I don't give a flying f***."

After the meeting, Ilford North MP Wes Streeting said: "In not giving us the data, she's ruled out any possibility of Jewish members having any confidence in the Labour party's ability to tackle anti-semitism."

Liverpool Wavertree MP Luciana Berger, who is also Jewish, added: "If we're serious about tackling the stain of anti-semitism in the Labour party, we need to get answers to the questions we are asking. None were forthcoming today."