The favourite to become Labour’s most senior employee was facing questions this weekend over whether she “recruited” a party member suspended for joking about Jewish noses and claiming Hitler was a “Zionist God”.
Jennie Formby, who heads Britain’s biggest trade union in the south-east, is being asked what role she played in hiring Vicki Kirby, who was suspended by the party in 2014 after a series of claims, including that Jews “slaughter the oppressed”. She was subsequently reinstated.
The revelations, made in The Independent on Friday, mean that Labour MPs will be asking questions ahead of the Unite regional secretary’s interview for Labour’s top job on Tuesday next week, as she vies to become the party’s general-secretary.
If successful, Formby would be responsible for employing the Labour party’s staff, leading to questions about Kirby’s appointment as a “stand-down” regional officer for Unite in the south-east, under the stewardship of Formby. Kirby’s was a temporary stop-gap role usually made at the discretion of the regional secretary.
Kirby, a former Labour candidate for Woking, was suspended for a series of posts between 2011 and 2014, including one in which she wrote: “We invented Israel when saving them from Hitler, who now seems to be their teacher.”
In another, the former Labour candidate for Woking said: “Apparently you can ask IS/ISIS/ISIL questions on ask.fm. Anyone thought of asking them why they’re not attacking the real oppressors #Israel?”
Labour Friends of Israel said her tweets were “utterly vile” and a Unite spokesman said Kirby had repeatedly apologised for the comments and had been appointed by the union “following a procedure involving lay members and other officials”.
“Vicky Kirby made appalling anti-Semitic remarks on Twitter for which she was rightly sanctioned by the Labour Party,” the spokesman told The Independent.
“Ms Kirby has never been an employee of Unite, although she did two months temporary organising work for the union after she had been reinstated into the party… She has consistently expressed her heartfelt regret about her comments and had attended training courses to assist with her wider understanding of the offence her remarks had caused.”
However, he distanced Formby from the appointment, saying it was “not the prerogative of the regional secretary but made following a procedure involving lay members and other officials… Any attempt to suggest otherwise is a smear against Jennie Formby, whose opposition to antisemitism is a matter of record”.
Jon Lansman, the head of left-wing grassroots group Momentum, initially said he would challenge for the position of Labour Party general-secretary, but last week pulled out of the running, leaving Formby as clear favourite for the position.