Labour's Israel friends are at risk as leadership contest comes to an end

Rumours of a purge as hardliner looks set to win party leadership race


After months of campaigning, hustings and controversy, the Labour leadership contest reached its climax this week, with the winner due to be announced tomorrow.

Frontrunner Jeremy Corbyn remained favourite to become leader of the opposition, despite a slight loss of momentum since his high point of support last month.

The winner will be announced at a special conference in London on Saturday lunchtime. The election of the party's deputy leader will also be revealed at the same event.

For weeks, Islington North MP Mr Corbyn has grabbed the headlines, for his plans to shift the party to the left and for his links to antisemites, Holocaust deniers and other extremists.

Much of the speculation this week centred on whether he could be beaten on second preference votes under the contest's rules, or whether he would secure enough support from first preferences to win outright.

On Monday, more than 100,000 party members were still to vote ahead of Thursday's deadline. That led some to question whether Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper could catch Mr Corbyn. Her speech on refugees last week was seen as grasping the momentum for the final days of the contest and she was thought to be edging ahead of Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham.

Saturday's announcement will only be the beginning of the real work for the winner, who will have just four days to prepare for their first Prime Minister's Questions.

Labour gathers for its annual conference in Brighton on September 27 and the leader's speech is guaranteed to be the key focal point of the week. It will set out the new leader's plans, and, if Mr Corbyn were to win, would be an indication of how radical his proposals might be.

Another key moment will come with the appointment of shadow cabinet positions. Mr Corbyn - lacking support from fellow Labour MPs - would inevitably look to the hard left of the party. That could mean prominent roles for the likes of Diane Abbott, Michael Meacher, Grahame Morris and Cat Smith - all outspoken critics of Israel.

The end of Parliament's summer recess saw MPs return to Westminster on Monday. Labour members spent the week embroiled in apparent plots about how to respond to Mr Corbyn's expected victory. One line of debate was whether Ms Cooper, Mr Burnham and others would return to the backbenches, join the shadow cabinet, or rebel - fuelling a possible split in the party.

Rumours last weekend suggested that Mr Corbyn and his supporters could force MPs to be reselected, meaning left-leaning activists in local parties could effectively purge centrist MPs. That would be seen as a threat to those who have opposed Mr Corbyn, including Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt. The MPs potentially at risk would include a number of key Israel supporters in the party.

West Bromwich East MP Tom Watson is expected to be elected as the deputy leader. Mr Watson was a key ally of former prime minister Gordon Brown. He abstained in last year's controversial Commons vote on Palestinian statehood and could be a potential counter-balance to Mr Corbyn's stance.

Among those pledging support for Mr Corbyn as the contest entered its final days was Hamas's deputy foreign minister. Ghazi Hamad told the Telegraph that although he had never met the MP he had been attracted by his speeches. "I find that he has very good sympathy and support for the Palestinian cause," said Mr Hamad. "If he really became the head of the Labour Party, he can make a big change to the image of Britain."

The Stop the War Coalition, which Mr Corbyn chairs, led protests against Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to London this week. The group criticised David Cameron for welcoming the Israeli prime minister as a "friend" - the same term previously used by Mr Corbyn to welcome Hamas and Hizbollah representatives to Parliament.

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