Labour MPs have condemned the party’s general secretary in an angry showdown at Westminster over the “cancer” of antisemitism.
In an ill-tempered meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Jennie Formby refused to reveal details about complaints or disciplinary action being taken.
The general secretary also incensed MPs during the meeting by declaring: “I answer to the National Executive Committee, not the Parliamentary Labour Party.”
She further angered Labour MPs by claiming it was “impossible to eradicate antisemitism and it would be dishonest to claim to be able to do so”.
The latest antisemitism row in the Labour Party came as the PLP unanimously passed a motion accusing the party’s national executive of treating cases leniently.
The motion also demanded answers from the party leadership to 11 questions, including how many cases are outstanding, and called on Ms Formby to come back with answers next Monday.
After the meeting, Jewish Labour MPs attacked the general secretary – a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn and Unite general secretary Len McCluskey – and accused her of ignoring the problem.
Luciana Berger, who proposed the motion with another Jewish MP, Ruth Smeeth, said: “If we’re serious about tackling the stain of antisemitism in the Labour party, we need transparency and we need answers to the questions we are asking. None were forthcoming today.”
Dame Margaret Hodge, who has previously compared Labour’s record on antisemitism with the treatment of Jews in Germany in the 1930s, said: “The general secretary was not prepared to give us the information.
“For me, if you want to get rid of the cancer of antisemitism in the Labour Party you have to have complete transparency and she’s refusing to do that.”
“I was angry. I have submitted a dossier to the party. The police are taking action in one of the cases, but the only reaction I have had from the Labour Party is an email from the person whose behaviour I complained about.”
And Dame Margaret told journalists: “This isn’t some vile plot to undermine Jeremy Corbyn, this is about tackling antisemitism.”
Former Labour leadership candidate Liz Kendall told Sky News: “If we want to deal with this problem we have to face it head on.”
And the normally mild-mannered Lord Watts, former PLP chairman, told Sky News: “The mood in the meeting was one of disappointment. We are not any clearer about how many complaints are being dealt with.”
Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Tonight’s motion and amendments will bring much needed transparency to the Party’s progress on tackling antisemitism.
— Wes Streeting MP (@wesstreeting) February 4, 2019
Backbencher Wes Streeting, asked by journalists to describe Ms Formby’s response to MPs’ questions in the meeting, said: “Platitudinous, dismissive and far from acceptable. We are leaving the meeting feeling worse than we did when we walked in.
“In not giving us the data, she’s ruled out any possibility of Jewish members having any confidence in the Labour party’s ability to tackle antisemitism.”
Ms Berger added: “There is a community in this country that is hurting and we have a responsibility as a party to root this out.
“One antisemite in our ranks is one too many.”
At the end of the meeting, Ms Formby was escorted from the room by the burly Labour Party chairman, ex-miner Ian Lavery, who ensured she avoided questions from journalists.
But earlier, in a message emailed to Labour MPs and published on the LabourList website, she said: “I am proud of the progress that has been made but I’m not complacent.
“Fundamental change takes time, in particular in a democratic, member-led organisation like the Labour Party, where rule changes must be approved at our annual party conference.
“However, wide-ranging changes are already in place.
“There is more work to be done to ensure all cases are dealt with quickly and fairly, and to eliminate the evil of antisemitism from our movement once and for all.
“I am personally committed to ensuring that Jewish members feel safe and welcome in our party, and in reassuring the Jewish community that we stand with them against oppression and prejudice.
“That is my mission. That is what I as general secretary, our staff and our whole party must work towards and be committed to achieving together.”
After the meeting a Labour leadership source defended the general secretary and said: “Jennie Formby gave a comprehensive update on the significant work that’s been done to strengthen and speed up procedures and addressed the points in the motion.”