Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has called for a swift and amicable resolution to disciplinary measures being taken against a senior Labour MP who accused Jeremy Corbyn of racism and anti-Semitism.
Mr McDonnell blamed Margaret Hodge’s “haranguing” of the Labour leader on her “complete misunderstanding” of the party’s new code of conduct on anti-Semitism, which has been widely criticised in the Jewish community.
Dame Margaret – who is herself Jewish and lost relatives in the Holocaust – has said she stands by her comments, though she denies swearing at Mr Corbyn in an angry confrontation in a Commons corridor last week.
Labour’s general secretary, Jennie Formby, has written to the MP telling her she faces investigation for “abusive conduct” and that “any further behaviour of a similar nature” could result in disciplinary action.
Mr McDonnell told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Dame Margaret’s outburst was “out of character” and she was “extremely angry and lost her cool” when she confronted Mr Corbyn.
“Of course he was upset, I think Margaret was upset as well,” said the shadow chancellor.
“Jeremy was deeply upset because, when you have someone haranguing you in that way, of course it’s upsetting. Those sorts of accusations, when he has worked so hard on the issues of anti-Semitism and anti-racism, of course he’s upset.”
Mr McDonnell said later interviews had shown that Dame Margaret’s concern was based on a misunderstanding of the code agreed by Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee.
“I realised there was a complete misinterpretation of the code, so I can understand why she was so angry if that’s what she believed this code had done,” he said.
“I think it’s a complete misunderstanding and we can resolve this amicably and move on.”
Mr McDonnell said Mr Corbyn agreed that the case should be settled swiftly rather than subjected to the full disciplinary process.
“At the weekend I spoke to Jeremy and said we’ve got to resolve this matter quickly,” said Mr McDonnell. “He said, yes, we’ve got to do that, and he’s asked the chief whip and general secretary to try to sort this out.
“We want it resolved amicably and I think that can be done.”
He insisted that neither he nor Mr Corbyn could get involved in the disciplinary process overseen by Ms Formby and chief whip Nick Brown.
And he said he did not know who had initially reported Dame Margaret’s behaviour, saying only that “a range of complaints came in”.
Labour MPs agreed on Monday to stage a vote in September on whether to accept the new code, which has come under fire because its list of anti-Semitic behaviours omits a number of examples included by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
The party insists that the examples, mostly relating to criticism of the state of Israel,are dealt with elsewhere in the document.
Mr McDonnell said it would be “mistaken” to think that Mr Corbyn’s long association with pro-Palestinian campaigns should raise questions about his commitment to fighting anti-Semitism.
After initially stumbling over his words and describing Labour as “a party that is anti-racist and anti-Semitist”, he told Today: “We are are against anti-Semitism, we are a party that attacks anti-Semitism wherever it is, either in our party or in our community.
“We are going to tackle this and we will lead that campaign to ensure that Jewish people are respected and feel safe within our community.
“Jeremy is as committed to that as anyone else within our party and anyone else within our community.”