Health Secretary and Tory leadership contender Matt Hancock has said Jeremy Corbyn being British prime minister would represent “the first antisemitic leader of a Western nation since the Second World War”.
The incendiary remarks were made at a private leadership hustings on Wednesday, and mark a step-change in the language used against Corbyn by senior Government ministers, who have previously referred only to Labour’s problems.
On the battle to replace Theresa May, Hancock is reported to have said: “The Conservative party has to get this right. If we don’t, we could end up with the first antisemitic leader of a western nation since the second world war.”
It comes after former solicitor and Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, another Tory leadership hopeful, recently described antisemitism in the Labour Party as a “stain on our country” and published a video focused entirely on his Jewish family links.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said Hancock’s remark was “a disgrace” while a Labour spokesman pointed to the Conservatives’ poor record on “racism, Islamophobia, homophobia and misogyny” and its dalliance with “governments that actively promote antisemitic policies in Hungary and Poland”.
In 2018 Corbyn was called an “antisemite” by Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge, whose letter of no-confidence in the newly-elected Labour leader in 2016 triggered an unsuccessful coup attempt. Hodge later made a secret audio recording of a private meeting with Corbyn, which he described as a “total breach of trust”.
Hodge’s accusation was not alone on the left of British politics. Last month, left-leaning columnist Jonathan Freedland suggested that Corbyn was “a serially unlucky anti-racist who means well but keeps overlooking racism against Jews even when it’s right in front of him”.
However Labour MP Matt Western jumped to the leader’s defence on Twitter, saying: “Jeremy Corbyn is certainly not antisemitic and Hancock can do better than this… With the Conservative leadership contest we are seeing a race to the bottom.”