As It Happens

As colleagues quit, MP says anti-Semitism a 'sore that's been festering' in Labour Party

With the U.K. Conservative Party already in chaos over Brexit, seven Labour Party MPs have now quit the party over alleged anti-Semitism in its ranks.

Seven MPs have quit alleging anti-Semitism, but Louise Ellman plans to fight for change from within the party

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn is facing criticism from within his own ranks for his approach to Brexit. (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
Listen6:24

Transcript

Seven British MPs have had enough of Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party.

In a dramatic move, the lawmakers announced they are leaving the party and forming their own bloc in Parliament called The Independent Group.

The group says the party has failed to deal with anti-Semitism within its ranks. The rebels are also unhappy with what they see as Corbyn's tepid opposition to the prime minister's Brexit plans.

According to Sky News,  Corbyn responded to anti-Semitism complaints last week in a note sent to MPs.

"The general secretary has provided to detailed written updates and one extended verbal report to the PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party] and is today providing a further written update," he said in the statement. 

"As leader however, I wish to set out my own commitment along with that of the wider shadow cabinet as the leaders of the Labour Party in parliament to root out anti-Semitism.

"I am determined we will defeat racism wherever we see it and I know that anti-Semitism is one of the oldest, nastiest and most persistent forms of racism." 

The resignations of her colleagues however, has put Labour MP Louise Ellman in a tough spot. She spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about why she released a statement in sympathy with the rebels — but has refused to leave the party so far.

Here is part of their conversation.

Ms. Ellman, given what you know and what you've said, why have you decided to stay in the Labour Party?

I've been a member of the Labour Party for 55 years and I find it very hard to break the ties with the party.

But I'm going to continue my battle, but I'm going to continue it from inside the Labour Party, where I do have a lot of supporters.

Former Labour party MPs, (From Left) Ann Coffey, Angela Smith, Chris Leslie, Chuka Umunna, Mike Gapes, Luciana Berger, and Gavin Shuker announced their resignation from the Labour Party, and the formation of a new independent group of MPs. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images)

Can you give us a sense of how serious this issue of anti-Semitism in the British Labour Party is?

There have been numerous cases of anti-Semitic taunts and people referred to as a, in a Rothschild conspiracy, and the term Zionist being used in an abusive manner.

Jewish people have been made to feel very uncomfortable and the leadership have taken very little action to deal with this.

And the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, consistently says that he's an anti-racist. But he seems to find it very difficult to recognize anti-Semitism when it comes from the left.

So this has been a sore that's been festering. It's become a major issue and has caused a great deal of concern, distress, and, indeed, anger.

There are people who have been suspended from the party, people who have been tossed out of the party, because of their anti-Semitism.

If it's so important to you, how can you stay within a party that has what appears to be systemic racism and anti-Semitism in its ranks?

I'm used to fighting battles.

As a long standing Labour Party member and elected representative, I'm used to campaigning for the things that I believe in — including campaigning within the Labour Party itself.

So I'm continuing to call out anti-Semitism wherever I find it, including in the Labour Party, and fighting to try to put this right.

I think we've got a problem while Jeremy Corbyn is the leader-Louise  Ellman , Labour Party MP

Do you think that Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-Semite?

I think that he finds it very hard to recognize anti-Semitism and I do think that the Labour leadership is institutionally anti-Semitic and that is a major problem.

That's a very large thing to say and remain within the party. Why aren't more people resigning or leaving?

People are leaving because they don't believe that things can be changed and many are receiving a great deal of personal abuse.

I feel in a very difficult position about this. I'm struggling to cut away from the ties I've had for so long.

A convoy of billboard vans with messages against anti-semitism in the Labour Party are driven around Westminster on February 21, 2018 in London, England. (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

You've heard the reaction from Labour, from the leadership. They deny anti-Semitism. They say this grassroots group is a fringe minority — that they should actually resign and try to get re-elected.

They've been criticised and rejected for this. So there doesn't seem to be a great spirit of renewal within the party you've decided to stay within.

Well, the problem lies with the leadership of Labour Party and perhaps that is reinforced by that statement.

But that will not stop me and others from battling on and continuing our campaign from within the party.

Does Jeremy Corbyn have to go?

I think we've got a problem while Jeremy Corbyn is the leader.

Many people from the far left joined the party and became active in it. And anti-Semitism is strong on the far left. It is not concerned, not confined, to the right wing of politics.

I think such is the basic problem but I'm hoping that there will be pressure on the leader and he will realize that he can no longer be oblivious to this terrible stain of anti-Semitism within the party.

So it's ideology?

It's the ideology, yes. It's far left ideology, which looks at the world in terms of conspiracy theories and powerful forces and traditional anti-Semitic conspiracy theories fit very neatly into that.

And the far left sometimes absorb those anti-Semitic conspiracy theories without even understanding what they're doing.

I think that's the nature of the problem we're facing and that it's a problem that can't be ignored.

How much of the party is of that camp, of that hard left ideological camp? 

The problem is with the leadership. I think that's where the hard ideological camp is concentrated.

They've attracted a large number of followers who have the same views. But there are many other people who are in the party and I think are fairly oblivious to what is really going on.

That's why I think it's important to keep campaigning from inside the party.

Written by Chris Harbord and John McGill. Interview produced by Chris Harbord. Q&A has been edited by length and clarity.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.