Labour’s internal row over anti-Semitism looks set to continue into the autumn after MPs agreed to a vote on whether to back the adoption of a definition already rejected by the party leadership.
The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) will vote in September on a motion calling for the opposition to back the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) full definition of anti-Semitism.
It came as Jeremy Corbyn faced fresh pressure from his own MPs and peers over the party’s policy on dealing with prejudice against Jews.
The Labour leader and other members of his senior team did not attend Monday night’s meeting, the last before Parliament rises for the summer recess.
Lawyers for Dame Margaret Hodge had earlier suggested a “veiled attempt to silence” her had been made following a confrontation with Mr Corbyn over anti-Semitism.
Law firm Mishcon de Reya questioned the “fairness and legitimacy” of a disciplinary investigation and said the party had failed to set out what she is accused of.
Speaking after the Monday night meeting, Dame Margaret said it would have been “much better” if he had attended.
She said: “It’s very gloomy, it’s a gloomy day for Labour.
“I don’t understand why we cannot just adopt it (the IHRA definition). If they don’t think there is enough in the definition that allows people to criticise the Israeli government they can add those clauses.”
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Labour launched an investigation after Dame Margaret confronted Mr Corbyn in the Commons about problems tackling anti-Jewish sentiment in the party.
The MP was reported to have called him a “f****** anti-Semite and a racist”, but in the legal letter she denied swearing at him.
“This is vehemently denied, and our client is aware of multiple witnesses who can testify that she did not swear,” the letter says. “Any allegation that our client was abusive is false.”
Dame Margaret, who lost family members in the Holocaust, again stood by her actions in confronting Mr Corbyn, saying the current row had been a “bridge too far”.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme she had received a wave of anti-Semitic abuse since the clash, including being called a “Zionist bitch” and being told she was “under the orders of my paymasters in Israel”.
The former minister said she received a disciplinary letter within 12 hours of speaking to Mr Corbyn.
“Think how long it has taken for the Labour Party to respond at all to any of the allegations of anti-Semitism,” she added.
In a letter to Labour’s general secretary, Jennie Formby, Mishcon de Reya said, given the party had failed to explain the allegation against the MP, “your threat to suspend our client if she repeats this non-particularised conduct appears to be a veiled attempt to silence her”.
It added: “Again, it is a fundamental breach of natural justice and principles of fairness. You have left our client in the bizarre position whereby possible suspension is hanging over her for future unspecified behaviour.”
The law firm accused Labour of “sloppiness” in its handling of the case and said it could only assume that the rule Dame Margaret is being investigated over is one that relates to actions deemed to be grossly detrimental to the party.
It said it was “perverse” that the same rule used to deal with anti-Semitism in the party is now being invoked against Dame Margaret “for voicing her concern that anti-Semitism has not been properly dealt with”.
And it added the result of the disciplinary action against the MP “appears to be pre-determined”.
Mr Corbyn has insisted Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) had not tried to rewrite the definition of anti-Semitism when it omitted four examples from the IHRA list of behaviours likely to be regarded as anti-Semitic in its code.
He said: “(The NEC) wasn’t trying to rewrite it, it has accepted almost all of it.
“What it’s done is also put alongside it a code of conduct for members of the party because we will not tolerate anti-Semitism in any form whatsoever in the party.”
The Labour leader said he would have preferred the PLP discussion on the code to have been delayed until September.
“I suspect Monday’s meeting will not be fully attended because Parliament is rising on Tuesday,” he said.