Focus must shift from Islington MP Jeremy Corbyn to antisemitism victims, Labour’s Keir Starmer tells JLM conference

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn - Credit: PA

The focus should shift from Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn to the victims of antisemitism, Sir Keir Starmer told a conference on Sunday.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and MP Ruth Smeeth at the 2020 JLM conference, which was held online. Picture: Sally Patterson

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and MP Ruth Smeeth at the 2020 JLM conference, which was held online. Picture: Sally Patterson - Credit: Archant

The Jewish Labour Movement’s (JLM) flagship conference went virtual this year, with 700 attendees and 50 sessions covering conspiracy theories to climate change.

Conference chair Andrew Gilbert told this paper: “The JLM is confident this leadership of the Labour Party will confront antisemitism.

“Our response is to focus on how Labour leads in winning elections regionally in 2021, locally in 2022 and nationally in 2024.”

Keynote speaker Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “Success will only be when everybody in the Jewish community feels safe within the Labour party.”

Ruth Smeeth, former Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, said: “It would have been impossible for Jeremy Corbyn to address this audience 12 months ago, because there was no acknowledgement there was a problem.”

Sir Keir said he was disappointed in Jeremy Corbyn’s response to a Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report published on October 29, which found Labour broke equality laws in its handling of antisemitism.

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Mr Corbyn was suspended from Labour for responding that while “one antisemite is one too many”, the “scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated”.

He was readmitted to the party after a meeting of the National Executive Committee’s disputes panel, but has not had the whip reinstated.

READ MORE: Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn ‘reinstated to Labour Party’“I regret the pain this issue has caused the Jewish community and would wish to do nothing that would exacerbate or prolong it,” Mr Corbyn said in a statement.

At the JLM conference, Sir Keir said: “The focus should have been 100 per cent on those who have suffered so much over the past few years, yet within hours, the focus shifted to Jeremy Corbyn.

“The next four years of history is going to be written by us. It’s down to our utter determination to change lives for the better, and we only do that by winning elections.”

Speaking about the experiences of Jewish women MPs, Barking MP Margaret Hodge said: “We got abused because we’re women, we’re Jewish and we’re older. What makes it unique is it comes from the left.”

In a packed session about Manchester, Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner warned “thousands” of members could be suspended if they fail to “get real” about antisemitism.

“What Jeremy said in response to the EHRC report was totally unacceptable,” she added.

“I understand he thinks he’s always tackled issues of racism, but on this, he’s wrong. He has to accept as a leader that we failed.”

In a statement released at the time, Mr Corbyn said: “The publication of the EHRC report should have been a moment for the Labour Party to come together in a determination to address the shortcomings of the past and work as one to root out antisemitism in our own ranks and wider society.

“We must never tolerate antisemitism or belittle concerns about it. And that was not my intention in anything I said this week.”

He said in accordance with “lifelong convictions”, he will “help the party move on, united against antisemitism”.

Other topics discussed at the JLM conference included challenges facing London councils, with leader of Camden Council Georgia Gould noting while the pandemic has badly hit central London, it has led to opportunities to create highstreets that are “real places of cohesion and mixing”.