Westminster Whispers: Anti-Semitism saga could overshadow Labour conference

Westminster Whispers: Anti-Semitism saga could overshadow Labour conference

Friday, August 17, 2018

This could have been the week in which Labour's top team finally began to stem the damage from the party's bitter anti-Semitism row. 

Despite further newspaper reports concerning Mr Corbyn's alleged associations and past activities, there seemed to be hints towards measures which the Labour leader's critics would regard as progress.

On Wednesday a Labour source hinted to The Guardian that Jeremy Corbyn was poised to u-turn and accept the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism and its examples in full.

It was reported that Labour's ruling NEC would make the move before conference next month - just in time to take the some of the out of the ongoing scandal before the crucial meeting.

That news was met with considerable relief by Labour backbenchers and activists, many of whom feel the ongoing ructions are distracting from the party's ability to put pressure on the government over other issues.

Meanwhile, rumours continued of a set-piece speech or other public intervention from Mr Corbyn following on from his written statement on anti-Semitism earlier this month.


Complaints to IPSO

Watch above: Julia Hartley-Brewer discusses the wreath-laying scandal with Simon Johnson of the Jewish Leadership Council

But by Thursday evening, elements of the parliamentary party and the wider Labour movement were once again in open and all out warfare over the issue. 

The fleeting sense that some modest progress may be being made in Westminster quickly evaporated.

Mr Corbyn's top aides forwarded a fistful of complaints against British newspapers over their reporting of the wreath laying row.

Press regulator IPSO said that it would examine the claims - Mr Corbyn's advisers clearly believe they have been treated unjustly and have nothing to lose.

But a political side-effect of this strategy may be that the overall issue is simply kept alive and given 'more legs' in the media.


Len McCluskey: Jewish community should 'dial down their rhetoric'

Watch above: Jewish Voice for Labour's Glyn Secker tells Eamonn Holmes Corbyn is being 'hounded'

Then Unite supremo Len McCluskey published a highly controversial blog accusing Jewish community leaders of  "truculent hostility".

Mr Corbyn's key ally, no shrinking violet, demanded that they "dial down their rhetoric". 

A strong intervention in defence of the Labour leader - but a helpful one?

As that post hit the internet, Sky News was showing a sit-down interview with Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge. 

The prominent Jewish MP faced disciplinary action after calling Mr Corbyn an anti-Semite - the action was later dropped. 

She said she felt that investigation was comparable to the experience of her father under the Nazis.

Dame Margaret said: "It felt almost as if they were coming for me.

"It's rather difficult to define but there's that fear and it reminded me of what my dad used to say.

"He always said to me as a child: 'You've got to keep a packed suitcase at the door Margaret, in case you ever have got to leave in a hurry.

"And when I heard about the disciplinary, my emotional response resonated with that feeling of fear, that clearly was at the heart of what my father felt when he came to Britain."


Corbyn must unite Labour at conference

Mr Corbyn's team rejected the comparison in the strongest possible terms. 

A spokesman said it was "so extreme and disconnected from reality, it diminishes the seriousness of the issue."

All eyes are on how Mr Corbyn's team, Labour 'moderates' and the wider party engage with each other in the run up to Labour conference in Liverpool next month.

The anti-Semitism saga has dominated media coverage of the Labour leader all summer.

Mr Corbyn cannot afford for that to continue to be the case come September. 

If it does, his entire conference pitch - crucial for uniting the party and reaching the country - is at risk once again.