Sir Keir Starmer, likely next Labour leader, plans senior staff shakeup to tackle antisemitism

The overwhelming favourite to succeed Corbyn is understood to be having 'strategy and tactics conversations' with the Jewish Labour Movement


DURHAM, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 23: Sir Keir Starmer, Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union addresses the audience during the Labour Party Leadership hustings at the Radisson Blu Hotel on February 23, 2020 in Durham, England. Sir Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy are vying to replace Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who offered to step down following his party's loss in the December 2019 general election. The final ballot will open to party members and registered and affiliated supporters on February 24. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

Sir Keir Starmer is planning to unleash a radical shake-up of senior staffing posts at Labour’s central London headquarters — a move he believes is essential in order to effectively tackle the scourge of antisemitism within the party’s ranks.

The current Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union is the overwhelming favourite to be announced new Labour leader this weekend following ballot of party members after Jeremy Corbyn stands down.

The JC understands that Sir Keir and his team have already signalled their intention to curtail the overwhelming hard-left, Corbynite bias among officials at Labour’s Southside HQ in “strategy and tactics conversations" with Jewish Labour Movement  (JLM) representatives.

While Sir Keir is keen to take advice from all communal organisations, including the Community Security Trust, the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, he is convinced the JLM is the right organisation with which to liaise over issues directly affecting Jewish members of the party.

“It’s not a case of favouring one organisation over another, Keir will listen to all voices,’’ confirmed one senior Labour figure.

“But he recognises that JLM is Labour’s Jewish affiliate and that several of the group’s most senior officials have direct experience of the party’s disciplinary processes.

“If he is going to change the very mechanics of the party in relation to dealing with antisemitism, he feels it’s through JLM that he needs to make this start. In many cases the relationships between his team and them [JLM] are already long established."

JLM sources told the JC that had refrained from issuing any set of demands for Sir Keir to adhere to, if he is announced as new leader.

"We have basically said, ‘you created this mess, you need to sort it out’," confirmed one source. “We told all the leadership candidates, ‘you come up with your solutions and then we can judge you on your results’."

Elsewhere, Sir Keir’s advisers are convinced that their Southside shake-up will restrict the current influence of the fringe, pro-Corbyn group Jewish Voice For Labour.

“JVL were able to gain a foothold at Labour branches across the country because of the tacit approval given to their ideas by people very close to Jeremy,’’ said a senior Labour source.

“This will stop. And stop straight away. JVL won’t be banned, but instructions will be given to every single CLP that JLM are the party’s legitimate representatives of Jewish Labour members."

As newspaper reports indicated last weekend, Sir Keir is considering removing both current general secretary Jennie Formby and the party’s chief of staff Karie Murphy over their handling of alleged bullying and antisemitism by party members.

The JC has learned that his team has also been asked by JLM to review the role undertaken by Thomas Gardner, Labour’s current director of its Legal and Governance unit.

Mr Gardner is identified in JLM’s submission to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission as having played a central role in key decisions on disciplinary cases involving anti-Jewish racism.

Sir Keir’s team has been asked to review both Mr Gardner’s record and that of "the team below him".

Favourite candidates to replace Ms Formby as general secretary include Emily Oldknow, chief operating officer for the Unison trade union.

Morgan McSweeney, who organised moderate Labour leadership candidate Liz Kendall’s 2015 campaign, is believed to be a leading contender for the chief of staff role.

One Jewish Labour figure told the JC Mr McSweeney was a “vast improvement’’ on current chief of staff Ms Murphy in relation to antisemitism.

“At least he accepts there’s a problem,’’ said the source.

Chris Matheson, Labour’s Chester MP, is also said to be a strong contender to replace Ian Lavery as party chairman. 

Mr Matheson has previously shown he is willing to act over antisemitism claims involving pro-Palestinian activists.

Last November he confirmed he had worked with the JLC to stop an event organised by a group who said “today’s Holocaust is the Holocaust of the Palestinians."

Mr Matheson said at the time: “Although I welcome open debate on certain matters on the Middle East, I will not tolerate these people in Chester who are of a racist and antisemitic nature."

Meanwhile speculation that Seumas Milne, Mr Corbyn’s director of communications and an opponent of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, has agreed to exit his role has yet to be confirmed.

In a further move Sir Keir’s team have told the Labour staff members who bravely spoke out over Mr Corbyn’s failure to tackle antisemitism, both to a BBC Panorama team and to the EHRC investigation into the party, that all moves by the party to pursue legal moves against them will be called off.

But the JC has learned that lawyers representing the whistleblowers are likely to still demand compensation payments for clients who were subjected to vicious slurs by senior members of Mr Corbyn’s team.

The party will also be asked to formally apologise to the whistleblowers.

Sir Keir’s team also intends to take proactive steps to liaise with the EHRC ahead of the publication of their report into claims Labour is institutionally antisemitic.

The result of the leadership ballot — in which Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long-Bailey are also vying for the leader’s role — will be announced on April 4.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive