Jeremy Corbyn said Labour would tackle the “social cancer” of anti-Semitism in his Rosh Hashanah greeting, as a senior MP accused the party of being “institutionally racist”.
Labour leader Mr Corbyn acknowledged it was a “difficult time” for Britain’s Jewish communities, but reiterated his promise to tackle anti-Semitism in the party.
But the row over the Labour response to the issue and the divisions among the party’s MPs over Mr Corbyn’s leadership continued to simmer.
Former frontbencher Chuka Umunna made the claim that Labour was an institutionally racist as a result of the anti-Semitism row.
He said it was a “very painful” admission, but vowed to stay on as a Labour member because he felt it was better to “try and argue and see change through in an organisation” rather than “leave the field”.
He told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “If you look at the definition of institutional racism as outlined by Sir William Macpherson in the Macpherson Report and the Macpherson Inquiry produced the institutional racism definition.
“The Labour Party, it’s beyond doubt for me that it has met it – it’s very painful for me to say that.
“Part of the reason that I joined the Labour party, my party, my family started supporting the party was because it was an anti-racist party and I think the failure to deal with the racism that is anti-Semitism is particular and clearly is a problem.”
Mr Corbyn, in a Rosh Hashanah message, said: “I would like to reiterate that the Labour Party stands in solidarity with the Jewish community in the fight against anti-Semitism.
As Jewish people in our country and around the world prepare to celebrate the High Holy Days, I want to extend my…
“We will work to eradicate the social cancer of anti-Semitism wherever is surfaces, including in our own party.
“We need change and I hope this year we can make this happen.
“Let us all re-commit to doing things differently, working together for community and social justice and changing not just ourselves but our society.”
Streatham MP Mr Umunna made his comments after being urged to apologise for saying Mr Corbyn should “call off the dogs” to stop centre-left MPs being driven out of the party.
Labour Party chairman Ian Lavery told Sky News that Mr Umunna’s call was “disrespectful” and “offensive”.
He said: “Calling anybody a dog is absolutely outrageous in the extreme, and Chuka Umunna of all people should know that.
“And I hope that when he comes onto your show this morning that he takes this opportunity of apologising to those people who he’s offended immensely.
“These are the people who keep Chuka Umunna and myself and other MPs in a job.”
Mr Umunna defended his remarks, saying: “The phrase that I used is a metaphor, it’s a figure of speech.”
Mr Lavery also said MPs should be “accountable” and expect to be challenged, after a number of Labour MPs who have been critical of Mr Corbyn – particularly over his handling of the anti-Semitism row, have found themselves locked in battles with members of their constituency Labour party.
Labour Friends of Israel chairwoman Joan Ryan, a former minister under Tony Blair, and Luton South MP Gavin Shuker, both lost local no confidence votes on Thursday.
But Mr Lavery, MP for Wansbeck, said: “These votes of no confidence hold no water, they are basically a statement from the constituencies.
“These aren’t individuals being targeted – they are being challenged.”
He added: “When people think that they are being unfairly challenged they need to be accountable to the people that they represent.”
In a sign that Labour is seeking to move on from the damaging row over anti-Semitism, John McDonnell set out plans for private firms with more than 250 staff to set up “ownership funds” to give workers a financial stake and influence in their companies.
The shadow chancellor said he wants to deliver an “irreversible shift in wealth and power in favour of working people” as Labour prepares for a general election within months.
Mr McDonnell set out his plans in an Observer interview, in which he said Labour must be ready for an election because the Tories are on the brink of collapse.
He said: “What this will ensure is that in large companies, in addition to rewarding workers with wages, they will reward them with shares that will go into a pool that will allow them to have an ownership role.”