EXCL Luciana Berger slams Len McCluskey over ‘grossly offensive’ article on anti-Semitism
Luciana Berger has hit out at the head of Unite over a “grossly offensive” article in which he accused Labour MPs of using the row over anti-Semitism to undermine Jeremy Corbyn.
Ms Berger said Len McLuskey’s intervention was “very unhelpful” after the Labour leader had apologised to the Jewish community for how he handled the issue.
In an interview with The House magazine, Ms Berger argued that the backlash over anti-Semitism was a “contributing factor” to Labour’s results in the local elections.
Writing in the New Statesman, Mr McCluskey said "Corbyn-haters" were whipping up the controversy for their own ends and warned them that they face mandatory deselection as Labour election candidates.
The Unite chief also accused backbench MPs including Chris Leslie, Neil Coyle and John Woodcock "a dismal chorus whose every dirge makes winning a Labour government more difficult”.
Commenting on the remarks, Ms Berger said: “It’s grossly offensive and it’s not in keeping with what Jeremy Corbyn himself has said. He has said very robustly that this is an issue to be taken seriously. So, in terms of virtue signalling, it’s very unhelpful for the leader of Unite to be making these statements.”
Speaking days after the local elections, where Labour failed to win the key target council of Barnet, the Liverpool Wavertree MP said the row over anti-Semitism had an “impact” across the country.
"We saw the impact of anti-Semitism most acutely in Barnet. But it wasn’t just in Barnet, it was all across the country where it was a contributing factor," she said.
“I think the message from this election is the incredible amount we need to do right across the country. Not just the Jewish community, but the wider community wants to see real action on this. The action needs to be swift, it needs to be concrete, it needs to be robust.
“Jennie Formby [Labour's general secretary] has been in post for a few weeks now. Now the local elections are over, I’ll be looking to see some very strong action taken.”
Ms Berger urged the party to deal with cases of alleged anti-Semitism, arguing that “too many have been hanging in the balance for an extended period of time”. This includes the case against Ken Livingstone, who is suspended from the party over remarks he made about Hitler supporting Zionism.
“I’m on record on many occasions, including most recently in the chamber, saying there is no place for Ken Livingstone in the Labour party,” Ms Berger said.
She added: “There are still too many examples where across the country where anti-Semitism is raising its ugly head. On the ground and in my constituency, I’ve raised a number of cases in recent weeks. I’m still hearing about them.”
While she said she was not accusing anyone of being anti-Semitic, Ms Berger said she backed Momentum chief Jon Lansman’s view that there is an “unconscious bias” on the issue at the top of the party.
“I thought that was a very interesting explanation of why it is. Part of it is also about education. Jennie Formby herself said she has been on a journey to learn about it in terms of how it manifests itself in the 21st Century. Not everyone is alive to what that means,” she said.
The latest row over anti-Semitism began after Ms Berger alerted the Leader’s Office to a 2012 Facebook comment by Mr Corbyn in which he appeared to defend an anti-Semitic mural.
Labour MPs including Ms Berger joined a protest in March, organised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council, calling on Mr Corbyn to take action against anti-Semitism in the party.
Speaking in the Commons last month during a debate on the topic, Ms Berger recounted the anti-Semitic abuse she has suffered as an MP. Writing in the Sunday Times, she revealed that one Labour member emailed her to say that she should kill herself.