In Brief

Tensions flare within Labour party over anti-Semitism controversy

Leadership criticised by backbenchers in Commons debate

Allegations of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party continued to mount yesterday as the party's leadership was criticised by some of its own backbench MPs during a Commons debate.

Dame Margaret Hodge, Labour MP for Barking and the daughter of Jewish refugees, told her peers that she felt like “an outsider in the party I have been a member of for 50 years”. 

“I have never felt as nervous and frightened as I feel today at being a Jew,” she added. “It feels that my party has given permission for anti-Semitism to go unchallenged.”

Luciana Berger, Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree, made a speech in which she said that she had “never seen anti-Semitism as a child”, but that “in 2018, within the Labour Party, anti-Semitism is now more commonplace, it is more conspicuous and it is more corrosive”.

Berger added: “That’s why I have no words for the people who purport to be both members and supporters of our party, who use that hashtag JC4PM, who attacked me in recent weeks for my comments; they attacked me for speaking at the rally against anti-Semitism . . . who say I should be de-selected.”

Both Berger and Hodge received standing ovations for their speeches.

Meanwhile, in what The Times describes as “a highly pointed gesture”, Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson chose to sit on the back benches, between Berger and Stoke-on-Trent North MP Ruth Smeeth, rather than in his usual position on the front bench beside Jeremy Corbyn. 

Party leader Corbyn walked out of the debate after around half an hour, although he later returned.

On the opposite bench, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said: “Labour is a noble and honourable party and it is absolutely wrong that this corner of anti-Semitism has been allowed to flourish. [Corbyn] has an obligation to take action. We expect nothing less.”

The debate, which was called by the Government, came as Jewish leaders said they would be boycotting a scheduled meeting with Corbyn next week, after it emerged that “a hard-left group which denies that Labour has a problem with anti-Semitism had also been invited”, reports The Times.

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