Tensions grow in Labour leadership over Margaret Hodge case

Jeremy Corbyn and his closest adviser remain determined not to back down on implementing antisemitism guidelines


The backlash by Jewish MPs and their supporters within the Labour Party over the adoption of a new antisemitism code has led to growing tensions among the party’s leadership, the JC can reveal.

Jeremy Corbyn and his closest adviser Seumas Milne remain determined not to back down on implementing the new guidelines in the face of mounting anger from Labour MPs and peers.

But Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, along with Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, have openly raised fears that the failure to resolve the antisemitism crisis and other controversies — including potential disciplinary action against Dame Margaret Hodge — risk damaging the party’s chances of getting into government in the event of a snap election.

One Labour MP told the JC: “John McDonnell wants power at any cost.

“If this means making the Labour antisemitism row go away for the time being then so be it. Jeremy isn’t quite so malleable — and neither are those who work alongside him at the top.”

Another MP said the Labour leadership had been left “surprised” at the strength of support and solidarity shown by MPs to their Jewish colleagues.

Last week’s letter signed by 68 British rabbis from across the religious spectrum is said to have convinced scores of Labour MPs about the validity of claims that the new code breached the Macpherson principles which give minorities the right to define the nature of prejudice they face.

“Even Labour MPs who admitted they were not expert in weighing up the IHRA definition against the party’s new code were left convinced we were doing something wrong here when so many rabbis from all over the country put their names to that letter,” said one MP.

“It’s become a case of wanting to show solidarity with Jewish MPs and with the wider Jewish community. No-one’s backing down on this.”

On Wednesday it emerged that Andy McDonald, the Shadow Transport Secretary, was one of the MPs who formally complained about Dame Margaret after she confronted Mr Corbyn in the Commons last week and accused him of being an “antisemite and a racist”.Mr McDonald is known to be one of Mr Corbyn’s staunchest defenders and leapt to his defence earlier this year after the row over his defending of a virulently antisemitic mural.

Labour sources told the JC Mr Corbyn could ask Mr McDonald, believed to be the only eyewitness to the incident, to withdraw his complaint against Dame Margaret and put an end to the proposed disciplinary action against the 73-year-old Barking MP.

But a source close to the leader’s office insisted on Wednesday there had been “multiple complaints” about her confrontation with him.

In an interview with Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday, Mr McDonnell repeated his claim that he wanted to see the dispute with Dame Margaret resolved “amicably” — and insisted Mr Corbyn “can’t interfere” with the on-going disciplinary process.

“I’ve spoken to Jeremy, I said we’ve got to resolve this matter quickly,” Mr McDonnell said.

“And he’s asked the chief whip and the general secretary to try and sort this out. We want this resolved amicably and I think that can be done.

“He’s said he can’t interfere in all this. He’s the same as me, a commentator. I’m not party to the internal disciplinary processes.”

But in the same interview Mr McDonnell served to inflame tensions with Dame Margaret and her supporters further when he suggested she had confronted Mr Corbyn because of a “misinterpretation” of Labour’s new code.

“Margaret was upset. Jeremy’s deeply upset because when you have someone haranguing you in that way of course it’s upsetting — those sort of accusations, when he’s worked so hard on the issues of antisemitism, anti-racism,” he said.

“What I think Margaret did, through a complete misinterpretation, she’ll admit it, she was angry, she lost her cool.”

Sources close to Dame Margaret told the JC Mr McDonnell’s comments were “utterly patronising” and a “distortion of the truth”.

In a sign that the Labour leadership was seeking to secure the help of senior figures within the community, Jeremy Newmark, the former Jewish Labour Movement chair who remains the subject of a Charity Commission probe into allegations relating to his time as chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, was seen meeting Laura Murray, a senior adviser to Mr Corbyn, in Parliament on Wednesday.

Last week Lord Levy, who was a leading adviser to Tony Blair, was also seen meeting Karie Murphy — another of Mr Corbyn’s senior aides.

An emotionally charged meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party on Monday evening had shown the strength of the rebellion among MPs against the party’s new guidelines.

An emergency motion proposed by Dame Louise Ellman and backed by fellow Jewish MPs Ruth Smeeth and Luciana Berger calling for the IHRA definition of antisemitism, including all of its examples, to be adopted into the PLP’s standing orders was given the green light by MPs.

The move means MPs will now be balloted on the motion on September 5 when they return to the Commons after the summer recess.

In a similar development, Labour peers will also be asked to vote on adopting the full definition on the same day.

Mr Corbyn did not attend the PLP meeting even though it is customary for the leader to address MPs at the last meeting before the summer break.

On Tuesday he defended the new code as “comprehensive” and said it had been adopted by the NEC while “continuing to discuss with the Jewish community and Jewish organisations to ensure it operates in the best way possible”.

The only Labour figure to voice any anger in public over the MPs’ emergency motion was Lord Prescott who was repeatedly heard to say at the meeting: “The Labour Party is not antisemitic.”

In a passionate speech, Stretford and Urmston MP Kate Green told the meeting she “can’t look Jewish relatives in the eye” and former shadow cabinet minister Hilary Benn said: “This has gone on too long. When you’re in a hole, stop digging.”

Chris Bryant criticised Labour general secretary Jennie Formby — who said tackling antisemitism was her top priority when she was appointed earlier this year — for missing the last two PLP meetings, at which the issue has dominated debate.

Ms Berger told the meeting the NEC’s decision to launch a new round of consultation on the code of conduct was pointless because the Jewish community had made clear its strong opposition.

Dame Louise told the JC she was “very pleased” with the outcome.

“It was genuinely moving to see the show of support from MPs for the motion,” she added.

On Monday, law firm Mishcon de Reya sent a seven-page letter on Dame Margaret’s behalf to Ms Formby condemning the “hasty and ill-thought out” disciplinary action, saying it “defies recognised standards of due process”.

Mr McDonnell and Ms Long-Bailey had appeared on television the previous day and attempted to play down the extent of the row over the new code.

Ms Long-Bailey told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “We wanted to develop a code that was legally robust and detailed so that we could enforce it quickly in our disciplinary processes.

“But we haven’t won the faith of the Jewish community, and indeed my own parliamentary colleagues have expressed concern.

“The intention was never to omit parts of the IHRA definition.”

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