Islington councillor Gary Poole, who has quit Labour: ‘Jeremy Corbyn’s ideological beliefs providing safe space for antisemitism’

Pictured from left is Cllr Gary Poole, Terry Naylor, Warren Levy. Credit Dieter Perry

Pictured from left is Cllr Gary Poole, Terry Naylor, Warren Levy. Credit Dieter Perry - Credit: Archant

An Islington councillor who resigned from the Labour Party yesterday has claimed Jeremy Corbyn’s “ideological beliefs are providing a safe space for the practice of antisemitism”.

Cllr Gary Poole announced his departure from the party he joined in 1981 by posting a resignation letter on Twitter, which blasted Labour chiefs for their "shameful and disreputable" response to a BBC Panorama documentary aired on Wednesday last week.

In his first interview since cancelling his membership, Cllr Poole, who will represent St Mary's as an independent, said he's been considering his position for the past six months in light of the well-covered antisemitism accusations. But he's ruled out working with Islington's previously sole opposition Cllr Caroline Russell (Green, Highbury East).

"I'm absolutely convinced it's the right thing to do," he told the Gazette today.

"It's a lack of leadership from Jeremy Corbyn and I have concerns that his own ideological beliefs are providing, or giving, an impression of a safe space for those that practice antisemitism. On a personal level, I don't really know him. He is not my MP [Islington South MP Emily Thornberry is]. I believe he is a good constituency MP. I have found him very affable on the occasions I have met him. I never supported him for the leadership of the party and I have never changed my view because there is no reason or evidence that he is taking Labour where it needs to be - but this is about antisemitism."

Pictured from left is Cllr Gary Poole, Terry Naylor, Warren Levy. Credit Dieter Perry

Pictured from left is Cllr Gary Poole, Terry Naylor, Warren Levy. Credit Dieter Perry - Credit: Archant

Cllr Poole voted for Yvette Cooper in the 2015 leadership election and backed Owen Smith in the botched coup 2016 coup, catalysed by mass frontbench resignations due to the Brexit referendum result.

The erstwhile Labour man said Islington Council leader Richard Watts is doing a "fantastic job", and has pledged to continue supporting the manifesto he was elected to implement even though he's now an independent.

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Asked if he'll ever rejoin Labour, Cllr Poole said: "It's very difficult to think of that. Yes, that would be my ambition. I live in hope one day the Labour Party can come back to its senses and show through actions it's committed to getting rid, absolutely and comprehensively, of antisemitsim... I don't see that happening any time soon."

But Cllr Poole is disinclined to form a group with Cllr Russell, or work with her on an issue by issue basis to hold the now 46 Labour members to account.

"I don't really share Cllr Russell's agenda," he said. "I don't think the people of Islington can afford her extravagant Green agenda. I have always tried to hold the council to account as a backbencher, that's not a new feature, and I will continue to do my bit to scrutinise and hold council to account."

Former Labour staffers turned whistleblowers broke non-disclosure agreements to claim the party's disciplinary process for investigating antisemitism cases is flawed and has been obstructed by people close to Mr Corbyn, such as his director of communications Seumas Milne.

The Labour Party has blasted the Panorama show as a "seriously inaccurate, politically one-sided polemic", claiming the show included an invented quote, edited emails, and interviews with former staffers "who have always been opposed to Mr Corbyn's leadership" and "have personal and political axes to grind".

Shadow foreign secretary Ms Thornberry yesterday expressed her regret at Cllr Poole's resignation, stating: "Whenever we lose good councillors and MPs and members over antisemitism, it just compounds the urgency for all of us inside the party to deal with this issue once and for all."

A London Labour spokesperson said: "The Labour Party is absolutely committed to challenging and campaigning against antisemitism in and we are taking decisive action to root it out.

"Our records show that antisemitism cases that have gone through the stages of our disciplinary procedures since September 2015 account for about 0.06 per cent of the party's membership and since Jennie Formby became general secretary the rate at which antisemitism cases have been dealt with has increased more than four-fold."

Cllr Russell has been approached for comment.