Labour MP Ian Austin has used a Commons debate on anti-semitism to directly challenge Jeremy Corbyn over the expulsion of Ken Livingstone from the party.
Austin said it was “a disgrace” that the former London Mayor, who was suspended nearly two years ago after claiming Hitler was a Zionist, had not yet been “booted out” of Labour permanently.
He called on shadow communities secretary Andrew Gwynne, who was speaking from the despatch box during the emotionally-charged debate tabled by his government counterpart Sajid Javid, to make the case to Corbyn himself.
In a furious outburst, which won applause from other members, the Dudley MP was among the first of dozens who implored his party to take action against Jew-hatred.
He said: “It is anti-Semitism, pure and simple. It happened more than two years ago, there has been ample time to deal with it.
“It’s a disgrace that it hasn’t been dealt with. Kick him out immediately.”
He added: “It should have been enough when the Community Security Trust, the Holocaust Educational Trust, the Jewish Labour Movement, the Jewish Leadership Council all said it was enough.
“We have even had the Chief Rabbi speaking out, and still nothing has happened.
“It’s a disgrace. He [Gwynne] should stand at that despatch box and he should tell the leader of the Labour party that Livingstone shout be booted out.”
Wavertree’s Luciana Berger, who said she had been subject to anti-Semitic abuse since becoming involved in Labour politics nearly two decades ago, backed Austin’s call and also received lengthy applause after telling MPs “enough is enough”.
Conservative MP Theresa Villiers said Berger’s speech, along with that of Labour’s John Mann, who said he and his family had received violent threats from “leftist anti-Semites”, was one of the best she had ever heard in the Commons.
Several MPs have already warned they would consider resigning if Livingstone’s suspension is lifted and Corbyn is under increasing pressure to deal with the issue once and for all through the party’s executive channels.
Party sources insisted that disciplinary matters were not within the leader’s remit but were the responsibility of the general secretary.
Gwynne said the case was subject to “due process” but agreed the investigation should be sped up. Livingstone’s suspension was made “indefinite” last month by exiting Labour general secretary Iain McNicol.
Corbyn’s office made clear beforehand that although the Labour leader would not speak in the debate, he would be in the Commons chamber to listen to representations - but he left before hearing many of his own MPs participate - returning later.
Communities secretary Sajid Javid called on him to take robust action against anti-Semitism within Labour and said incidents were on the rise on the whole across the UK.
Ruth Smeeth, Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, read out a list of abusive comments she had received from members of her own party and also received a prolonged cross-party ovation.
Her colleague Lisa Nandy said the situation should “shame us all” and demanded “concrete action”.
Before the debate, new Labour general secretary Jennie Formby wrote to all of the party’s MPs to set out her plans to tackle the issue.
She revealed she had seconded a team of specialist lawyers to support Labour’s in-house Governance and Legal Unit (GLU) in dealing with ‘outstanding’ disciplinary cases.
In her letter, obtained by HuffPost, Formby also revealed she had started a ‘review’ of cases to see what was causing delays.
Some party sources suggested that the new legal team requires a party rule change. One said: “They know they can’t get rid of the GLU staff, so it looks like they are bringing in a parallel structure.”
One insider told HuffPost last month that the bottlenecks in the system were not down to staff but were instead due to NEC members delaying cases and defendants using lawyers to string out the procedure.
Last night I addressed the PLP to outline the steps that we are taking as a Party to eliminate antisemitism. As many of you were in the chamber due to the debate on Syria, I thought it would be helpful to circulate a summary.
Jeremy and I are determined to eradicate the stain of anti-Semitic attitudes in our Party, and this will be a central priority in my role as General Secretary.
On my first day in post, I sent out an all-member email outlining my aim to unite our whole Party and my commitment to tackle any manifestation of racism, religious intolerance, and other forms of prejudice and abuse.
Following reports that some CLPs were holding meetings to discuss their MP’s attendance at the Enough is Enough demonstration, I sent out an email to all CLP Secretaries making it clear that individuals or organisations expressing concern about antisemitism must not be criticised for doing so.
I have tasked staff with taking forward the NEC working group on antisemitism. The first meeting is this afternoon and this will set the terms of reference and outline an action plan, with further meetings planned before the May NEC in order that we may present a report to that meeting. I have asked Shami Chakrabarti to join the NEC working group and I am pleased to report that she has accepted.
There are a number of recommendations from Shami’s report relating primarily to compliance and complaints that are yet to be fully actioned. I am making progress with these. We have now advertised for in-house general counsel, who will advise on disciplinary matters and improvements to our processes. And I am pleased to announce that we have now seconded a team of lawyers to start work immediately to support the Governance and Legal Unit in dealing with outstanding cases. We must deal with complaints more quickly, more consistently, more efficiently and more robustly.
I will be recommending to the working group that we learn from the improved processes for dealing with sexual harassment cases. Areas that should be considered include the option of establishing small panels to consider complaints, training on antisemitism for all NEC and NCC members, and measures to ensure confidentiality.
I have also engaged a full review of the current disciplinary cases to identify and help to eliminate the causes of bottlenecks and unnecessary delays. I have met with the Chair of the NCC this week and am meeting with the full NCC today to discuss this further and to see what else I can do to support the important work that the NCC undertakes.
It is clear that training and education among our membership is needed to improve understanding about antisemitism. I will initiate a programme of improved equalities training, including specialist antisemitism training.
We are the party for people of all races and faiths, the party of equality for all, and the party that stands against all forms of discrimination and prejudice. Antisemitism has absolutely no place in our movement, and members and MPs who raise their concerns must not have them dismissed.
Thank you to everyone who has spoken to me following my presentations at last night’s PLP and this morning’s Shadow Cabinet. I would like to work with all colleagues in the PLP on this important issue. I welcome your input and look forward to working with you closely and constructively.
The Labour Party