John McDonnell warns Labour MPs not to use anti-Semitism row as ‘cover’ for new centrist party
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has warned Labour MPs not to "exploit" the party's battle with anti-Semitism to justify breaking away and forming a new parliamentary group.
Labour has faced heavy criticism in recent weeks following a decision by its ruling National Executive Committee not to fully adopt an internationally-agreed definition of anti-Jewish abuse along with its examples.
The move, which the party says is designed to avoid stifling criticism of Israeli policy, has been condemned by several major Jewish community groups and a string of Labour MPs, prompting the party's ruling body to reopen talks on the code.
But Mr McDonnell hit out at what he called the "appalling cynicism" of any attempt to use the row over abuse to justify a split in the Labour ranks.
The Shadow Chancellor said: "For anybody to use the issue of antisemitism as a cover for launching a new political party they had been planning for nearly two years would rightly be seen as an act of appalling cynicism, basely exploiting a genuine concern that people of goodwill are working hard to address."
The intervention from the shadow cabinet heavyweight comes after Streatham MP Chuka Umunna - a frequent critic of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership - came under fire for warning that his colleagues were at "breaking point" over the party's handling of the row.
The intervention prompted a furious war of words with Unite union general secretary Len McCluskey, another key ally of the Labour leader.
The union boss accused Mr Umunna of "inflating and maintaining" the dispute in a bid to damage Mr Corbyn.
He fumed: "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."
Hitting back, Mr Umunna said he “won’t be bullied into silence", adding: "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."
LABOUR PRESS ROW
The row came as Labour reported a string of newspapers to the press regulator over their coverage of Mr Corbyn's attendance at 2014 event in Tunisia.
The Labour leader's visit to the Palestinian cemetery in Tunis has come in for criticism amid claims that people linked to the 1972 killing of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics were honoured during the trip.
But the party has said Mr Corbyn, who was pictured holding a wreath at the site, attended the memorial to honour those killed in an Israeli air strike in 1985 and did not lay any wreaths at the graves of those linked to the Munich attack.
It has now lodged a complaint with regulator IPSO over the coverage of the trip by the The Sun, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Daily Express and Metro.
Labour claims that the titles misrepresented the nature of visit, downplayed the attendance of mainstream Palestinian figures at the conference, and did not correctly identify those buried at the site.
The controversy over the ceremony included an angry broadside from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said Mr Corbyn's actions deserved "unequivocal condemnation from everyone – left, right and everything in between".
Mr Corbyn shot back, accusing Mr Netanyahu of making a "false" claim and hitting out at Israel's handling of protests in Gaza.