Jeremy Corbyn's allies accused of 'meddling' on antisemitism

4 March 2019, 21:43 | Updated: 4 March 2019, 23:39

Labour MPs have accused Jeremy Corbyn's allies of "meddling" in the party's investigations into antisemitism allegations in a bid to protect his left-wing supporters.

The claims were made after the party's general secretary, Corbyn ally Jennie Formby, came under attack in a meeting with Labour MPs for the second time in a month.

At a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party at Westminster, Ms Formby denied that Mr Corbyn or any members of his staff were interfering in the antisemitism complaints process.

But that claim was immediately disputed by Jewish MPs, after a report that leaked emails reveal senior party officials opposed the suspension of some Labour members accused of antisemitism.

Jewish MPs are also alarmed by the transfer of Laura Murray, daughter of one of Mr Corbyn's closest allies Andrew Murray, from her job in the leader's office to Labour's complaints team, a move the party says is to speed up investigations.

The leaked emails, according to The Observer, show that an official acting on behalf of Ms Formby opposed a recommendation from investigators to impose some suspensions, preferring less serious action.

One email shows that Mr Murray, one of Mr Corbyn's closest aides, opposed a recommendation in favour of less serious action against a party member who had allegedly defended an antisemitic mural.

On Ms Murray's role, a party source confirmed that two junior staff members had been released from their roles to provide "administrative support on an interim basis" to the complaints team.

"This is standard procedure to reallocate resources from one part of the organisation when another part of the party comes under strain and requires additional staff support," the source said.

"Ensuring complaints on antisemitism are processed quickly is an absolute priority for the party which is why these additional resources have been reallocated."

Ms Murray, however, is being threatened with libel by Countdown TV game show and antisemitism campaigner Rachel Riley over tweets she posted after Mr Corbyn was hit by an egg on Sunday.

Speaking after Ms Formby's appearance at the PLP meeting, veteran Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge told Sky News: "She's in denial. She started off by talking about antisemitism on the right."

On The Observer's allegations of political interference in the complaints process, Dame Margaret said: "She [JF] insisted nobody in the leader's office has been shown any papers or had any role in complaints."

Dame Margaret disputes that. "I have absolutely no trust in the current system.

"But when this is going on now we expect action, so none of us has any confidence in the process. If we are serious about zero tolerance with antisemitism, you need action."

Another veteran Jewish MP, Dame Louise Ellman, criticised Ms Murray's move, declaring: "What are her credentials? Is it a political appointment?"

And she told Sky News: "The problem - the party's failure to deal with antisemitism - is a political one.

"I suspect that these are political friends who will find it virtually impossible to discipline someone they regard to be in their group.

"It puts a major question mark on whether people within the organisation understand the concerns that have been expressed, a question mark over the independence of the process."

Labour MP Ruth Smeeth, who is also Jewish, told Sky News: "I think there is meddling by the leader's office to protect their friends.

"I think it is extraordinary. I have made it very clear - and I've said publicly - this is a political will issue, it is not a process issue.

"The leader's office needs to get directly involved and own it and make it clear, or they have to stay well away from it and let process go on."

She added: "Nothing has changed. We still aren't any further on."

Labour MPs also challenged Ms Formby over whether former lord chancellor Lord Falconer, who has offered to oversee antisemitism investigations, will have full access to all files on allegations.

Sky News understands that the general secretary has agreed to all his requests for access to data and emails, but there are still some "resources questions" to be dealt with before he will agree to take the role formally.

The party has also announced that a councillor from Wirral, Merseyside, Jo Bird, has been suspended for joking about "Jew process" at a party meeting to defend an activist expelled for comments about Ruth Smeeth.