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Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth was reduced to tears at Labour’s anti-Semitism inquiry press conference

A hostile atmosphere overshadowed announcement of the findings in Shami Chakrabarti’s report.

Speaking at a press conference on Labour’s anti-Semitism inquiry report, Jeremy Corbyn joked: “Last summer, I called for a kinder, gentler politics. Sadly I have to report that is still a work in progress.”

A wry aside, but one that grimly summed up how this event played out. Perhaps unsurprisingly, at a time when an official report has to recommend that elected politicians “resist the use of Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons”.



The recommendations from Shami Chakrabarti's report, following her inquiry into Labour anti-Semitism.

Corbyn called for a reflection on the recent “hateful language” used by politicians, including when Boris Johnson “compared Hitler’s murderous tyranny with the European project created from its ashes” and Michael Gove “compared pro-Remain economists to Nazi collaborators”. (He didn’t mention Ken Livingstone, and Shami Chakrabarti banned him from responding when he was called on it.)

But Corbyn’s warning against such incendiary historical comparisons was undermined by a clumsy line in his speech, which seemed to equate Israel to Islamic State:

“Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those various self-styled Islamic states or organisations.”

When asked if he was comparing Israel to the terrorist group, Corbyn said “of course not”. His office later clarified that he was not speaking specifically about IS, but a collection of governments and groups.

But the tone was set, and the inflammatory language didn’t end there. Tensions between the press and a handful of people claiming to be part of the pro-Corbyn campaign movement Momentum (though it’s unclear whether they were paid-up members) overshadowed the event.

A few of these activists clashed with journalists covering the event. I received a lengthy, angry lecture about media “hostility” by one activist, and Kate McCann from the Telegraph was accused of being a “troublemaker” and “racist”, as part of the “witch-hunt media”. During a Q&A with Corbyn, one supporter publicly accused the Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth of colluding with the Telegraph. She walked out of the event, and her office confirms to me that she was reduced to tears by the incident.

In a statement on her website, she writes:

This morning, at the launch of the Chakrabarti Inquiry into antisemitism, I was verbally attacked by a Momentum activist and Jeremy Corbyn supporter who used traditional antisemitic slurs to attack me for being part of a 'media conspiracy'. It is beyond belief that someone could come to the launch of a report on antisemitism in the Labour Party and espouse such vile conspiracy theories about Jewish people, which were ironically highlighted as such in Ms Chakrabarti's report, while the leader of my own party stood by and did absolutely nothing.

She has made an official complaint to Labour HQ, and is calling on Corbyn to resign immediately and make way for someone with the backbone to confront racism and anti-Semitism in our party and in the country”.

Corbyn denounced the language of the literature that activists were handing out (some of the leaflets referred to MPs as “traitors”):

“There should be no bad language used, there should be no abuse used, and I don’t like the use of the word ‘traitor’ either. I’ve sent out statements already saying whatever the situation in this political debate in the party at this present time, no abuse, no name-calling, none of that kind of behaviour. I’ve made that absolutely clear to people who agree with me, or don’t agree with me, and conduct debate in a civilised, civil way.”

These activists are not representatives of the Labour Party, and they may not even be official representatives of Momentum. But their aggressive behaviour towards Smeeth and people trying to do their jobs was bleakly poignant at an event specifically about stamping out hatred in politics.

I have contacted Momentum for this story, and am awaiting a response.

Update, 1/7/16

A Momentum spokesperson comments:

Momentum is aware of an incident that occurred at this morning’s launch event for the Chakrabarti Report into antisemitism and racism within the Labour Party.

Following complaints, Momentum is investigating an individual, who is not a Momentum member, for possible breaches of our Momentum Code of Ethics.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Labour MP for Midlothian Danielle Rowley: "I get my politics from my mum as well as my dad"

The daughter of Scottish Labour deputy leader Alex Rowley on being the youngest Labour MP.  

Danielle Rowley, the new Labour MP for Midlothian, wants to get one thing straight. “A lot of people automatically assume all of my politics comes from my dad,” the daughter of Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, Alex Rowley, says. “While I am influenced and inspired by him, I grew up with my mum and her parents. I have politics in all sides of my family.”

Both Rowley’s grandfathers were miners and Labour party activists. Her mother was a trade unionist and a case worker for the last Midlothian Labour MP, David Hamilton. “She was a very strong woman, a single parent, a hard worker,” Rowley says. At 27, she is upholding the family tradition by becoming Labour’s youngest MP.

When we meet in Portcullis House, in Westminster, she is dressed soberly in a navy suit jacket and blue print dress. She hopes to inspire young women in her constituency. “I grew up on a council estate,” she says. “I hope it shows them they can do any job they want to.”

Even so, Rowley’s election was a surprise. In 2015, Hamilton resigned and Midlothian went to the Scottish National Party’s Owen Thompson with a 23.4 per cent swing. Rowley, a campaigns officer for the housing charity Shelter, kept her expectations modest. After a nail-biting night, she won with a majority of 885. 

“Obviously I had the aim of winning, but I was not getting my hopes up too much,” Rowley recalls. “I was thinking I could really reduce the SNP majority, that was all. But every day on the doorstep I got more and more hopeful.”

Rowley’s father Alex is a firm supporter of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale backed Owen Smith in the 2016 leadership contest), and is seen as being softer on independence than the official party line.

But Rowley says her anti-independence views come from her constituents: “People were fed up of the idea of another referendum.”

In 2014, the independence movement caught the imagination of much of Scotland’s youth – the majority of young voters opted for Yes. So why did Rowley buck the trend? “I am very strong willed,” she says. She spent the referendum working for Gordon Brown, and was there in Kirkcaldy when Yes supporters egged the Labour MP Jim Murphy. “I got a bit of egg on me that day. You can see me [in the photos] in a red raincoat ducking out of the way.”

She believes the same hope which pushed young voters towards independence may now be blowing in the sails of Labour. “I have got a lot of friends who were part of the Yes movement,” she says. “I think there is an assumption they would support the SNP, but actually most of them voted Labour.”

The Corbyn surge, then, is real. “People were fed up, but they needed to be given something to give them hope,” she says. “I think Labour gave them something to offer.

“Whenever we had younger voters on the doorstep, they were excited about the manifesto. Even some of my friends who hadn’t voted were excited about it.”

As for the suggestion – floated by the Labour MSP Neil Findlay – that it should have spent more time talking about Corbyn and less about independence, Rowley demurs. “You couldn’t have just opposing independence, you couldn’t just have the manifesto,” she says. “You had to have both.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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