McDonnell: Labour NOT institutionally antisemitic but there is a problem

McDonnell: Labour NOT institutionally antisemitic but there is a problem

The shadow chancellor said a "tiny number" of members have been involved in some form of antisemitism.

John McDonnell being interviewed by Jewish News. 

Credit: Marc Morris Photography
John McDonnell being interviewed by Jewish News. Credit: Marc Morris Photography

John McDonnell has rejected suggestions that Labour is institutionally anti-Semitic, although he acknowledged there is “clearly” a “problem” within the party.

The shadow chancellor said a “tiny number” of members have been involved in some form of antisemitism and argued this has to be eradicated from the party.

He also noted the party needs to react quicker in dealing with anti-Semitic allegations, adding on some occasions it needs to be “more ruthless, more severe, and we’re doing that”.

His remarks came as Labour seeks to appoint former lord chancellor Charlie Falconer to scrutinise disciplinary procedures.

Labour former cabinet minister Lord Falconer of Thoroton said he is willing to take on a role and is “very keen” the terms are agreed to ensure he has the required resources to be effective.

He also warned members of the Jewish community have made it clear they have “absolutely no confidence” in Labour nor leader Jeremy Corbyn to adequately fight anti-Semitism, adding the party’s electoral chances could be damaged by such a characterisation.

Mr McDonnell, asked if the Labour Party has a problem with anti-Semitism, told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “Well, we clearly do.

“These allegations that the Labour Party is institutionally anti-Semitic I reject completely, but clearly we do (have a problem) and we’ve accepted that.”

Mr McDonnell said party figures suggest 0.1% of members “seem to have been involved in some form of anti-Semitism”, adding: “It’s a tiny number but it’s still a problem – I don’t want one anti-Semite in our party, I don’t want one piece of evidence of someone being anti-Semitic, we’ve got to eradicate it from our party because our party has got to be in the lead with others in eradicating it from our society.”

Asked if there was a blind spot for some on the left when it came to anti-Semitism, Mr McDonnell replied: “There’s blind spots on left and right – the right have been virulently, violently anti-Semitic in our community, but, yes, there is an issue on the left.”

He welcomed a video by Momentum, the grassroots group which supports Mr Corbyn, which challenged anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

Labour general secretary Jennie Formby announced last week that Lord Falconer had accepted the post to scrutinise disciplinary procedures

But the peer replied by saying meetings are scheduled to agree terms on his “independent anti-Semitism role”.

Lord Falconer also told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics: “My conversations with members of the Jewish community make it absolutely clear to me that the Jewishcommunity has absolutely no confidence in the Labour Party or Jeremy Corbyn as being a person who will not adequately fight anti-Semitism.

“I believe Jeremy Corbyn is most certainly not an anti-Semite but for the Jewishcommunity this is existential – for the main opposition party not to be reliable on that issue, which goes to the heart of the very community, is absolutely appalling.”

Asked if he believed it would be an obstacle to Labour being elected, Lord Falconer replied: “I would.

“If that characterisation, which doesn’t affect 99% of Labour activists or people who work for the Labour Party, continues within the mainstream Jewish community, then the idea that we could ever be elected seems to me to be very, very remote.”

Meanwhile, the Observer reported that internal documents showed senior Labour members last year opposed recommendations to suspend several party activists accused of anti-Semitism.

The correspondence, dating from March to May 2018, reveals that an official opposed recommendations from the party’s investigations team to suspend the members, the newspaper said.

A Labour Party spokesman said: “Since becoming general secretary, Jennie Formby has made procedures for dealing with complaints about anti-Semitism more robust.

“Staff in the investigations team have always led on investigations and recommendations on individual cases.

“Any suggestion that staff in the Leaders’ Office opposed recommendations on individual cases is categorically untrue.”

A Labour source said: “Seeking advice on cases was a hangover from the previous process, which Jennie Formby overhauled when she took up her post.

“Selecting a handful of cases from a year ago, under defunct processes, is seriously misleading.”

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