As MPs go into the Easter recess, Jeremy Corbyn is rounding up one of his worst weeks as leader yet. After the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council wrote to the Labour leader accusing him of ‘again and again’ siding with ‘anti-Semites rather than Jews’, both members of the Jewish community and Labour moderates attended a demonstration in Parliament Square to voice their concerns. Only some of Corbyn’s more dedicated supporters weren’t having any of that and staged a rival protest defending their leader from ‘MSM smears’.
Today we begin to see Corbyn’s team’s attempt to change the narrative and tackle the issue. Corbyn has given an interview to the Jewish News to try and show that he is taking the issue seriously. Only it’s safe to say that hasn’t played out as his spin doctors would have imagined. The front page of the paper reads ‘not good enough’ – in a damning judgment on his answers. One particularly alarming exchange is Corbyn’s initial suggestion that it would be up to the local Labour party if they wanted to deselect an MP for attending the demonstration against anti-Semitism. He goes on to clarify, however, that he doesn’t think anyone should be deselected for that:
JN: There have been calls for David Lammy to be deselected in Tottenham because he turned out to support the rally against anti-Semitism. Again will you make it clear that you don’t want anyone deselected…?
JC: It’s up to the local party… but not for that, no. Obviously the local parties must decide what they want to do in the future. David Lammy is a colleague, a friend of mine, I admire what he stands for and what he does and he should not be condemned for that.
— Jewish News (@JewishNewsUK) March 29, 2018
Adding to the feeling that this media storm is spiralling out of the Leader’s Office’s control is the fact that Corbyn’s close ally has had to resign as chair of Labour’s disputes panel for defending a candidate who posted a Holocaust denial article. Christine Shawcroft sent an email calling for a Peterborough council candidate to have his suspension lifted and suggesting a Facebook post on Holocaust denial had been taken out of context. However, in a statement Shawcroft said she had not been aware of the ‘abhorrent’ Facebook post – just as Corbyn hadn’t with the mural – before writing the email.
It’s been suggested that it was Corbyn who told Shawcroft to resign. But even were that the case, it’s not what could be described as particularly strong action. Shawcroft still sits on the National Executive Committee and every NEC member has a say on disputes. As before, it’s not clear what bold action Corbyn is taking to deal with the problem. While he is now more willing to speak about the issue of anti-Semitism in Labour, there is a growing feeling that this is only because he has little choice now but to.