John McDonnell: Labour clearly has a problem with anti-semitism and must atone for it

Posted On: 
3rd March 2019

John McDonnell has admitted Labour “clearly” has a problem with anti-semitism and must “atone” for it.

John McDonnell appeared on the Sophy Ridge show on Sky News this morning
Credit: 
PA Images

The Shadow Chancellor said he wants the party to become a “beacon of light” in how other organisations should deal with racism in their ranks.

It comes as Labour scrambles to get a grip on the anti-semitism crisis that has engulfed the party after it played a role in the eight defections to the Independent Group.

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General Secretary Jennie Formby has asked Labour peer Lord Falconer to take charge of the issue as an anti-semitism commissioner with full oversight of the complaints and disciplinary process.

Asked today whether Labour had a problem with anti-semitism, Mr McDonnell said: “We clearly do. We clearly do.”

“It’s a tiny number but it’s still a problem,” he told the 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.”

He said he had heard Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner saying people should “atone” when they have committed an offence, and added: “That’s the sort of process we need to go through.

“I think we have started out on that path and I want to be in a number of months time really proud that we have become a beacon of light in how we address this problem.”

His comments were criticised by Joan Ryan, who last month left Labour to join The Independent Group.

She told Sky News: “I think what he said there is very disappointing, because it absolutely demonstrates that there is no real understanding in the leadership of the problem they’ve got.

"He quoted some numbers, a tiny percentage of their total membership who have been reported or disciplined through their processes.

"It’s not about the number of individuals, institutional racism is about racism in your very organisational structure within your processes and I think the fact that over three and a half years they’ve not managed to deal with this problem in any way that eradicates it demonstrates that it is institutionally racist, they don’t understand the problem and they are not taking the measures needed to tackle it." 

A row exploded at the weekend between general secretary Jennie Formby and deputy leader Tom Watson after the West Bromwich East MP pledged to set up a shadow complaints process.

Last night it emerged senior Labour party figures pushed back last year against recommendations to suspend a number of party activists accused of anti-semitism.

Mr Watson took to Twitter to warn:  “For too long our processes for dealing with racism and abuse have failed.

“If correct, this story suggests unacceptable political interference in dealing with antisemitism cases. I will be urgently consulting with colleagues before giving a fuller response.”