Labour leadership hopefuls clash over responsibility for antisemitism crisis
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Labour leadership hopefuls clash over responsibility for antisemitism crisis

During a Sky News leadership debate, Lisa Nandy said there had been a 'collective failure at the top of the party' where high-profile cases of antisemitism had not been dealt with

Labour leadership candidates (left to right) Lisa Nandy, Sir Kier Starmer and Rebecca Long-Bailey in Newsnight Labour leadership hustings in early February. (Photo credit: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA Wire)
Labour leadership candidates (left to right) Lisa Nandy, Sir Kier Starmer and Rebecca Long-Bailey in Newsnight Labour leadership hustings in early February. (Photo credit: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA Wire)

The Labour leadership candidates have clashed over responsibility for the party’s antisemitism crisis.

Lisa Nandy, who quit Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet in 2016, said she spoke out on the issue but questioned her leadership rivals’ response to the allegations of anti-Jewish prejudice.

Campaign frontrunner Sir Keir Starmer insisted he fought on the issue from within Corbyn’s top team, while his main rival Rebecca Long-Bailey said she also spoke out.

During a Sky News leadership debate in Dewsbury, one of the seats Labour lost at the general election, Nandy said there had been a “collective failure of leadership at the top of the party for years” where high-profile cases of antisemitism had not been dealt with.

The Wigan MP said, as someone who is half-Indian, “I know what racism feels like”.

Taking on Sir Keir, she said: “I believe that you are sincere about this, but if we do not acknowledge how badly the shadow cabinet as a whole got this wrong we will not earn the trust of the Jewish community.”

Sir Keir told her: “You were in the shadow cabinet when this issue came up as well.”

Nandy shot back: “I spoke out publicly and then I left and I didn’t return.”

She added: “The shadow cabinet was offered sight of the submission to the Equality and Human Rights Commission which was investigating Labour for institutional racism.

“And apparently not a single person took up the offer of seeing the party’s position.”

Sir Keir told her that was “absolute nonsense”, adding that he and then deputy leader Tom Watson asked for that submission.

He said he argued in favour of Labour adopting the international definition of antisemitism and having automatic expulsion of “clear cases”.

Asked if Long-Bailey had spoken out, Sir Keir paused before saying: “I think, given where we have got to, I think the last thing our members, our movement and our country wants is us three trying to take lumps out of each other about who did what.

“The test for us is how would we deal with this as leader of the Labour Party, and I would take a leadership role on this.”

He continued: “Rebecca didn’t speak out in the same way that I did, in my view, but I don’t think it’s fair and it’s right for us to try to score points now off each other in relation to this.”

But Long-Bailey told the Sky News debate: “I’m not pointing fingers or making a note of the exact dates and times that particular individuals spoke at shadow cabinet.

“Keir knows that I spoke at shadow cabinet a number of times about this. I was often the shadow cabinet member that did the media to try and explain what was happening, and expressed my concern many, many times about how we weren’t tackling this in the way that I thought we should.”

She added: “We are in a crisis and I know that it’s been soul-destroying for many of our members, because we are not an antisemitic or racist party.

“But many of our members went out in that general election and they knocked on the doors of Jewish voters who didn’t trust us and they were frightened of the Labour Party and we have to accept that that has happened and we have got to rebuild that trust.”

Shadow business secretary Long-Bailey said she would make sure people’s aspirations are “truly realised” at the next general election.

She said voters need to be listened to, saying they were “angry” and that Labour needs to “rebuild the trust that we lost”.

“As a working class woman who has always had to work twice as hard to prove that I am just as good, I will fight to win these communities back again.”

Long-Bailey said she would not drop anything from Labour’s 2019 manifesto.

But Nandy said: “It isn’t good enough to say we broadly got it right – on Brexit, on leadership, on policy – without any understanding of how we had our worst election defeat since 1935 – that we can just change the face at the top and hope to fix this.”

Sir Keir acknowledged that Labour had lost four elections in a row and the party would not change lives for the better in opposition.

The shadow Brexit secretary told the debate: “Our party has a massive decision to take in this leadership election: do we mope about, head in hands, taking lumps out of each other, divided, factional?

“We’ve been doing a lot of that, we’re good at that, but we’ll lose the next election if we do that.

“Or do we pull together, unite, rebuild, recognise that the next stage of the journey is for us?

“Labour governments do not come out of nothing – they come out of our movement and our party pulling together and saying the next bit of the journey is for us and how proud would we be if our party took that decision now, that we’re going to get from where we are to where we need to be, and that’s why I’m standing to be leader of our party.”

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