New Labour MP Michael Shanks reveals he quit party in protest at Corbyn antisemitism failure

Shanks, who won the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election, said he left Labour at the time because 'it became difficult to look my Jewish friends in the eye'


RUTHERGLEN, SCOTLAND - OCTOBER 06: Labour Party leader Keir Starmer joined MP-elect Michael Shanks to celebrate Shanks' victory in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election on October 6, 2023 in Rutherglen, Scotland. Labour won the parliamentary seat with nearly 60 percent of the vote. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

New Labour MP Michael Shanks has revealed he quit the party under Jeremy Corbyn because of his failure to tackle antisemitism. 

Shanks, who won the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election, said he left Labour at the time because “it became difficult to look my Jewish friends in the eye.” He later re-joined after Sir Keir Starmer became leader in April 2020. 

The by-election was called after a recall petition against Margaret Ferrier, who had won the seat for the SNP in 2019 with a majority of 5,230.

Thursday's by-election saw the SNP's majority overturned by Labour after Shanks won 17,845 votes, well ahead of the 8,399 votes returned for Scottish Nationalist candidate Katy Loudon.

Shanks, 35, said: “I’ve spent years working with different faith groups, particularly around Christian and Jewish relations.

“I know a lot of Jewish people and they were genuinely scared and hurt by the culture that had built up and that wasn’t being tackled by the leadership [under Corbyn].

“It was a deeply personal decision, I found that I found it difficult to look people in the eye who were Jewish and who genuinely couldn’t understand why I would remain in the party.

“It was that the party leadership at the highest levels weren’t tackling it. I took a personal decision to leave, which was incredibly difficult to do.”

After he quit in 2019, Shanks, a teacher, wrote in a blog post of Corbyn: “A party that has been woefully inadequate in tackling antisemitism time and time and time again does not have those values at its core. 

“And aside from all that, it’s a party that seems oblivious to how utterly unelectable it has become.”

Shanks posted on X/Twitter after his victory: "It is the honour of my life to have been elected as the MP for Rutherglen & Hamilton West. Thank you to all those who helped deliver this result.

"The largest thanks goes to all those who have put their trust in me. My promise in return is a simple one: I will be your champion."

Starmer said his party "blew the doors off" in the Scottish contest after it enjoyed a higher-than-expected 20.4 percentage point swing from the SNP.

The result led analysts to believe that Labour could return to being the largest party north of the border and open the door to Downing Street if it is replicated at the next general election.

Speaking at a victory rally alongside Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and winning Labour candidate Shanks, Starmer said to applause: "They said that we couldn't change the Labour Party and we did it.

"They said that we couldn't win in the south of England and the north of England, and we did it. They said 'you'll never beat the SNP in Scotland' and Rutherglen, you did it. You blew the doors off!"

Sarwar meanwhile said: "This is an absolutely extraordinary result, a seismic result and I think this will send shockwaves through the SNP and a historic moment in Scottish politics.

"I think Scottish politics has fundamentally changed tonight. The people of Rutherglen and Hamilton West have demonstrated that Scotland are sick of two failing governments. They want the incompetence, chaos and the division to come to an end."

SNP leader Humza Yousaf said it was a "disappointing night", adding that the "circumstances of this by-election were always very difficult for us" in reference to Ferrier's conduct.

Ferrier was one of a wave of SNP politicians who swept Labour from its one-time Scottish stronghold in 2015. She tested positive for Covid-19 in September 2020 after speaking in the House of Commons. Instead of isolating as was mandatory at the time, she took a train more than 400 miles back to Scotland.

Ferrier was suspended from her party and had since been sitting as an independent before she was removed by a recall petition of her constituents in August.

The Scottish Conservative's came in third place in the by-election, with Thomas Kerr polling 1,192 ahead of Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate Gloria Adebo and Scottish Green Party candidate Cameron Eadie who secured 895 and 601 votes respectively.

A total of 30,531 votes were cast in the by-election, with turnout standing at 37.2%, well below the 66.5% turnout in the last general election.

Corbyn was elected as leader of the Labour Party in 2015 and resigned following a historic defeat at the 2019 general election. He was ousted from Labour earlier this year following a row over antisemitism.

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