A member of Jeremy Corbyn’s office urged Labour officials not to suspend a woman who had defended an anti-Semitic mural, newly-leaked emails have revealed.
Laura Murray, who was in charge of links between the leader’s office and the Jewish community, recommended that the activist should be instead given a chance to answer further questions about her conduct.
Crucially, Murray repeatedly used the phrase “we”, an apparent reference to the Leader’s office, in her contact with the party’s head of disputes, the official who oversaw investigations of anti-Semitism.
Labour MPs swiftly pounced on the email, leaked to the Times, declaring that it contradicts Corbyn’s own promise to them and Jewish groups that his office did not intervene in such disciplinary cases.
The party vigorously denied any direct interference and said the email was “selective” and reflected a process long since overhauled by new general secretary Jennie Formby.
Labour MP Margaret Hodge wrote to Corbyn on Tuesday to demand answers, stating he had given her “absolute, copper-bottomed undertakings” that there was “no interference in the complaints process by his inner circle”.
Murray, who was stakeholder manager in the leader’s office, was on Monday seconded to the party’s HQ to offer ‘administrative’ support in dealing with anti-Semitism cases.
Lord Falconer, the party’s preferred choice to take on a surveillance role on abuse cases, told the Guardian it was “beyond mad” that Murray had been given the new responsibility.
The email centres on the defence by an activist in Devon of an anti-Semitic mural in east London, which depicted Jewish bankers playing monopoly on the backs of the poor.
“I think it’s a great mural. No way should it be painted over, it should be preserved,” the member said.
Corbyn had himself apologised last year for remarks he made in 2012 when he questioned whether the mural should be removed.
A Labour official had written to Murray, copying Corbyn’s chief of staff, strategy director and policy chief, as well as her father Andrew, a Unite chief and adviser to the leader.
The official said it was “in the immediate interests of the Labour Party to apply an administrative suspension”.
“While it is only one Facebook post, it relates directly to the mural itself which the Party & Jeremy have acknowledged is anti-Semitic,” he wrote.
Murray replied that the Devon activist’s Facebook post showed an “ignorance and a lack of understanding/education” of anti-Semitic tropes, representations and imagery.
But she added: “Has this woman made any other comments which are perceived to be antisemitic. Eg specifically mentioning Jews, Jewishness, antisemitic tropes, conspiracy theories etc.
“If she hasn’t then we recommend this be dealt with without suspending her as she hasn’t displayed any specific antisemitic attitudes herself, more just general ignorance and lack of education.”
“We would recommend writing to her about the comment with a list of questions about what she understands about antisemitism, antisemitic tropes and conspiracies, why [she] didn’t realise the mural is antisemitic, if she is disregarding the views of Jewish people who find the mural to be antisemitic etc etc.
“Obviously if her answers show an unwillingness to be educated about these tropes then decide how best to proceed re: a suspension from there onwards.”
It is unclear just what happened to the activist’s case.
Also copied in was Jennie Formby, who had been appointed as general secretary days earlier. Party sources insisted to HuffPost UK that she was using a Labour email address rather than her Unite email address.
A Labour source said: “No one stopped the suspension. Laura was asked for her advice and she suggested that questions be put to the individual and a decision about suspension taken following the response.
“She argued in favour of suspension if that response was uncooperative. As always, the ultimate decision was made by the staff who work on disciplinary matters.”
A source added that in other cases Murray “in some instances suggested tougher sanctions”. The practice of staff asking for advice took place “over a very short period of time on a handful of cases” and Formby ended the practice in her first week in post.
It emerged at the weekend that Murray’s father Andrew made a separate recommendation against suspension of a party member accused of anti-Semitism.
A Labour Party spokesperson said: “Since becoming general secretary, Jennie Formby has made procedures for dealing with complaints about anti-Semitism more robust.
“Staff who work on disciplinary matters have always led on investigations and recommendations on individual cases. Any suggestion that staff in the leader’s office overturned recommendations on individual cases is categorically untrue.”
A Labour source defended the party, saying that this is a selected leak highlighting an out-of-date process. “Selecting a handful of cases from nearly a year ago, under defunct processes, is seriously misleading.
“This is a deeply unfair attack on staff working in good faith to apply the Party rulebook to individual cases and get through the backlog of unresolved complaints Jennie Formby inherited.”
Labour MP Wes Streeting said: “It is now crystal clear that members of staff in Jeremy Corbyn’s office were directing Labour Party staff on how to handle anti-Semitism cases in writing.
“This directly contradicts what we were told and what Jewish community leaders were told by the leader of the Labour Party. Either he lied to us, or he didn’t know and his staff sat silently around him and allowed him to unknowingly mislead us. Either way, it stinks.”
The row could throw into fresh doubt the appointment of Lord Falconer as the party’s new surveillance commissioner for anti-Semitism.
In an interview with the Guardian, he said: “It would strike me as beyond mad, where the allegation is that the leader’s office interferes with cases, to send someone from the leader’s office in – not to impugn the individuals concerned.”
Earlier, Hodge said that the Labour peers was not independent enough to merit the new role. “We need somebody outside the Labour Party,” she told Radio 4’s Today programme.
But he said he intended to take the role to ensure the whole process was “bathed in light”.