Jeremy Corbyn has come under fresh attack from staff, MPs and peers over Labour’s anti-Semitism row, with one backbencher declaring that the party’s attack on whistleblowers “makes me sick”.
The Labour leader faced sustained pressure from across the party in the wake of his office’s dismissive response to former employees who took part in the BBC’s Panorama investigation into the issue.
More than 200 former and current staff wrote to Corbyn to say he had a moral duty to take urgent action, warning him to “own that responsibility - or give it away to someone who will”.
Senior peers also volunteered a rapid review of the BBC programme, to report back to Corbyn and the National Executive Committee, and urged a “completely independent” process for dealing with complaints.
And at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) on Monday, chairman John Cryer took the rare step of lambasting Corbyn’s leadership, saying “to attack the whistleblowers was a gross misjudgement”.
A furious Cryer added: “The bottom line is we have got racists in the Labour party and they are not being dealt with.”
Shadow cabinet minister Keir Starmer said he fully endorsed Cryer’s remarks, adding: “Throw open the books, open the files, we can’t circle the wagons.”
“(Starmer) was concerned about the response not only to ex-staff but to existing staff: existing staff should be protected and they have the right to speak out,” one MP present revealed after the meeting.
Corbyn promised an emergency session of the shadow cabinet to discuss the concerns next Monday, Cryer said, and will meet Labour MPs later the same day, the week that parliament breaks up for its summer recess.
Former staff working in Labour HQ’s told Panorama last week that their mental health had suffered because of the party’s failure to deal with Jew hatred, and alleged that there had been political interference to water down some sanctions on individuals accused of anti-Semitism.
At the time, a Labour spokesman hit back hard at “disaffected” former officials and claimed some had “always opposed Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, worked to actively undermine it, and have both personal and political axes to grind”, leaving “their credibility” in doubt.
The party vehemently denies the allegations of political interference and Corbyn has complained about the “bias” of the programme.
But backbench MP Siobhan McDonagh, whose constituent Sam Matthews revealed to the programme that he considered taking his own life, was withering about that counterattack.
“The Labour party, the party of the workers? This makes me sick,” McDonagh said. “I would be outside the door with a placard and if it was any other employer so would everybody else.”
Louise Ellman, a Jewish MP who has personally had to get the party to take seriously a far-right, anti-Semitic ‘parasite’ image distributed by a local member, told the PLP “the leader’s response [to Panorama] was disgraceful”.
Labour had shown “contempt for anti-racists” and the issue was now both “the shame and the scourge” of the party, Ellman added.
On another extraordinary day in the long-running saga, senior Labour peers echoed recent calls by deputy leader Tom Watson to make public the party’s submission to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission inquiry into the allegations.
The watchdog recently launched a statutory investigation into Labour anti-Semitism, amid claims that culprits were treated leniently and that Jewish members felt unsafe both online and in meetings.
Corbyn visited Labour HQ and spoke to staff on Monday, though one source said that he had not made a speech and did a “usual walk around” to meet employees.
In a letter seen by HuffPost UK, Labour Lords leader Angela Smith, deputy Dianne Hayter, chairman of the peers’ group Toby Harris, and chief whip Tommy McAvoy said that anti-Semitism was “now a toxic and endemic problem that we have failed to eradicate”.
“As the leader of our party you have a responsibility to ensure that we do this. In particular, you need to demonstrate decisive leadership that Labour is determined and committed to do everything possible to remove anti-Semitism, and those that defend it, from our party,” they wrote.
“Without full openness, this is a cancer that will continue to grow and in hurting us, it will most hurt those that need a Labour government.”
In a separate move, Labour GMB union for staff passed a motion condemning the response to Panorama.
Staff were facing “a mental health crisis ... caused by the culture, rise in anti-Semitism and unsustainable workloads”.
“As trade unionists, it is unacceptable for an employee’s workload or the culture of an organisation to cause staff to have breakdowns or to contemplate suicide,” the motion stated.
The letter from 200 former and current staff stated: “Exposing racism and corruption represents Labour values in action and these whistleblowers should be thanked, not demonised.
“As its leader, the moral responsibility for Labour’s anti-Semitism crisis ultimately sits with you. Own that responsibility or give it away to someone who will.”