Labour hopefuls clash over anti-Semitism crisis in heated debate

Labour leadership candidates turned on each other when discussing who held responsibility for the party’s anti-Semitism crisis in a heated debate on Thursday evening.

Lisa Nandy questioned her rivals’ responses to allegations of anti-Jewish prejudice in the party as hopefuls came face-to-face with one another in Dewbury today.

Sir Keir Starmer insisted he fought the issue from the inside Jeremy Corbyn’s team, while Rebecca Long-Bailey also claimed she had spoken out – but Wigan MP Ms Nandy said she ‘knows what racism feels like as someone who is half-Indian and I know it cannot be your battle alone to fight it’.

She added that there had been a ‘collective failure of leadership at the top of the party for years’ where high-profile cases of anti-Semitism had not been addressed.

Addressing Sir Keir, she said she believed he was ‘sincere’ about the issue’ but ‘if we do not acknowledge how badly the shadow cabinet as a whole got this wrong we will not earn the trust of the Jewish community’.

He replied: ‘You were in the shadow cabinet when this issue came up as well.’

Ms Nandy shot back saying ‘I spoke out publicly and then I left and I didn’t return’, before adding: ‘The shadow cabinet was offered sight of the submission to the Equality and Human Rights Commission which was investigating Labour for institutional racism.

‘And apparently not a single person took up the offer of seeing the party’s position.’

Sir Keir – who was named favourite to win by far in a recent YouGov poll – named this ‘absolute nonsense’ saying he and then-deputy leader Tom Watson requested the submission.

He said he had argued in favour of Labour adopting the international definition of anti-Semitism and having automatic expulsion of ‘clear cases’.

When questioned on whether Ms Long-Bailey had spoken out, the Holborn and St Pancras MP attempted to calm the conversation, stating: ‘The last thing our members, our movement and our country wants is us three trying to take lumps out of each other about who did what’.

‘The test for us is how would we deal with this as leader of the Labour Party, and I would take a leadership role on this.’

However, he then claimed: ‘Rebecca didn’t speak out in the same way that I did, in my view, but I don’t think it’s fair and it’s right for us to try to score points now off each other in relation to this.’

Responding to these comments at the heated debate, Ms Long-Bailey said she wasn’t ‘pointing fingers’, but ‘Keir knows that I spoke at shadow cabinet a number of times about this’.

She added: ‘I was often the shadow cabinet member that did the media to try and explain what was happening, and expressed my concern many, many times about how we weren’t tackling this in the way that I thought we should.

‘We are in a crisis and I know that it’s been soul-destroying for many of our members, because we are not an anti-Semitic or racist party. But many of our members went out in that general election and they knocked on the doors of Jewish voters who didn’t trust us and they were frightened of the Labour Party and we have to accept that that has happened and we have got to rebuild that trust.’

The three candidates all spoke of winning back voters’ trust after Labour’s disastrous performance in the election on Thursday night.

Shadow business secretary Ms Long-Bailey said she would make sure people’s aspirations are ‘truly realised’ at the next general election, admitting that voters were still ‘angry’.

She said she would not drop anything from Labour’s 2019 manifesto.

But Ms Nandy claimed it wasn’t ‘good enough to say we broadly got it right – on Brexit, on leadership, on policy – without any understanding of how we had our worst election defeat since 1935 – that we can just change the face at the top and hope to fix this.’

Sir Keir acknowledged that Labour had lost four elections in a row and the party would not change lives for the better in opposition.

The shadow Brexit secretary stated: ‘Labour governments do not come out of nothing – they come out of our movement and our party pulling together and saying the next bit of the journey is for us and how proud would we be if our party took that decision now, that we’re going to get from where we are to where we need to be, and that’s why I’m standing to be leader of our party.’

Keir Starmer has been predicted to win the Labour leadership contest in the first round with more than 50% of the vote, ahead of Rebecca Long-Bailey on 31% and Lisa Nandy on 16%.

Members and party supporters have already started voting for Labour leaders and deputy leaders, with ballot papers being sent out by email and post

The winners are due to be named on 4 April.

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