Labour MPs have turned up the heat on Jeremy Corbyn on antisemitism after an attempt by the party’s general secretary to defuse the latest row failed badly.
Jennie Formby bowed to pressure from Labour MPs to reveal the number of complaints of antisemitism the party has received and the disciplinary action taken against those found guilty.
She said that only 12 out of 673 complaints had resulted in members being expelled, almost a third of the cases were dropped without further action and only 42 were referred to the party’s disciplinary body.
But her figures were instantly challenged by critics of Jeremy Corbyn and many MPs were also furious that she failed to attend a meeting of the parliamentary Labour Party to answer questions.
Within hours of the meeting, seven Labour MPs – led by leading Jewish members Dame Louise Ellman and Dame Margaret Hodge – wrote to Mr Corbyn demanding answers to eight questions within 48 hours.
And the MPs told Mr Corbyn: “The failure to respect the request for this simple information does nothing to dispel the accusation that Labour is an institutionally antisemitic organisation.”
The latest clash came a week after a bitter row at last week’s PLP meeting when Ms Formby angered MPs by refusing to reveal details of antisemitism complaints and investigations.
A motion ordering her to return with the information this week was passed unanimously, but instead of appearing in person she sent a letter to Labour MPs just 90 minutes before the meeting.
In her letter to the PLP, Ms Formby – a close ally of Mr Corbyn and the Unite leader Len McCluskey – told the party’s MPs:
:: Of 673 complaints between April 2018 and January 2019, 211 were investigated and a further 96 cases saw members immediately suspended.
:: In 146 less serious cases, members were given a written warning and in 220 there was not sufficient evidence of a breach of party rules to proceed with an investigation.
:: The NEC’s antisemitism disputes panel has reached decisions on 96 of the cases where notices of investigation or suspensions were applied.
:: In a further 44 cases, individuals left the party after being presented with evidence.
:: Of the cases dealt with by the disputes panel, 16 were issued with formal warnings, 25 with first written warnings, six were referred for further investigation and seven had no further action taken.
:: Another 42 were referred to the next stage of the complaints process, the independent National Constitutional Committee, which expelled 12 members and imposed other sanctions on six more.
:: Labour received another 433 complaints, more than 30% of the total, about people who turned out not to be in the party at all.
During the PLP meeting, two leading Jewish MPs, Dame Louise and Luciana Berger, read out examples of vicious personal attacks on them.
John Mann said his wife had been sent a dead blackbird in the post.
After the meeting, Dame Margaret, visibly emotional, told journalists: “It’s very depressing. I don’t believe the data. I don’t think the data is complete. Trust has broken down.”
Prominent antisemitism campaigner Wes Streeting claimed Ms Formby’s figures did not “pass the smell test”.
Ms Smeeth added: “We are at the point now where we need genuine and real leadership and we need them to turn up to do it. This is not over. I so desperately wish this was over.
“I think every Jewish MP wishes this was over. Every MP wishes this was over. It is not yet over.
“We’re not going to keep quiet until this is better and until antisemitism has gone from the Labour Party.”
In her letter to Labour MPs, Ms Formby said: “I totally reject the suggestion that the existence of antisemitism in our party is a smear.
“I have seen hard evidence of it and that is why I have been so determined to do whatever is possible to eliminate it from the party.
“It is also the reason why I made it a priority to implement robust procedures to deal with it whenever it is identified.
“Whilst I cannot guarantee to totally eradicate it, as we have new members joining every day, I can guarantee that we now have robust procedures to deal with it whenever it is identified.”
A Labour Party spokesman said: “Jennie Formby, after obtaining the NEC’s agreement, has published the figures on antisemitism complaints handled by the party and published a report on the work the party has done and is doing to speed up and strengthen our procedures, increasing transparency.
“These figures relate to about 0.1% of our membership, but one antisemite in our party is one too many.
“We are committed to tackling antisemitism and rooting it out of our party once and for all.”