Blun­kett: I de­spair at hard-left Labour

Doubt raised over party's se­lec­tion process as more can­di­dates face ques­tions over their past com­ments

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Gor­don Rayner and Harry Yorke

LORD BLUN­KETT to­day de­scribes his “de­spair” at the “anti-semitism and thug­gery” in the Labour Party as he sug­gests Jeremy Cor­byn is on course for a 1983-style drub­bing at the polls.

Writ­ing in The Daily Tele­graph to­day, the for­mer Labour home sec­re­tary says the party is “plagued by in­tol­er­ance and di­vi­sion”, mak­ing the chances of a ma­jor­ity “ex­traor­di­nar­ily slim”.

He sug­gests the best Labour can hope for is an­other hung par­lia­ment, and urges mod­er­ates within the party to “stay and fight” to make sure “the voice of rea­son” pre­vails.

His in­ter­ven­tion comes af­ter Mr Cor­byn was ac­cused of a “shock­ing” lack of lead­er­ship, as 11 Labour can­di­dates came un­der pres­sure to quit over an­ti­semitic com­ments or past be­hav­iour.

They in­clude a fe­male can­di­date al­leged to have de­fended an aide who talked about “a Jewish fi­nal so­lu­tion to the Pales­tine prob­lem”, and a man who joked that Boris John­son’s mother had been “raped by Jimmy Sav­ile”.

Yes­ter­day, an­other Labour can­di­date quit af­ter it emerged he had used the word “Shy­lock” in a pe­jo­ra­tive way in front of a Jewish coun­cil­lor, and on Thurs­day a can­di­date stood down over al­le­ga­tions she had com­pared Is­rael to a child abuser.

Mr Cor­byn has suf­fered a dis­as­trous start to his elec­tion cam­paign, hav­ing lost his deputy, Tom Wat­son. He was then de­scribed as “un­fit to lead” by four se­nior ex-labour MPS. Mean­while, an anal­y­sis of polls car­ried out over the past fort­night pre­dicted a ma­jor­ity of 96 for Mr John­son, and a sep­a­rate poll showed Labour trail­ing to the Tories in all but two English re­gions.

Lord Blun­kett writes: “The be­hav­iour of the hard-left within the Labour Party – the anti-semitism, the thug­gery, the ir­ra­tional views on se­cu­rity and in­ter­na­tional is­sues, and the lack of re­al­i­sa­tion that you have to em­brace a big tent of peo­ple in or­der to win – cer­tainly makes me de­spair.

“But it also makes the like­li­hood of an all-out Labour ma­jor­ity in this gen­eral elec­tion ex­traor­di­nar­ily slim … We are in a 1983 sit­u­a­tion here.”

In 1983 Mar­garet Thatcher in­creased her ma­jor­ity over Michael Foot’s Labour from 43 to 144 seats, helped by huge num­bers of vot­ers de­fect­ing from Labour to the Lib­eral-sdp Al­liance.

Labour’s at­tempts to seize the ini­tia­tive yes­ter­day with a pol­icy an­nounce­ment on free child care were com­pletely over­shad­owed by a row about its can­di­dates’ past be­hav­iour. Six have been ac­cused of ei­ther mak­ing anti-semitic com­ments or play­ing down the scale of the prob­lem.

Ian Byrne, who is stand­ing in West Derby, Liver­pool, shared a stage with Mr Cor­byn at a rally on Thurs­day night de­spite hav­ing had to apol­o­gise for say­ing: “It can only be a mat­ter of time be­fore Boris John­son’s mum comes for­ward and tells us that she was raped by Jimmy Sav­ile in 1963.”

A Labour source said: “We’ve con­ducted ex­ten­sive due dili­gence checks on can­di­dates and we have taken swift and ro­bust ac­tion. In a snap gen­eral elec­tion hun­dreds of can­di­dates have to be im­me­di­ately se­lected and staff have worked in­cred­i­bly hard to con­duct due dili­gence in time.”

TO LET two elec­tion can­di­dates ac­cused of anti-semitism slip through the net could be seen as care­less­ness.

But as a fur­ther 11 can­di­dates came un­der pres­sure over their past be­hav­iour, Labour left it­self open to ac­cu­sa­tions of sig­nif­i­cant vet­ting fail­ures.

One can­di­date was en­dorsed by John Mcdon­nell, the shadow chan­cel­lor, de­spite ac­cus­ing Tony Blair of spread­ing “Zion­ist pro­pa­ganda”.

An­other shared a stage with Jeremy Cor­byn on Thurs­day, and was then ac­cused of “vile” com­ments about fe­male politi­cians and Boris John­son’s mother.

A third was cho­sen as the young, fresh face of Labour at Mr Cor­byn’s first big rally of the cam­paign de­spite al­le­ga­tions she failed to con­demn an aide who made anti-semitic com­ments.

Hav­ing re­peat­edly re­fused to vote for a gen­eral elec­tion, Mr Cor­byn found him­self need­ing to find hun­dreds of can­di­dates. In re­cent weeks more than 20 of his MPS an­nounced they were stand­ing down, fur­ther rais­ing the num­ber of va­can­cies to fill.

Labour has strug­gled for weeks with the task of find­ing enough vi­able can­di­dates, ac­cord­ing to party sources.

Mean­while, a shadow cab­i­net min­is­ter told The Daily Tele­graph the vet­ting pro­cesses had been “stretched to break­ing point”. They added: “They all have to do in­ter­views but they are asked to say whether they have done any­thing that has em­bar­rassed the party. There’s sup­posed to be a sweep of so­cial me­dia but whether it goes back years ... it ought to have been. There is meant to be re­ally rig­or­ous vet­ting and clearly some­thing is get­ting through the net.”

Yes­ter­day was meant to see the start of a ma­jor Labour pol­icy drive, with multi-bil­lion pound fund­ing pledges to ex­pand free child­care, free school meals and statu­tory ma­ter­nity pay.

In­stead, the party’s poli­cies were over­shad­owed as can­di­date af­ter can­di­date was forced to apol­o­gise or quit.

It started for Labour when Kate Ramsden stepped aside in Scot­land on Thurs­day over a blog she wrote liken­ing Is­rael to “an abused child who be­comes an abu­sive adult”.

That came af­ter Labour can­di­date Zarah Sul­tana apol­o­gised for a 2015 so­cial me­dia post in which she said she would “cel­e­brate” the deaths of Mr Blair, and Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, the Is­raeli prime min­is­ter.

Jane Aitchi­son, an­other can­di­date, then went on The Emma Bar­nett Show on BBC Ra­dio 5 Live and de­fended Ms Sul­tana, de­scrib­ing how some peo­ple “cel­e­brated the death of Hitler”.

Yes­ter­day, an­other can­di­date, Ian Byrne, apol­o­gised over a series of abu­sive com­ments made about fe­male politi­cians on so­cial me­dia.

Mr Bryne, who spoke on stage at Mr Cor­byn’s rally in Manchester on Thurs­day, shared a mes­sage about Baroness Michelle Mone, ac­cus­ing her of be­tray­ing her work­ing-class roots and call­ing on peo­ple to “hit the c--- where it hurts”. He was also forced to apol­o­gise in Septem­ber over an old Face­book post that said: “It can only be a mat­ter of time be­fore Boris John­son’s mum comes for­ward and tells us that she was raped by Jimmy Sav­ile in 1963.”

De­spite wide­spread con­dem­na­tion, he was en­dorsed in the con­test to re­place Stephen Twigg, the out­go­ing MP, by shadow cab­i­net min­is­ters John Mcdon­nell, Richard Bur­gon, Laura Pid­cock and Dan Car­den.

Mr Byrne works for Mr Car­den, the shadow in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment sec­re­tary, who said his “in­tegrity and com­pas­sion for oth­ers will make him an MP all of us can be proud of ”.

Lo­cal party mem­bers have also told The Daily Tele­graph Mr Byrne is a friend of Karie Mur­phy, Mr Cor­byn’s for­mer chief of staff, who is over­see­ing Labour’s elec­tion cam­paign.

In a state­ment, Mr Byrne said he was “deeply sorry for the in­ap­pro­pri­ate and of­fen­sive lan­guage that I used sev­eral years ago on so­cial me­dia and would not use to­day”. He added: “I also shared a meme about a Con­ser­va­tive peer who voted to take away tax cred­its from the poor­est and most vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple. The per­son who orig­i­nally posted the meme had used an un­ac­cept­able and misog­y­nist lan­guage to de­scribe her. This was not my lan­guage and I sin­cerely apol­o­gise.”

Yes­ter­day only got worse for Labour with the res­ig­na­tion of Gideon Bull, prompted by a Jewish coun­cil­lor com­plain­ing about a ref­er­ence he made to “Shy­lock” – the Jewish money­len­der in The Mer­chant Of Venice. The prospec­tive par­lia­men­tary can­di­date for Clac­ton de­nied di­rect­ing the re­mark at a Jewish coun­cil­lor.

Mr Bull apol­o­gised and said: “When she po­litely in­formed me that this say­ing was of­fen­sive, I im­me­di­ately apol­o­gised and ex­plained that I did not know that Shy­lock was Jewish and I would never have men­tioned Shy­lock if I had known this.”

As the day went on, fur­ther of­fen­sive re­marks by can­di­dates emerged through sim­ple in­ter­net searches, sug­gest­ing Labour had not car­ried out even the most ba­sic checks, or in some cases chose to ig­nore them.

A Labour source told The Tele­graph the prob­lem had been ex­ac­er­bated by clashes be­tween the unions and mem­bers. The source added: “There’s a bat­tle go­ing on be­tween the unions who are try­ing to mus­cle into con­stituen­cies and the ac­tual con­stituency mem­bers who are say­ing ‘hold on a minute, we want our lo­cal peo­ple’.”

A se­nior Labour fig­ure said: “These peo­ple are friends and sup­port­ers of the Labour lead­er­ship. If you move the party ... these peo­ple who hold these views have been al­lowed to en­ter the Labour Party. That is the prob­lem.

“You scratch un­der­neath the sur­face and this the re­al­ity of the hard-left.”

Yes­ter­day af­ter­noon it emerged an­other Labour can­di­date, Laura Mcalpine, was ac­cused of fail­ing to pre­vi­ously con­demn her aide de­spite warn­ings he had bro­ken rules on anti-semitism.

In a blog in Septem­ber last year, Brett Hawks­bee ex­pressed con­cern that some “would be quite happy to see ... a Jewish fi­nal so­lu­tion to the Pales­tine prob­lem”. He has since apol­o­gised.

Jewish News pub­lished leaked emails from a Labour of­fi­cial rais­ing con­cerns that Ms Mcalpine ap­peared re­luc­tant to crit­i­cise Mr Hawks­bee. Ms Mcalpine de­nied de­fend­ing the aide’s re­marks.

Days ear­lier Ms Mcalpine had in­tro­duced Mr Cor­byn at a rally in Har­low, Es­sex, where she is the can­di­date.

Ms Mcalpine said: “I did not and would not de­fend Brett Hawks­bee’s re­marks in this blog. Brett’s com­par­i­son be­tween Is­rael and the Nazis was un­ac­cept­able and last year he made a full apol­ogy for mak­ing such a com­par­i­son.

Liz Truss, the In­ter­na­tional Trade Sec­re­tary and Min­is­ter for Women and Equal­i­ties, said “It’s a shock­ing in­dict­ment of Jeremy Cor­byn’s lead­er­ship that he is stand­ing by these peo­ple – some of them quite lit­er­ally. Some of the views held by of­fi­cial Labour can­di­dates are com­pletely un­ac­cept­able. They are not fit to serve in Par­lia­ment.”

A Labour source said: “We’ve con­ducted ex­ten­sive due dili­gence checks on can­di­dates and we have taken swift and ro­bust ac­tion. In a snap gen­eral elec­tion hun­dreds of can­di­dates have to be im­me­di­ately se­lected and staff have worked in­cred­i­bly hard to con­duct due dili­gence in time.”

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