Sixty-four Labour peers increased the pressure on leader Jeremy Corbyn by taking out a full-page advert in The Guardian yesterday stating the party had “failed the test of leadership” over its handling of anti-Semitism.
Former Cabinet ministers John Reid, Peter Hain and Peter Mandelson were among signatories making up around a third of all House of Lords peers.
The unprecedented move is a direct slight on Corbyn following Panorama’s expose last week.
The advert noted, “The Labour party welcomes everyone* irrespective of race, creed, age, gender identity, or sexual orientation. (*except, it seems, Jews). This is your legacy, Mr Corbyn.”
Addressing Corbyn directly, they added, “Under your leadership, Labour is no longer a safe place for all members and supporters, whatever their ethnicity or faith.
“Thousands have resigned and thousands more feel unable to attend party meetings because of the toxic culture you have allowed to divide our movement.”
The group also said Corbyn had “failed to defend our party’s anti-racist values” so had “failed the test of leadership”.
Labour have denied senior allies to Corbyn had interfered in anti-Semitism cases.
However, peers countered, “It’s the style of your office and your followers to deny the truth of the message and shoot the messengers, whether they are party members or whistleblowers from Labour’s head office. But we cannot stay silent while younger, braver party workers and members speak out.”
A Labour spokesperson said regardless of false and misleading claims by those hostile to Corbyn’s politics the party was taking decisive action against anti-Semitism.
Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson has called for allegations of racism to be investigated by an independent body.
A motion in his name and four other National Executive Committee party members, including Baroness Smith, calls for activists to be automatically expelled where there is “irrefutable evidence of racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia or transphobia”.
Their demands will be debated at an at an emergency shadow cabinet meeting on anti-Semitism on Monday, ahead of the weekly PLP gathering which Corbyn will attend as the Jewish-hate row escalates.
In a hard-hitting letter, they lambasted attacks on Labour staffers participating in the Panorama programme.
“As the months have passed, the reports and accounts and anti-Semitism in our party have grown,” they noted. “It is now a toxic and endemic problem that we have failed to eradicate.
“Whatever action has been taken has failed to give confidence to Jewish and non-Jewish members alike that there is an absolute determined will to effectively deal with their concerns.
“This failure goes to the core of Labour’s values and ideals. How can we be seen to be the party that above all others promotes equality, and that embodies anti-racism and anti-discrimination, if we tolerate anti-Semitism?”
The peers will instigate an investigation into accusations in the BBC programme and have offered to advise an independent complaints procedure to ensure the party can regain trust of members, supporters and wider public
Peers added that Corbyn is responsible in the deepening crisis.
“You need to demonstrate decisive leadership that Labour is determined and committed to do everything possible to remove anti-Semitism, and those that defend it, from our party,” they said.
“Without full openness, this is a cancer that will continue to grown and in hurting us, it will most hurt those that need a Labour government.”
Meantime, over 200 Labour present, former staff and supporters have written to Labour’s leader accusing the party of attempting to “smear” those who spoke out against anti-Semitism to Panorama.
“The way the party has threatened and denigrated these whistleblowers is appalling, hypocritical and a total betrayal of Labour’s core values,” they said. “Exposing racism and corruption represents Labour values in action and these whistleblowers should be thanked, not demonised.”
They added, “As its leader, the moral responsibility for Labour’s anti-Semitism crisis ultimately sits with you. Own that responsibility or give it away to someone who will.”
Labour’s GMB branch passed a motion condoning the party’s official response to Panorama.
They noted, “As trade unionists, it is unacceptable for an employee’s workload or the culture of an organisation to cause staff to have breakdowns or to contemplate suicide. The fact that there is even a suggestion that this culture exists within the Labour party is reprehensible and a source of great shame.”
A Labour spokesperson said the party’s comments in the programme did not “in any way criticise” Jewish members who had suffered anti-Semitism.
“As we said after the programme aired, we will fully investigate any complaints alleging anti-Semitic incidents reported by party members in interviews in the programme,” they said.
“We stand in solidarity with Jewish people, and we’re taking decisive action to root out anti-Semitism from our movement and society.
“Our response highlighted the Panorama team inventing a quote, editing emails and making no serious attempt to understand the party’s procedures for dealing with anti-Semitism.”
The spokesman added, “Panorama pre-determined the outcome of its investigation and misrepresented the evidence to present a biased and selective account.”
Meantime, Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry told BBC’s Andrew Marr at the weekend that Labour must heed “the message” on anti-Semitism and not attack the “messengers”.
In a frank interview, she said, “Nobody can pretend that there is not an ongoing problem in the Labour party about anti-Semitism and our processes for dealing with it. The Labour party has to deal with this issue and frankly I welcome the fact that.
“It’s a shame and a disgrace the EHRC has been brought in to look at the Labour Party, but they have and we should welcome it. We should open our doors up and say to them, we have been trying to improve our processes, clearly it is not working, can you help us.”
The shadow minister added, “I know they are listening to us and we are listening to them.
“If we can set up a process that is tough and that works and is an example of good practice, that at least will be a good result and other parties who also have problems with racism might look to it as a problem of good practice.”
Concluding, Ms Thornberry commented, “I actually care about the fact that I have a Jewish member of staff who when she goes to family weddings can’t say who she works for, even though I fight on this issue a lot.
She cannot admit who she works or what she does because she does not want to spend the rest of the day defending herself. I don’t want that. I want us to sort it out.”
Elsewhere, Jewish Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge told Sky News the party was at “a tipping point” over anti-Semitism.
“If the leadership doesn’t start to listen now there will be many more people who will feel so uncomfortable within the Labour Party that they can no longer remain,” she said.
Dame Margaret added that Labour should urgently adopt an independent complaints mechanism as it was clear the current mechanism had been abused by political influence.
Her comments were backed up Tribune Group MPs shocked by Panorama revelations. They supported staffers speaking out and commended their bravery.
They also urged Labour’s NEC to set up an independent investigation into allegations in a statement, noting that the Party had always supported whistle blowers concerned about wrongdoing.
Signatories stood in solidarity with the Jewish community and Jewish members of the Labour Party in “very difficult circumstances”.
“It is totally unacceptable that Jewish members no longer feel welcome or safe in the Labour Party,” they said.
“The Labour’ Party’s historic values of fighting racism in all its forms is central to our political values and that means challenging the scourge of anti-Semitism wherever and whenever it arises. It is the fact that these values are not adequately being put into action through the party’s internal structures that has led to the Labour Party being investigated by the EHRC. Urgent action is needed by the NEC to reflect these values and implement them both as an employer and in the internal structures of the party.
“In order to demonstrate that those values are put into practice, the Labour Party’s complaints process must be both effective and totally transparent and must not be compromised in relation to dealing fairly with complaints about anti-Semitism.”
MPs said concerns of staff could not be ignored and given such seriousness an internal inquiry was not adequate so they called on the NEC to set up an independent investigation into allegations of interference into party procedures.
“As an employer the Labour Party has a duty of care towards all its members of staff and to treat all employees with dignity and respect,” they wrote. “There must be zero tolerance of bullying and harassment in the workplace. We are very concerned about the number of members of staff who reported anxiety, depression and mental health issues whilst working at the Labour Party, and we do not accept that the thrust of these latest disclosures by hardworking staff members was motivated by anything other than genuine distress and concern about what has gone wrong.”
Aside from an independent investigation, the group called on the NEC to establish an independent complaints procedure with representation from the Jewish community independent from the leadership and agree a process for automatic suspension from the party where there are prima facie breaches of the code of behaviour relating to anti-Semitism.
“Members of the NEC must have access to the evidence provided to the EHRC in order to fulfil their proper functions and responsibilities in relation to the party,” they concluded.
Communally, around 40 Merseyside and North Wales councillors attended an anti-Semitism seminar jointly held by the Board of Deputies, JLC and Merseyside Jewish Representative Council.
Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram and Liverpool MPs Luciana Berger and Louise Ellman MP attended.
Councillors heard frank accounts from Liverpool’s Jewish MPs and JLC vice presidents about anti-Semitism experienced.
London, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and Newcastle have held similar gatherings.
An event is scheduled for Brighton later this year.
By Adam Moses