Labour leadership contenders clash over antisemitism during hustings
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Labour leadership contenders clash over antisemitism during hustings

Jess Phillips took a swipe at some her fellow contenders for "keeping quiet" over antisemitism in the party

(left to right) Rebecca Long-Bailey, Jess Phillips, Emily Thornberry, Lisa Nandy and Keir Starmer during the Labour leadership husting at the ACC Liverpool. (Photo credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire)
(left to right) Rebecca Long-Bailey, Jess Phillips, Emily Thornberry, Lisa Nandy and Keir Starmer during the Labour leadership husting at the ACC Liverpool. (Photo credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire)

The first hustings of the Labour leadership battle saw contenders clash over the way the party has dealt with antisemitism.

Backbencher Jess Phillips and shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry appeared to spar during the hustings as part of the race to replace Jeremy Corbyn.

Birmingham Yardley MP Ms Phillips took a swipe at some her fellow contenders for “keeping quiet” over antisemitism in the party.

She said: “The Labour Party needs a leader who has spoken out against antisemitism, and other forms of harassment in fact.

“When others were keeping quiet and somebody who was in the room, struggling for an independent system – lots and lots of meetings – I have to say I don’t remember some of the people here being in that particular room or being in those particular fights.”

Ms Phillips said that the Labour Party’s handling of antisemitism had meant it had lost the “moral high ground” to fight racism.

She added: “Jewish people were scared of Labour winning the election.

“That’s deeply serious.

“The Labour Party has now lost the credibility to handle its own complaints system.

“We have lost the moral high ground to fight racism in this country because of the way we have handled antisemitism.”

Keir Starmer speaking during the Labour leadership husting at the ACC Liverpool. (Photo credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire)

In a direct response to Ms Phillips, Ms Thornberry insisted that she had always been firm in standing-up against racism.

She said that the Labour Party should kick out antisemites in the same way “Oswald Mosley was kicked out of Liverpool”.

Ms Thornberry said: “I tell you what Jess (Phillips), I have always been clear about it and I always will because it’s unacceptable, it undermines us as a party and undermines our soul.

“What we should be doing is kicking out these antisemites in the same way Oswald Mosley was kicked out of Liverpool in 1937.”

Shadow Brexit secretary and early front-runner in the leadership campaign, Sir Keir Starmer, said there had been “too much division” in the party, adding: “We are unstoppable when we are united.”

Speaking at a Fabian Society conference in London after the hustings on Saturday, Sir Keir said that if he was elected Labour leader, he would take personal responsibility for dealing with antisemitism in the party.

He said: “If you’re antisemitic you shouldn’t be in the Labour Party and it is as simple as that.

“What I would do as leader of the Labour Party is take personal responsibility and a personal lead on this.

“Not put it somewhere else, but make it my responsibility in our party.”

All five candidates for the top job issued pleas for unity at the start of the Liverpool event after last month’s humiliation at the polls.

Some 500 Labour members were at the event and most of those approached afterwards said there was no “knock-out” blow by any of the candidates.

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