Labour MPs believe General Secretary Jennie Formby is intervening to protect members accused of antisemitism

Three MPs believe she used 'delegated powers to take no further action about these complaints'


Labour MPs believe the party’s General Secretary, Jennie Formby, is intervening to protect members accused of antisemitism from punishment. 

After the Parliamentary Labour Party laid down on Monday an 11-point motion questioning Ms Formby’s methods in tackling the problem that has dogged Labour under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, MPs told the JC they were extremely concerned that the general secretary had intervened in cases that were due to go before a disciplinary panel.

The motion — which calls on Mr Corbyn to provide answers to all 11 points on the motion in time for next Monday’s meeting of the PLP — followed the decision to let suspended ex-MP Jim Sheridan back into the party without punishment on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day after he wrote that he no longer had “respect and empathy” for British Jews because they were working with “Blairite plotters” to undermine Mr Corbyn.

After his readmission, Mr Sheridan went on the attack, saying, “My accusers were misguided and overreacted to what was intended to highlight my personal frustration and criticism of those intent on undermining our leadership in Scotland and the UK.”

The PLP motion demands that the leadership “adequately tackle cases of antisemitism” and warns that its “failure to do so seriously risks antisemitism in the Party appearing normalised and the Party seeming to be institutionally antisemitic.”

One non-Jewish Labour MP told the JC the motion was “an attempt to show the leadership they are not off the hook — especially in light of this week’s appalling behaviour”.

Three Labour MPs confirmed to the JC that they believe Ms Formby is using her powers to dismiss cases of alleged antisemitism even before they reach the disciplinary committee that was set up by the Party to rule on them.

A senior Labour figure highlighted a recent decision by the party to reject a complaint made by the prospective parliamentary candidate for Chipping Barnet, Emma Whysall, who was called a “stooge for the Zionist Israeli government” by a fellow Labour member because the Jewish Labour Movement had endorsed her candidacy.

Pointedly the PLP motion — which was proposed by Catherine McKinnell MP and seconded by Ruth Smeeth MP, who is Jewish — asks how many times Ms Formby has “used delegated powers to take no further action about these complaints” of antisemitism.

It also asks for clarification of “how much has been spent on external legal counsel on behalf of the NEC pursuing disciplinary cases against members.”

Last year the Labour leadership claimed that the appointment of Gordon Nardell QC as the party’s first in-house legal counsel would help improve the response to allegations of antisemitism.

Labour sources told the JC that Ms Formby did not take decisions on disciplinary cases.

Jewish Labour MP Luciana Berger reacted furiously to the decision to readmit former Paisley and Renfrewshire North MP Mr Sheridan into the party last Saturday — despite his attack on the entire UK community.

Ms Berger wrote that “on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day there couldn’t be a more insensitive time for this suspension lift. It’s so hurtful.”

Ian Austin MP, a vocal critic of the party’s handling of its antisemitism crisis, called it a “disgrace” and said Mr Sheridan should be kicked out of the party.

Jewish Leadership Council chair Jonathan Goldstein said he welcomed the PLP motion as it would “hopefully provide an opportunity for the Labour Party to give its MPs the transparency many have been seeking”.

He added: “The Jewish community met with the Labour leadership last April where we raised our concerns about the levels of antisemitism within the party.

"Ten months on and we are no closer to seeing the backlog of antisemitism cases resolved with some having been dropped all together. We cannot take the words ‘zero tolerance’ at face value until those words are met with action.”

A Labour Party spokesperson said: "This is not true. Jennie Formby has no involvement in individual disciplinary cases.”

Tensions also rose after Jeremy Corbyn led a large delegation of party officials to Sunday’s Holocaust Memorial Day Trust commemoration event in Westminster alongside 200 survivors and other dignitaries.

While Mr Corbyn has regularly attended the event in the past, questions were asked about the size of Labour’s group at the event, which included Ms Formby, Karie Murphy, the leader’s chief of staff, and two other officials.

HMDT chair Laura Marks told the ceremony: “We were asked if it was appropriate to continue to welcome some representatives knowing that this may cause distress to Holocaust survivors and refugees...

"But we know through independent studies that people who attend Holocaust Memorial Day events learn more, empathise more deeply and go on to do more to build a better future.”

There was also anger from some at the event at the behaviour of some members of the strictly Orthodox community, who seemed to openly court the Labour leader both on his arrival at the event and once inside.

“Frankly, I found it a sickening sight as did the Auschwitz survivor I had the privilege of being sat next to,” Alain Bornstein, who attended Sunday’s event, told the JC.

“These Chasidic gentlemen (about four or five) approached Mr Corbyn who was located at the front and surrounded him akin to bees round honey.”

One of the Charedi men, Levi Schapiro, the Stamford Hill-based founder of the Jewish Community Council, messaged “all contacts” on Sunday evening after the event claiming he had been “unexpectedly dragged” into “a picture of myself and Jeremy Corbyn”.

Mr Schapiro added: “I don’t support Corbyn and never did.”

But another member of the Stamford Hill community, Shraga Stern, refused to apologise for his behaviour.

Asked about his conduct, which was condemned by several Stamford Hill locals, Mr Stern said: “Of course I fully expected Mr Corbyn to be at this important communal event. I have to say, though, that I thought the calls for him to be somehow disinvited were in very poor taste.”

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