Fresh Labour anti-semitism row as MPs told Jeremy Corbyn ally handed top job in complaints unit

Posted On: 
6th March 2019

Labour's attempts to get to grips with its anti-semitism crisis descended into farce after MPs were told a key ally of Jeremy Corbyn was being put in charge of the party's complaints process.

Laura Murray is an ally of Jeremy Corbyn.
PA Images

Members of the Parliamentary Committee, which is made up of Labour MPs from across the country, were told about Laura Murray's apparent promotion by a senior party official.

But after the news sparked an angry backlash, Labour bosses insisted the official - Kate Purcell, who is head of general secretary Jennie Formby's office - had made the announcement "in error".

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However, PoliticsHome has been told that Mr Corbyn himself, who was at the Parliamentary Committee meeting, had backed Ms Purcell when she made the announcement.

The confusion came just hours before the Jewish Labour Movement debates whether to sever its ties with the party after nearly 100 years.

It emerged earlier this week that Ms Murray, who is the daughter of Andrew Murray, the Unite chief of staff and part-time adviser to Mr Corbyn, has been moved from her job in the leader's office to the party's complaints unit to help clear a backlog of anti-semitism cases.

Labour sources insisted she would only be carrying out "administrative" tasks and would not be ruling on individual complaints.

However, a row broke out when Ms Purcell told the Parliamentary Committee she had been appointed "interim head of complaints",

One MP present said: "Jeremy initially told us that Laura was only doing administrative stuff, but later in the meeting Kate said she would be interim head of complaints and inferred that she would be taking over permanently. 

"Jeremy was then pressed on what he had said initially, and said she had been talking about what she used to do. There's no way this was just a slip of the tongue."

However, a Labour source said: "Laura is not acting head of complaints. A staff member made an error in the Parliamentary Committee. 

"The head of complaints is still in post. She decided to move on to a new job a few months ago but is still currently in post.  The job will be advertised in due course."

But one senior Labour MP said: "It is inconceivable that Kate Purcell mis-spoke in the meeting."

Meanwhile, it has emerged that another close ally of Mr Corbyn said that a Labour member who posted an anti-semitic image on Facebook should not be suspended.

Emails obtained by The Times reveal that Thomas Gardiner, the party's director or governance and legal, said the image - which showed a creature with a Star of David on its back sitting on the face of the Statue of Liberty - was "anti-Israel, not anti-Jewish".

The member who posted the image, Kayla Bibby, was eventually suspended by the party following an investigation.

Labour MP Wes Streeting said: "Anyone who concludes that this disgusting image isn’t racist is unfit to adjudicate on anti-semitism cases in the Labour party and is unfit to hold public office. This judgment itself should now be subject to investigation."

But a Labour spokesperson said: "He agreed that Kayla Bibby should be placed under investigation and the case was taken through the party’s processes. It was not his ultimate decision, as shown in the email where he is asked for his 'view'." 

A party source said Mr Gardiner had authorised hundreds of investigations during his time in the role, and authorised the suspensing of a large number of members.

They also rejected any suggestion that he has not taken action on anti-semitic behaviour, or took a lenient approach to those accused of racially abusing Jewish people.