Jeremy Corbyn has asked Labour chiefs to resolve “amicably” a complaint about Margaret Hodge verbally abusing him over the party’s anti-Semitism stance, a senior ally has said.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell suggested that the Labour leader had made his intention clear over the disciplinary case that had been launched into the veteran Jewish MP’s conduct.
McDonnell told the BBC that Corbyn had been “deeply upset” by the “haranguing” he had received from Hodge, when she called him “an anti-Semitic racist” in the Commons last week.
He claimed that Hodge’s anger had been based on a “complete misinterpretation” of the Labour’s new code of conduct on tackling anti-Semitism.
Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith has also told the BBC’s Political Thinking podcast that it would be ‘completely absurd’ if MPs couldn’t express their views strongly to their leader face-to-face.
“I just can’t see a situation where we discipline people for speaking their minds to each other,” she said.
Within 12 hours of her encounter with Corbyn last week, which was revealed exclusively by HuffPost UK, the Barking and Dagenham MP received a disciplinary letter from Labour general secretary Jennie Formby.
The former minister was informed that she faced a complaint of “abusive conduct in Parliament” and that an investigating officer would be appointed to her case.
McDonnell insisted that Corbyn ‘can’t interfere’ with the process, but said the party leader wanted it sorted amicably and quickly.
“I’ve spoken to Jeremy, I said we’ve got to resolve this matter quickly. He said yes we’ve got to do that,” McDonnell told Radio 4’s Today programme.
“And he’s asked the chief whip and the general secretary to try and sort this out. We want this resolved amicably and I think that can be done.
“He’s said he can’t interfere in all this. He’s the same as me, a commentator…I’m not party to the internal disciplinary processes of the Labour party, that’s for the chief whip and the general secretary. I think what they’re doing now is trying to resolve this matter amicably, I think it can be.”
Nia Griffiths, the shadow defence secretary, also told the BBC it would be “completely absurd” if MPs could not tell Corbyn what they thought.
“I think we’d all prefer to have somebody speak to your face rather than behind your back,” she said.
Jewish groups expressed outrage earlier this month when the party’s ruling National Executive Committee decided to endorse a new code of conduct.
Backers of the code say it is intended to balance the need for free speech on Israel’s treatment of Palestinians with the need to punish members guilty of anti-Semitic abuse.
McDonnnell, who previously said the best course of action would be to ‘almost drop the complaint’, stressed that Hodge was a ‘friend of mine’ and that he had talked to both her and Corbyn about the incident and its causes.
“Margaret was upset. Jeremy’s deeply upset because when you have someone haranguing you in that way of course it’s upsetting those sort of accusations, when he’s worked so hard on the issues of anti-Semitism, anti-racism,” he said.
“What I think Margaret did, through a complete misinterpretation, she’ll admit it, she was angry, she lost her cool.
“I understand why she did now on the basis of that misinterpretation. Now is the time to actually stand back, resolve this amicably and move on.
“The most important thing for us is there’s been a rise in anti-Semitism in our society, I’m not willing to stand by and allow that to happen. The Labour Party has got to be at the forefront of that. We are a party that tackles anti-Semitism wherever it is, either in our party or our community.”
Labour sources told HuffPost that Corbyn was not involved in disciplinary matters, whether conducted by the whips or the party.
Karen Pollok, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said that McDonnell was “disingenuous” in claiming the row centred on a “misinterpretation”.