Liberal Democrat candidate Luciana Berger said on Tuesday she was “appalled” at the Labour Party’s selection of candidates accused of posting antisemitic material online.
She was interviewed on-stage by LBC presenter and former Liberal Democrat candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn Maajid Nawaz at a standing-room-only event at Brampton College in Hendon.
Berger, who is standing in Finchley and Golders Green, said her “record of sticking up for the Jewish community speaks for itself.”
The Liberal Democrat hopeful tore into the Labour Party for backing candidates accused of posting material “which happens to be antisemitic,” despite online records being “there for all to see.”
“I am appalled that they have allowed these candidates to be continue to be candidates at this election,” she said, before praising her own party’s decision to drop a “Lib Dem candidate who was found to have done the same” within “half an hour” in an apparent reference to Waheed Rafiq.
On her resignation from the Labour Party in protest at Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of antisemitism claims, she said: “I’m all for being in the tent if you can change it, but the moment at which it gets worse in my view, I could no longer be a part of it,” citing her involvement in last year’s Enough is Enough demonstration.
Berger also called on the Conservative Party to “contend with the issue of Islamophobia” in response to a question from an audience member on allegations of racism in the Conservative Party.
“Racism wherever it raises its ugly head is wrong and as a country that did move the goalpost, that does seem to have very robust equality legislation, we should hold people to account and that includes the Prime Minister, and they should equally be contending with the issue of Islamophobia within the Conservative Party ranks,” she said.
Speaking to Jewish News after the event, she reiterated a claim made during the event that candidates from both main political parties had privately voiced “very vociferous in the views about the leadership”.
“I’m not going to go into the details, but it’s very clear for all to see what the concerns are about, both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn. Jo Swinson, as the leader of the Liberal Democrats has spoken about the issues of both those individuals in great detail, neither of them are fit to hold the highest office,” she said.
On Brexit, she told the event, “there is a very stark contrast in the offer at this election between me and my main opponent which is the incumbent Mike Freer,” adding: “He and I know each other very well. We can sit and have a coffee.”
But Freer, she continued, “is a whip. He’s on the ministerial payroll delivering Boris Johnson’s Brexit,” while she was “one of the few MPs that didn’t vote to trigger Article 50. I didn’t do so because I didn’t believe we were ready to initiate that process.”
On past disagreements with her new political home, Berger, who defected to the Liberal Democrats in September, acknowledged “I was certainly very critical of some of the elements of what happened under that … government,” referring to the Cameron–Clegg coalition formed in 2010.
Referring to her party’s pledge to oppose increasing tuition fees, she said: “The Lib Dems, as that junior partner in the coalition then went to see that government deliver the complete opposite, so that was very very difficult.”
But she said: “My criticisms remain public for all to see. I wasn’t in the party and what I said on social media has been repeated most recently. What I put on my website and Facebook, I haven’t taken it down.”
“For those that have been life long members of the party, a lot has been learnt from that experience. I was able to see first-hand some of the benefits that Liberal Democrat ministers certainly did make to the coalition government, and didn’t get any credit for it,” she added.
Brampton College Principal Bernard Canetti said it was an “honour” to host both Berger and Nawaz. “They have both consistently spoken out in favour of tolerance, inclusion and honesty in a political climate which has become divisive; where truth, honesty and decency have been in short supply,” he said.
“The evening was a fantastic opportunity for our students to speak to voices of moderation in an increasingly extremist political environment,” he added.