Labour anti-Semitism row: Don't attack messengers, says Thornberry

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Media captionEmily Thornberry on anti-Semitism: “I want us to sort this out”

Labour should listen “to the message” rather than “going for the messengers” when it comes to anti-Semitism, the shadow foreign secretary has said.

The party has insisted claims aired by BBC Panorama were inaccurate and made by “disaffected” former staff.

But Emily Thornberry told Andrew Marr “nobody can pretend there isn’t an ongoing problem” within Labour.

Jewish Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge said the party was at “a tipping point” on the issue.

“If the leadership doesn’t start to listen now there will be many more people who will feel so uncomfortable within the Labour Party that they can no longer remain,” she told Sky News.

Dame Margaret said it was “intolerable and unacceptable” for the party leadership to attack those who went public with concerns, “trying to shut them up”.

Labour has been engulfed in a long-running dispute over anti-Semitism within its ranks, which has led nine MPs and three peers to leave the party.

Last week Panorama revealed claims from a number of former party officials that some of Jeremy Corbyn’s closest allies tried to interfere in disciplinary processes involving allegations of anti-Semitism.

Labour’s disputes team is supposed to operate independently from the party’s political structures, including the leader’s office.

Four former officials chose to talk publicly despite having signed non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) with Labour not to discuss any aspects of their work for the party.

‘Shame and disgrace’

Ms Thornberry said she found the Panorama episode “awful” – both the programme itself and “more importantly the revelations”.

She said she understood the party had concerns about how the investigation was done, but told Andrew Marr: “I think that we shouldn’t be going for the messengers, we should be looking at the message. I think that is what is important.”

In May, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) launched a formal investigation to look into whether Labour had “unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people because they are Jewish”.

She said it was “a shame and a disgrace” that the EHRC had been brought in “but they have and we should welcome it”.

She said the party needed to set up a complaints process “that is tough and that works and is an example of good practice”, and should be asking the commission: “Can you help us?”

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Media captionJewish Labour Party members told the BBC’s Panorama about their experiences of anti-Semitism in the party

Dame Margaret said urgent changes were needed to the disciplinary process.

She said in cases that were “absolutely blatant and obvious” examples of anti-Semitism, an individual should be immediately expelled – with the right to appeal later.

Labour must also adopt “a totally independent complaints mechanism, because it is clear that the current mechanism has been abused, it has been abused by political influence,” she said.

But shadow chancellor John McDonnell told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend things were improving.

“I think we are sorting it out actually. I think we’ve got a new general secretary, we’ve put in place a system now,” he said.

“There’s always lessons to be learnt, but I think the way Jennie Formby, our general secretary, has operated, implemented the measures, is getting on top of this.”

Labour has rejected claims of interference in its disciplinary processes and described the Panorama programme as “seriously inaccurate” and “politically one-sided”.

In a statement, it said: “Since Jennie Formby became general secretary the rate at which anti-Semitism cases have been dealt with has increased more than fourfold.

“We will build on the improvements to our procedures made under Jennie Formby, and continue to act against this repugnant form of racism.”