Unite union leader Len McCluskey has voiced “disgust” at backbench Labour critics of Jeremy Corbyn, raising the prospect that those who have attacked him over issues like anti-Semitism could face mandatory reselection.
Mr McCluskey was in turn accused of undermining the Labour leader’s efforts to tackle anti-Semitism, which saw him meet leaders of the Jewish community on Tuesday night.
The attempt to smooth relations with the community backfired for Mr Corbyn as leaders of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and Jewish Leadership Council (JLC) accused him of failing to back his words with action.
Board of Deputies president Jonathan Arkush and JLC chair Jonathan Goldstein said “a deep cultural change” was needed within Labour to rebuild trust.
Meanwhile, dozens of Labour MPs marched in support of Jewish colleague Ruth Smeeth as she prepared to give evidence at the disciplinary hearing of a suspended party member accused of anti-Semitism.
They were met by a small group of protesters carrying placards and chanting their support for activist Marc Wadsworth, who was suspended after launching a verbal attack on Ms Smeeth at the launch of a party report into anti-Semitism.
Writing in the New Statesman magazine, Mr McCluskey accused MPs on Labour’s centrist wing of “working overtime trying to present the Labour Party as a morass of misogyny, anti-Semitism and bullying”.
While stressing his own opposition to anti-Semitism, he accused “promiscuous critics” like MPs Chris Leslie, Neil Coyle, John Woodcock, Wes Streeting and Ian Austin of “polluting” the leader’s efforts to tackle the problem.
He said they “have a right to express their own views..but you would have to go back a long way to find such a sustained smearing by MPs of their own leader and their own party as we are seeing now
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“I look with disgust at the behaviour of the Corbyn-hater MPs who join forces with the most reactionary elements of the media establishment and I understand why there is a growing demand for mandatory reselection,” wrote Mr McCluskey.
His comments came a week after a series of Labour MPs made emotive statements in the House of Commons about their own experiences of anti-Jewish prejudice in the party.
“To watch as these so-called social democrats tried to demean and attack, in front of our enemy, a decent and honourable man who has fought racism and anti-Semitism all his life and who has breathed life and hope back into the hearts of millions, especially the young, made my stomach churn,” said Mr McCluskey.
“To see Tory MPs cheer and applaud them was shameful.”
Mr Streeting responded: “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: no abuse, intimidation or threats of deselection will prevent me from voicing the concerns of my Jewish constituents about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.”
And Mr Coyle tweeted: “Jeremy says anti-Semitism must be tackled. Len claims it doesn’t exist. Undermining the leader and Party efforts to tackle the problem.”
As she arrived at the disciplinary hearing in Westminster, Ms Smeeth was met by protesters chanting “reinstate Marc Wadsworth”.
One of the MPs who joined her, Jess Phillips, said they were “making sure she isn’t walking into a protest on her own”.
Ahead of the hearing, Mr Wadsworth told reporters: “I’m confident, as I’m not guilty. Based on the facts, this hearing, if it’s fair, I will be exonerated.
“I’m totally and utterly opposed to anti-Semitism, to all forms of bigotry, including anti-black racism and Islamophobia.”
Mr Corbyn described Tuesday’s talks as “positive and constructive”.
But in a joint article in the Evening Standard, Mr Arkush and Mr Goldstein said they had a “sinking feeling” as it became clear that, while the Labour leader seemed “genuinely troubled” by anti-Semitism, he was not going to agree to any of the measures they proposed to deal with it.
“Words in letters and newspaper articles will never be enough,” warned the Jewish leaders.
“Our sole objective from this meeting was to build trust with Corbyn, but this will not be possible until he and his party brings about a deep cultural change in his supporters’ attitude to Jews.”
Among the proposals put forward by the community leaders was a fixed timetable for dealing with outstanding cases of anti-Semitism and expediting long-standing cases like that of Ken Livingstone.
According to the BBC, the party has pledged to settle most of the cases by July.
A senior Labour spokesman said Mr Corbyn had made absolutely clear “he will lead the drive to eradicate anti-Semitism from the party and will not tolerate it”.
He described Tuesday’s meeting with Jewish groups as “constructive” and said the Labour leader “regards it as completely understandable that leaders of the Jewish community want to see action and not just words”.
The spokesman confirmed there are 90 current cases of anti-Semitism under investigation, making up around 0.02% of Labour’s membership of around 500,000.
Over the past three years, a total of 300 complaints have been made over anti-Semitism, around half of which had led to people being expelled from or leaving the party.