Corbyn calls for independent review into racism

Ken Livingstone today
Ken Livingstone today
Have your say

JEREMY CORBYN tonight proposed a tightening of Labour rules and launched an independent review into racism as he seeks to calm tensions in the party over alleged anti-Semitism in the ranks.

A code of conduct would “make explicitly clear for the first time that Labour will not tolerate any form of racism, including anti-Semitism, in the party” and provide guidance on acceptable language.

Former Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti has been appointed to head a panel tasked with drawing up “a statement of principles and guidance about anti-Semitism and other forms of racism”.

The panel - whose vice-chairman is Professor David Feldman, director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism - is expected to consult with the Jewish community and other minorities and report within two months on issues such as “transparent compliance procedures” and training.

Mr Corbyn insists there is no “crisis” within the party but his handling of anti-Semitism allegations, which have led to the suspension of long-time ally Ken Livingstone and Bradford West MP Naz Shah, has been criticised.

Announcing the attempted fightback, he said he had taken “decisive” action.

“We have taken decisive action over allegations of anti-Semitism since I became leader, suspending all those involved from membership, and have set up an inquiry under Baroness Royall into reports of anti-semitism in the Oxford University Labour club and elsewhere.

“There is no place for anti-Semitism or any form of racism in the Labour Party, or anywhere in society. We will make sure that our party is a welcoming home to members of all minority communities.”

It came as an unrepentant Mr Livingstone suggested Labour will have to lift his suspension over controversial remarks linking Adolf Hitler to Zionism as the row over the party’s handling of anti-Semitism allegations continued.

The former London mayor’s comments were branded “vile, offensive and crass” by the party’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, who said Mr Livingstone had “let down the Labour Party”.

But the former London mayor, who faces calls to be expelled over his remarks, claimed that the party’s internal inquiry would have to let him back in because “it’s hard for somebody to decide to suspend me from the party” when he had been making the same point for 30 years.

The recommendations of the inquiry led by Baroness Royall are expected to feed into the wider inquiry.

Meanwhile, suspension failed to silence Ken Livingstone today as he stood by his remarks in defence of Bradford MP Naz Shah.

The former London mayor continued to defend his comments linking Adolf Hitler to Zionism and claimed Labour would have to reinstate him once his case has been fully considered.

Mr Livingstone was suspended on Thursday following a series of interviews where he defended Ms Shah over social media posts made before she became an MP but which came to light this week.

Ms Shah, who has also been suspended, had already offered a “profound apology” in the Commons and accepted they had offended the Jewish community.

But Mr Livingstone insisted the posts were not anti-Semitic and sparked anger by claiming Hitler had supported Zionism “before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews”.

After a calamitous day which saw reporters waiting outside a toilet for Mr Livingstone emerge, Labour hoped his suspension would help draw a line under the issue.

But Mr Livingstone was unrepentant today saying: “How can the truth be an offence? If I had lied that would be offensive.”

He told Sky News his defence would rest on a book by controversial American Marxist historian Lenni Brenner - whom he met in the 1980s when he was leader of the Greater London Council - alleging collusion between the Nazis and early campaigners for a Jewish homeland.

“I’ll just produce the evidence and I mean it’s hard for somebody to decide to suspend me from the party here when all this was there 30 years ago in the public domain and nobody raised a peep,” he said.

Ms Shah and Mr Livingstone are the latest in a series of Labour figures to face allegations of anti-Semitism and pressure has been growing on leader Jeremy Corbyn to show the party is taking the issue seriously.

Deputy leader Tom Watson suggested party procedures could be reviewed in the wake of the latest furore.

Mr Watson said he and Mr Corbyn had “both been talking to representatives of the Jewish community to look at whether Labour’s own structures can be improved to make sure that we send a very clear signal to people in our party that we will have a zero-tolerance approach to anti-Semitism”.

The could mean looking at potential candidates and “there are issues like are our rules robust enough and our procedures”.

The president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews called for Mr Corbyn to acknowledge that past meetings with anti-Semites were “inappropriate” and condemned Mr Livingstone.

Jonathan Arkush said: “It was much more than offensive language. Ken Livingstone actually said that Hitler was some sort of Zionist.

“What Ken Livingstone deliberately did was to draw an equation between Nazism and Zionism.

“He therefore crossed a line into certainly what most people would regard as distinctly anti-Semitic.”

Urging Mr Corbyn to get a grip on the problem, he highlighted the Labour leader’s past praise for his “friends” in Hamas and Hezbollah and said: “I also want Jeremy Corbyn finally to say that his own meetings with anti-Semites in the past, before he became leader, were inappropriate and should not be repeated.”

Isaac Herzog, leader of Israel’s Labour party, said the recent string of events to hit the UK party were a “red alert” and called for action to be taken.