A senior member of Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet said Labour must “go further and faster” in tackling antisemitism.
Jon Ashworth was responding to comments from Tony Blair, former prime minister and the party’s leader for 14 years, who said the current boss Jeremy Corbyn had not been “robust” enough in dealing with it.
He also praised his colleague Luciana Berger, who was facing a motion of no confidence from her local party branch this week after speaking out on the issue.
Mr Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, also appeared to contradict his party’s general secretary Jenny Formby, who is alleged to have said it was “impossible” to completely eradicate anti-Jewish hatred from Labour.
He spoke to Sky News’ Ridge On Sunday shortly after an interview with Mr Blair was broadcast, in which he said: “Of course we should eradicate antisemitism from the Labour Party.
“We are supposed to be a progressive political party, how can we say it’s tolerable to have a certain level of antisemitism in the party?
“Would we say more generally it is tolerable to have a level of racism within the Labour Party? No. Of course you can’t have that.”
He added: “There are parts of the left that do have a problem with antisemitism and you see this in their attitudes towards the state of Israel.
“Their continual focusing on Israel all the time, over a long period you are left with the feeling that they are – in a sense – targeting it because it is a Jewish state.”
WATCH: Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth says "one antisemite in the Labour Party is one too many … the general secretary Jennie Formby has made this her priority issue, the issue on which she will be judged by." #Ridge pic.twitter.com/JY9EXMKlHo
— The Red Roar (@TheRedRoar) February 10, 2019
Asked if the current leadership had been robust enough Mr Blair said it hadn’t, explaining: “The fact that someone like Luciana Berger – who is a smart, capable, active Member of Parliament doing her best for her constituents – the fact that she should even be subject to a no confidence motion with this type of allegation swirling around is shameful for the Labour Party.”
Responding to the comments, Mr Ashworth said the issue “breaks my heart”, saying: “It’s clear we need to go further and faster on dealing with antisemitism in the Labour Party.
“One antisemite in the Labour Party is one too many.”
On the comments attributed to Ms Formby the frontbencher added: “No, its not impossible to eradicate it from the Labour Party, and John McDonnell has said that as well so there’s no disagreement between me and John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn on this.”
He said Labour was “making progress” on the issue, with more staff and resources dedicated to it, adding: “But I do think we need to go faster and further on this, and kick it out. I don’t want to be in any party with any antisemite.”
On Ms Berger, he said he was a “big fan” and described her as Parliament’s “most persuasive campaigner” on mental health.
“She’s stood up against antisemitism all her political life, she’s got my full support,” he added.
Liverpool Wavertree Constituency Labour Party (CLP) had organised a special meeting to discuss two motions of no confidence in Ms Berger, which accused her of “continually using the media to criticise the man we all want to be Prime Minister”.
But after widespread criticism, including from Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson who said Ms Berger was being “bullied”, the meeting was called off.
A statement from Wavertree CLP’s executive said they “strongly reject the media inaccuracies and the accusations of political bullying, for simply adhering to party rules and doing our jobs”.
They said they had “no control over motions submitted by CLP members”, and defended scheduling the special meeting – saying it was “to give our MP the maximum opportunity to take part when the motions were debated”.
In a statement released this morning they added: “Furthermore, we as an executive have always and continue now to express total solidarity with Luciana as a victim of misogyny and of antisemitism – coming mostly from the far right.
“Our chair is himself Jewish and the suggestion that the CLP executive is in any way a party to bullying and antisemitism is a false and slanderous accusation.”