Labour’s anti-Semitism row has reignited once more after a local councillor was suspended for joking about “Jew process” and MPs criticised the party’s handling of abuse cases.
The party took action against Jo Bird, who sits on Wirral council in Merseyside, when it emerged she had made the remark at a meeting to defend an activist who had been expelled for comments about Jewish MP Ruth Smeeth.
Bird, a member of the splinter group Jewish Voice for Labour, drew laughter from her audience as she declared that “due process” should be re-named “Jew process”.
Adapting Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘for the many not the few’ slogan, she added that “privileging one group over another is divisive and is bad for the many as well as the Jews”.
“Seriously, one of the things that does worry me is the privileging of racism against Jews, over and above - as more worthy of resources than other forms of racism,” she said.
Bird, who spoke alongside now-suspended MP Chris Williamson, was suspended on Monday after the Jewish Chronicle released a tape of the meeting.
TV presenter Rachel Riley, who has been highly critical of Labour’s stance on Jew-hatred, tweeted her own condemnation.
A party spokeswoman said: “The Labour Party takes all complaints of anti-Semitism extremely seriously and we are committed to challenging and campaigning against it in all its forms.
“All complaints about anti-Semitism are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken.”
The suspension came as Labour’s general secretary Jennie Formby came under fire from seven different backbenchers - including three prominent Jewish women MPs, Margaret Hodge, Louise Ellman and Smeeth - at the weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP).
MPs demanded to know whether the leader’s office was involved in the complaints process before any cases were considered by the party’s official disciplinary body. An Observer story on Sunday revealed that some staff and advisers had opposed some suspensions proposed by the complaints team.
Hodge urged her to investigate local parties in London, from West Ham to Hackney to Tottenham, where she said Jewish members had been reduced to tears during debates on the suspension of Williamson and the issue of anti-Semitism more broadly.
“She started off talking about anti-Semitism on the right. We all know that has always been an issue, what is new is the permission being given by the Labour party leadership,” Hodge said. “No action, no clear answers.”
A string of questions submitted in a letter to Formby about the number of cases being dealt with by the party was still unanswered, she added.
However, Formby did say she had agreed to requests from Labour peer Lord Falconer to have full access to party emails if he was to take up a new post as commissioner with oversight of the current complaints process. Falconer said afterwards he had not yet decided to take up the job.
She clashed last week with deputy leader Tom Watson, claiming he could breach data protection rules by insisting all future complaints are copied to him and his team for regular monitoring.
Hodge and Ellman emerged from the meeting frustrated at what they said was a lack of clarity over the party’s failure to take tougher action on cases of abuse.
The general secretary angered some in the room by starting her remarks with a warning that Labour’s anti-Semitism problem was not widespread and should be put in context. She said she would be writing to party members to remind them of their duty to respect others.
Formby earlier faced criticism after it emerged that a member of Corbyn’s office had been seconded to deal with complaints at the party’s HQ.
A party source said: “This is standard procedure to re-allocate resources from one part of the organisation when another part of the party comes under strain and requires additional staff support.
“Ensuring complaints on anti-Semitism are processed quickly is an absolute priority for the party which is why these additional resources have been reallocated.”
Although sources insisted the staffer would have no role in adjudicating cases and would only have an administrative role, one party figure told HuffPost UK the decision undermined Formby’s claims that she wanted no interference in the process from the leader’s office or MPs.
“It is beyond parody that a member of the leader of the opposition’s staff should be sent to [HQ] to sort things out,” they said.
Ellman said: “What are her credentials? Is this a political appointment?”
Another party insider added: “It’s a slap in the face given the claim that the leader’s office is totally separate from the complaints process.”
The party denied claims that Thomas Gardiner, who has a crucial role in handling complaints as its head of governance and legal, had resigned from his post.