Sadiq Khan 'in increasingly difficult place' over Labour antisemitism, says Lib Dem challenger

'Whether he likes it or not, Sadiq is helping prop up a party that still has huge problems,' says Siobhan Benita


Sadiq Khan finds himself in an “increasingly difficult place” over his efforts to show solidarity with the Jewish community while remaining in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, his Lib Dem challenger has said.

Siobhan Benita said that while she would “never talk down” the current London Mayor’s consistent support for London’s Jews, she added: “Whether he likes it or not, Sadiq is helping prop up a party that still has huge problems with antisemitism.”

A former civil servant, Ms Benita stood as an independent in the 2012 contest for London Mayor, and, after joining the Lib Dems in 2016 because there were then the “only true pro-Remain party”, was selected to take on Mr Khan, and the Conservative Party's Shaun Bailey in May next year.

Asked how her approach to winning over the support of the Jewish community would differ to that of the current mayor, the 48-year-old mother-of-two said: “If often say to people, if you like Sadiq’s values, then you will love mine.

“I would never ever seek to talk down what he has done in terms of standing with the community. But what I would not do is prop up a party that has a huge problem when it comes down to antisemitism.

“During my campaign a lot of voters have told me that their problem with Labour is not just Brexit, it’s over the failure to deal with the antisemitism problem.”

Ms Benita said she feared that, as the May 2020 drew closer Mr Khan, was having to tone done some of his earlier statements regarding Mr Corbyn and his need to act over anti-Jewish racism.

“Increasingly the London Labour Party is being taken over by Momentum at a lower level,” she said. “Lately Sadiq has said some positive things about some of Corbyn’s decisions.

“He’s having to do that because he’s having to make sure that come the mayoralty he’s got enough support on the ground to campaign for him.

“I think it’s becoming an increasingly difficult position for him to be in. You have got to look at actions as well as words.”

Ms Benita - who said she was enjoying the Lib Dems' newfound popularity in the capital following last May’s European Elections results and from Jo Swinson’s energetic leadership – said Tory candidate Mr Bailey was wrong for London because he was a “Brexiteer who is running a strange campaign in who it has been targeting.”

She said she had spent the past year stressing her own values and beliefs around diversity, community, and her “feel safe, be safe” plan for Londoners, which included the need to tackle the underlying reason for knife crime as well as a pledge that no child should be excluded permanently from mainstream schools.

Ms Benita, who has built up a close working relationship with Luciana Berger, the Lib Dem candidate to be Finchley and Golders Green MP, also praised the roles played by both the Community Security Trust and the Nightingale House residential care home in Jewish communal life.

“Having visited two Jewish charities on consecutive days I was left with a sense of how the Jewish community is such a wonderful source of innovation and how brilliantly Jewish people take care of each other - and also share their knowledge and kindness with others,” she said.

Recalling the visit to the Clapham residential home, she added: “I was bowled over by how engaged and well-informed the residents, aged 85 and over, were.

"I had barely walked through the door and they wanted to talk to me about Brexit and Boris Johnson's request to suspend Parliament which had just been announced.

“One lady in her nineties who had lived through the Warsaw Ghetto was deeply concerned about the rise of populism in the UK and spoke passionately in support of the EU.

“ I had a very lively Q&A with the residents and we covered many of the big issues facing London, from knife crime to air pollution to rough sleeping."

She was equally impressed with the way the CST protects the Jewish community and increasingly their work with other minorities in the capital.

“The cutting edge technology I saw at work was mind-boggling,” she said. “And it was heart-warming to know the CST has two and half thousand trained volunteers supporting its work, a wonderful testament to the strength of the Jewish community.

“But I also found it sad that such a high level of security is needed just for people wanting to do something as normal as going to pray at their synagogue.

“Jewish friends tell me they take it in their stride but that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable.

“The big rise in antisemitic incidents that the CST deals with is also very worrying. London is a liberal city that embraces diversity. As Mayor, I would do absolutely everything in my power to ensure that antisemitism and all incidents of hate crime were called out and treated with zero tolerance."

She called it "really inspiring to hear how CST works with the police and other minority groups to share its expertise.

"I was particularly struck by its generous work with mosques and Hindu temples, and with Tell Mama, the project measuring anti-Muslim hate crime,” she said.

Ms Benita also dismissed the decision of former Tory leadership hopeful Rory Stewart to stand as a mayoral candidate in the capital.

“Rory shouldn’t be standing,” she said. “He has no roots here. I think you want a mayor who has that sort of sense of protecting this place as your home more than anything else.

“That whole ‘Rory walks’. He’s walking around like he is a tourist. One minute you are saying you are a Conservative, then you are running as an independent."

Ms Benita said she recognised that many in the Jewish community - like her own background, with a mother who hails from India - wanted a mayoral candidate that supported small businesses and entrepreneurs.

 Ms Benita said: “Liberal Democrats believe there is a vital need for access to finance for new businesses, and those wishing to scale up.

“Creating true competition means allowing new businesses to rise and challenge established companies.

“There are also many well-established small businesses and traders which form the backbone of local economies. Our priority in supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses is to ensure that they have access to the funding they need, and in particular long-term (and patient) capital."

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