Thursday, 14 February 2019

Jeremy the Jellyfish

The Times carried a major report the other day on the latest allegations of bullying and anti-Semitism to engulf the Labour Party.

Labour's deputy leader Tom Watson spoke up and called for the Liverpool Wavertree constituency to be suspended, but as usual Jeremy Corbyn was nowhere to be seen.

Labour women accuse leadership of bullying pregnant Jewish MP Luciana Berger

Sam Coates, Deputy Political Editor | Kate Devlin | Oliver Wright | Francis Elliott - The Times
Ms Berger needed a police escort at last year’s Labour Party conference in Liverpool, where activists in her Wavertree constituency have failed to oust her - IAIN WATTS, MERCURY PRESS

Jeremy Corbyn faces a backlash from Labour’s most prominent women after his top team were accused of bullying a heavily pregnant Jewish MP.

John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, caused outrage after suggesting that Luciana Berger should declare her loyalty to the party to see off a no-confidence vote tabled by local members a day after she challenged Mr Corbyn over his handling of antisemitism.

Harriet Harman, the former acting leader, Dame Margaret Hodge, a former select committee chairman, and Dame Louise Ellman, a former chairwoman of Jewish Labour, all called for Ms Berger, 37, not to be hounded out.

The emergency motion, due for discussion on February 17, two weeks before Ms Berger is due to go on maternity leave, was dropped yesterday.

Labour sources suggested that Mr Corbyn’s team feared a walkout by Labour MPs fed up with the leadership’s stance on Brexit and antisemitism.

MPs were angry that Mr McDonnell used a morning media round yesterday to call on Ms Berger to make it clear she was not planning to support a “breakaway party”. He told Sky News: “My advice really, on all of this, is for Luciana to just put this issue to bed. Say very clearly, ‘No, I’m not supporting another party, I’m not jumping ship’.”

He was criticised for appearing to blame the victim, especially one who is pregnant.
Ms Berger was told to pledge her loyalty to the party by John McDonnell - CAMERA PRESS

Chris Leslie, MP for Nottingham East, said: “John McDonnell was on the radio this morning basically demanding an oath of loyalty from her to those who are attacking her. I’ve never heard of such a ridiculous situation.”

Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, offered Ms Berger her full support “in speaking out and stamping out the racism and antisemitism that’s in our party”.

Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, told MPs in the House of Commons that Ms Berger had his support as she battled “bullying and hatred” from her local party. He also said that local members “bring disgrace to the party that I love”.

In a letter to Jennie Formby, the party’s general secretary, Mr Watson asked her to suspend the Liverpool Wavertree party.

He wrote: “It is clear to me that Luciana Berger is being bullied. This behaviour by her local party is intolerable. The actions of her constituency are not only threatening towards Luciana personally but are bringing our party into disrepute.”

Wes Streeting, the Labour MP for Ilford North, accused Mr McDonnell of giving “tacit approval” to antisemitic members of the local party.

On Monday Ms Berger challenged the Labour leadership over claims by Ms Formby that the party could not eradicate antisemitism entirely.

Ms Formby rejected MPs’ demands to reveal how many disciplinary cases were outstanding, when an antisemitism code of practice would be completed and how the party was engaging with victims. It is understood that she has now proposed to hand the information over.

Ms Berger, who has faced persistent antisemitic abuse for years, some of it from Labour Party members, was said to be “very deeply upset” after Monday’s meeting. The following morning Labour MPs were convinced that she was on the brink of resigning.

On Tuesday evening the executive committee of the Liverpool Wavertree Labour party took the decision to call a no-confidence vote.

The motion asked the local party to agree that “Wavertree CLP has no confidence in Luciana Berger as our representative in parliament”.

It added: “Instead of fighting for a Labour government, our MP is continually using the media to criticise the man we all want to be prime minister.”

Kenneth Campbell described Luciana Berger in 2017 as “a disruptive Zionist” - MERCURY PRESS AND MEDIA

Kenneth Campbell, a party member, was behind one of the motions of no confidence in the MP. In 2017 he wrote on Facebook that it was “about time” that Ms Berger was “exposed for the disruptive Zionist she is” and should be deselected.

Mr Campbell, 81, also accused Ms Berger of crying wolf over the antisemitism allegations that have dogged the party for two years.

In one post he accused her of “spouting rubbish about antisemitism to take the heat [out] of her commitment to the murdering government of Israel”.

In another he said: “You can’t reason with a rabid dog the state of Israel is a false flag state”.

The term “false flag” is a description of a covert operation designed to deceive and has been used by conspiracy theorists.

After he withdrew the motion, Mr Campbell told The Times: “I have let it go. I have withdrawn the motion. I have had that much pressure put on me. It was something I felt strongly and I’ve withdrawn it. I am happy to withdraw it because it has caused that much of a commotion.”

Votes of no confidence carry no official force within the Labour Party, but could provoke a “trigger ballot”, a mechanism by which Labour MPs can be forced to compete for selection against anyone wishing to challenge them before a general election.

The attempt to censure Ms Berger was criticised by some of Labour’s most respected female MPs.

Ms Harman said: “She will be eight and a half months pregnant and we’ve got a proud record for fighting for pregnant women. The idea of a pregnant woman at bay in front of her local party will shame every woman in the party.”

Dame Margaret, who has clashed repeatedly with Mr Corbyn on antisemitism, said: “This woman is about to give birth. If it was anybody else the idea that when she is about to have a baby you threaten her with losing her job is a complete outrage.

“She is over eight months pregnant — it would be illegal in any other circumstances. Any competent leader would stop this from happening. But instead the current leadership of the Labour Party has encouraged punitive, aggressive, intolerant politics that has led to situations such as this.”

Dame Louise, MP for Liverpool Riverside and a former chairwoman of the Jewish Labour Movement, an officially affiliated party grouping which was founded in 2004, urged Mr McDonnell and Mr Corbyn to pick up the phone and speak to their contacts in the local party to get the motions withdrawn.

Ms Ellman said: “It’s time that Labour dealt with antisemitism properly”.

A source close to the Labour leadership said that the decision to pull the censure motion “was the right thing to do”.