Leading left-wing commentators with a record of supporting Jeremy Corbyn on Tuesday called for a Corbyn ally to be booted off Labour’s ruling body after audio from a crunch meeting was leaked.
Guardian columnist Owen Jones, former Corbyn aide Matt Zarb-Cousin and British-Indian journalist Ash Sarkar all turned on Pete Willsman, a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC), with Zarb-Cousin saying: “It’s time to go.”
It came as the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) told the party’s general-secretary to reconsider the case for disciplinary action against Willsman, after audio emerged of him ranting about anti-Semitism during this month’s NEC meeting discussing Labour’s new code of conduct.
In the audio, obtained by the Jewish Chronicle, Willsman can be heard calling some Jews “fanatical Trump supporters,” demanding evidence from rabbis, and explaining how social media accounts can be “falsified very easily”.
In his letter to Jennie Formby on Tuesday, JLM chair Ivor Caplin said there was now “a prima facie case to bring disciplinary charges” despite Formby having already addressed concern in an initial letter to the JLM, sent before the audio was leaked.
In it she said she had accepted Willsman’s apology “for what I said and the way I said it,” adding that “any repetition of similar conduct is likely to result in formal disciplinary action”.
However in his apology, Willsman also suggested he had been misrepresented by reporting. Caplin’s latest letter said the audio “significantly departs” from the apology.
Formby said she had asked Labour’s Governance and Legal Unit to ascertain what was said, despite suggestions that both she and Corbyn were present during the comments.
NEC members are due to soon be elected by the party, and despite continued support for Willsman from Chris Williamson MP, Sarkar said the under-fire member “should withdraw his candidacy immediately”. Likewise Jones tweeted: “After his comments, there’s no way I’ll vote for Pete Willsman for Labour’s NEC.”
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Perhaps the most direct criticism came from Zarb-Cousin, who said Willsman “should withdraw from the left slate, which he shouldn’t have been anywhere near in the first place to be honest”.
He added: “You’ve had your time Pete, time to do. Let someone else have a chance, preferably someone who doesn’t downplay racism.”
Dame Margaret Hodge told Jewish News: “When you listen to his outburst it is full of vitriol and loathing. Horrible and shocking. What is utterly awful is that neither the Leader nor the General Secretary sought to intervene to put a stop to the bile he was spouting. He was in an environment where he felt safe saying unspeakable things. Just awful’ something like that?”