Jeremy Corbyn has been accused by a former cabinet minister of “arrant stupidity” for “lashing out” and sacking a frontbench peer who criticised the leadership over anti-Semitism.
Former attorney general Lord Goldsmith told HuffPost UK that it was “ridiculous” to fire ex-Brexit minister Dianne Hayter after she had compared the “bunker mentality” of Corbyn’s inner circle to “the last days of Hitler”.
Goldsmith, who said the Labour peers group was rallying round Hayter, also dismissed suggestions from the party that her remarks had been “grossly insensitive” to Jewish staff.
“I’m Jewish and am sensitive to all this. It’s completely ridiculous, for two reasons,” he said.
“One because it’s obvious this is nothing to do with protecting the staff, it’s to do with lashing out at someone who seems to have been critical of the Leader’s office. They should have the courage to say that’s what they’re doing.
“And secondly any suggestion that she is doing something anti-Semitic, just to say that is ridiculous.”
Hayter was summarily dismissed from her frontbench post on Wednesday night after HuffPost UK reported her speech to a Commons meeting of party centrists.
A party spokesman said she had been sacked “for her deeply offensive remarks about Jeremy Corbyn and his office”.
“To compare the Labour leader and the Labour Party staff working to elect a Labour government to the Nazi regime is truly contemptible, and grossly insensitive to Jewish staff in particular,” the spokesman said.
But Goldsmith, who served in Tony Blair’s Cabinet and hit the headlines for his legal advice on the Iraq war, said the claim about Jewish staff “really is desperate”.
“She’s getting huge support from the group, everybody is shocked. She’s so hard working, so brilliant in the House that it is arrant stupidity in any event to get rid of one of the few people who is doing a tremendous job for the party.
“I’ve been working very closely with Dianne because she’s been doing an absolutely brilliant job on Brexit.”
Goldsmith was one of 64 peers who signed an open letter to the Labour leader in the Guardian this week, declaring he had ‘failed the test of leadership’ with his handling of the anti-Semitism crisis.
On Wednesday, a Labour spokesman hit back at the ‘false’ claims, saying the peers included former ministers who had long put on record their opposition to Corbyn. He added: “We are committed to the replacement of the House of Lords with an elected chamber.”
On Thursday morning, Hayter was greeted with a big cheer from all sides of the Lords as she took her seat behind the frontbench.
Earlier, Labour MP Wes Streeting, Lords group leader Toby Harris and former Ed Miliband aide Lord Wood rallied to Hayter’s defence.
But many Corbyn supporters backed the sacking, with some arguing that references to Hitler were exactly why Ken Livingstone was kicked out of the party.
Hayter, who will remain in the elected position of deputy leader of the Labour lords, sparked the row when she alleged the party refused to share vital information with the National Executive Committee on party finances, membership figures and anti-Semitism data shared with the Equality and Human Rights Commission investigation.
“That declaiming of intelligence, the refusal to share is an absolute symbol of the bunker mentality,” she had told the meeting of the Labour First group.
Hayter went on to say Corbyn’s team were refusing to acknowledge criticism or listen to information showing the party was trailing in the polls.
“Those of you who haven’t [read the book] will have seen the film ‘Bunker’, about the last days of Hitler, where you stop receiving any information into the inner group which suggests that things are not going the way you want,” she had said.
“That seems to be where we are at the moment: having the leadership in a bunker so they are not hearing in those views, that evidence, that is in conflict with what they are trying to do, to the extent that even undermines what they are trying to do.”
Labour’s shadow cabinet meets in emergency session next Monday to discuss calls to strengthen the party’s procedures for dealing with anti-Jewish hatred, with the ruling NEC set to assess the issue the following day.