Jeremy Corbyn faces the most serious revolt by his own MPs since the failed coup of 2016 as senior figures publicly accuse him today of condoning antisemitism, while at the same time purging his inner circle of passionate pro-Europeans.
MPs broke cover throughout on Saturday to demand that Corbyn appears before them on Monday evening to explain himself on both issues at the weekly meeting of the parliamentary party. One senior MP in an influential position said she expected an ugly atmosphere: “He has managed to combine antisemitism with an attack on Remainers in one weekend. This is about our identity as a progressive, tolerant, pro-European party. I am in complete despair.”
A formal request was sent yesterday to Corbyn’s office from representatives of the powerful parliamentary committee, the representative body of Labour MPs, saying they wanted him to attend to address their concerns.
In a strongly worded statement, Angela Smith, the MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, who is on the committee, laid blame directly at Corbyn’s door: “It is horrifying that anyone in our party – never mind the leader – should be able to condone antisemitism without facing consequences.
“And rather than facing up, Jeremy Corbyn has chosen to dissemble to defend himself. It is simply not credible to suggest that a man with his knowledge of foreign affairs did not recognise those images for what they were.
“Many of us would call for a formal disciplinary process, but the sad truth is that our party has been so badly undermined that no one would believe it would be meaningful. Jeremy Corbyn needs to appear before MPs on Monday to address this crisis.”
Labour sources said that Corbyn was not due to appear on Monday and would not do so. The initial anger came on Friday when Corbyn was asked by the Labour MP Luciana Berger, who is Jewish, to account for his apparent support for an obviously antisemitic mural in 2012.
Painted by street artist Mear One, it depicted a caricatured group of Jewish financiers and capitalists playing a Monopoly-style game on a board balanced on the backs of unclothed, emaciated people. Corbyn left a supportive comment on a Facebook post by Mear One, whose real name is Kalen Ockerman, after the artist revealed his work was to be whitewashed.
Corbyn’s explanations on Friday, and eventual expression of “sincere regret” that he had not looked more closely at what he now accepts is clearly an antisemitic image before questioning why it had to be removed, failed to reassure MPs or Jewish organisations. The row has blown up after a prolonged period of bitter arguments in Labour of cases of alleged antisemitism.
Berger said: “I want to hear from the leader on Monday, because his two responses so far have been wholly inadequate.”
Some MPs in the centre and on the right of the party were also concerned recently at Corbyn’s qualified criticism of Moscow over the Salisbury nerve gas attacks, while there is mounting worry about the way the left is tightening its grip week by week on the machinery that runs the party.
On Friday evening, Corbyn’s decision to sack shadow Northern Ireland secretary Owen Smith for his support for a second EU referendum and membership of the single market prompted more outrage in the large pro-EU wing of the party. Smith said yesterday that leaving the EU was “the biggest economic crisis that our country will have faced for many, many generations” and that he believed Labour should stand against leaving the EU.
Lord Hain, a former Labour cabinet minister, said that Smith’s sacking was reminiscent of a “Stalinist purge”. hat made a nonsense of the leader’s claims to be tolerant of a wide range of views. The shadow home secretary Diane Abbott insisted that Smith could not expect to stay in the shadow cabinet while advocating an approach to Brexit that was completely out of line with official party policy.
As the anti-semistism row raged on last night the editor of the Jewish Chronicle Stephen Pollard labelled Corbyn “a liar” for claiming he did not realise the 2012 mural was antisemitic, while Karen Pollock, the chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said: “The mural was blatantly antisemitic using images commonly found in antisemitic propaganda – it is impossible not to notice. It was indefensible then and is indefensible now. If, as he says, Mr Corbyn is against all forms of racism, why does his stance on antisemitism always fall short?”