Chris Williamson blasts 'malcontent' Labour MPs amid bitter anti-Semitism row
Firebrand Jeremy Corbyn ally Chris Williamson has torn into "malcontent" Labour MPs as he backed claims by Len McCluskey that those challenging anti-Semitism are using the issue to undermine the Labour leader.
The Unite general secretary yesterday waded into the bitter row about Labour’s handling of allegations of anti-Semitism, naming a host of MPs who he said were using the issue as part of a “sustained smearing” of Mr Corbyn, and branding them part of "a dismal chorus whose every dirge makes winning a Labour government more difficult".
Mr McCluskey was today slapped down by frontbencher Keir Starmer, who said: “Denying the problem is part of the problem.”
But Mr Williamson - who has himself come under fire for agreeing to share a platform with a Labour activist currently under investigation for anti-Semitism - backed the Unite chief, saying Mr McCluskey was speaking out against a “sustained attack against the Labour Party’s position” from MPs on a number of fronts.
“We’ve had a chorus, a handful of, I’d describe them as malcontents who are completely out of step with party members, with the Labour party’s supporters and indeed with the country as a whole,” the left-winger told the BBC's Daily Politics.
Mr Williamson clashed with fellow backbencher Chris Leslie, arguing that Labour’s programme was “overwhelmingly backed by the vast majority of the British people” and saying the party’s supporters were “exasperated and angry about the shenanigans of a handful of Labour MPs.”
He also cast doubt on claims that those behind online attacks on MPs were genuine Labour members, adding that people had “conflated the appalling abuse online with Labour party members”.
“If there is any evidence against any Labour party members then action should be taken immediately, and certainly Len wasn’t making any excuses for anti-Semitism,” he said.
“He was was calling it out just as strongly as anybody else. But I think it’s important that we don’t conflate abuse by fake accounts and by people who are hostile to the Labour Party as if somehow that’s to do with the Labour party.”
"KINDER, GENTLER POLITICS"
The Derby North MP refused to be drawn on whether he wanted to see Mr Leslie - named as one of those hostile to the leadership in the Unite chief’s article - deselected by his local party, saying it was “a matter for Labour Party members in each constituency and not a matter for me or indeed Len”.
But he added: “Anybody who says that the members don’t matter… my message to them is stand as an independent. See how far you get. You won’t get elected.”
Mr Leslie, a former minister in Tony Blair’s government, pushed back against that view, saying: “This is the kinder, gentler politics of course here, which is if anybody takes a different view, no matter [whether it is] on a position of principle, whether it’s Europe or whatever, then there is this tap on the shoulder that says you’re going to be made redundant, you’re going to lose the job.”
He meanwhile challenged Mr Williamson on his decision to share a platform at an upcoming rally with Jackie Walker, a Momentum activist currently being investigated by Labour for alleged abuse, saying the MP had “a big role to play in standing up against anti-Semitism”. A Labour source has since said that Ms Walker herself has pulled out of the rally.
Mr Williamson hit back, saying he was “not going to indulge in a trial by media”.
He added: “Now Chris might think that’s perfectly acceptable but I happen to believe in natural justice, he might not. And I also happen to believe in democracy and believe in accountability to the party members and indeed obviously to the wider electorate.”