Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell has called on Keir Starmer to “go further” in his response to a leaked internal report on Labour’s handling of antisemitism, claiming “angry” members are leaving the party as a result of its contents.
Mr McDonnell called for the immediate suspension of some former staff named in the document, pending the results of the independent investigation instigated by the new party leader.
The dossier, which was leaked at the weekend, claimed factional hostility towards Jeremy Corbyn contributed to Labour’s ineffective handling of antisemitism complaints.
Speaking exclusively to Sky News, the former shadow chancellor said the document should be provided to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission investigation into the party “warts and all”, adding: “I think the truth has got to come out…if that means the EHRC comes to a finding saying that the Labour Party is institutionally antisemitic, well, so be it.”
Asked whether that amounted to a “scorched earth” mentality, Mr McDonnell responded: “No, not at all. Whatever allows the EHRC to find the truth is the key issue. So everything in this report, if it is true, should be exposed to the EHRC.
“They’ve got to have access to all of the information. We’ve got to rid ourselves of this culture that prevented a Labour government when we desperately needed one but also, by the looks of it, undermined the party’s ability to deal with antisemitism effectively.”
The report was compiled during the last few months of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. It was put together by the party’s governance and legal unit, and according to Mr McDonnell, was commissioned by general secretary Jennie Formby.
On Saturday night, Sky News reported that party lawyers had blocked the document from being submitted to the EHRC, despite the text of the document itself indicating that was the authors’ intention.
Pressed on whether putting the report into the public domain amounted to treating the Jewish community like “pawns in a game of someone else’s design”, as has been suggested by the national secretary of the Jewish Labour Movement Peter Mason, Mr McDonnell said: “No, not at all. Quite the reverse… I understand where Peter’s coming from. This isn’t about using people or pawns or individuals or groups or whatever, this is the search for the truth.
“Because I’ve had enough, I had years of asking what was happening on antisemitism. We were being told, according to this report, inaccurate information consistently. If it’s true, that’s appalling. We should never allow this to happen again, we’ve got to end this culture.”
The former shadow chancellor said he agreed with Mr Starmer that the dossier should “never have been leaked, and certainly shouldn’t have been leaked in an unredacted form, that’s wrong, full stop”, but added “it is out there now, so we’ve got to deal with it”.
He then claimed the party was losing members as a result.
“I think a lot of our party members and supporters, well, they’re like me, they’re pretty shocked and actually pretty angry.
“Our members, most of our members will need to be reassured that in addition to the investigation, action is taken now as well on the basis that these are serious charges,” he said.
“People should be treated fairly overall. And, of course, the investigation will look into these matters, but just as other members, when serious charges have been made against them, have been suspended, I think this should happen. And if the investigation finds that this report is accurate, these members should be expelled,” the former shadow chancellor said.
“We’ve lost members, we’re losing members. I was told yesterday, at the weekend, I don’t know whether this is accurate or not – 3,000 members have gone, have left us. So we’ve got to get the message out there. Keir’s doing the right thing.
“He has my 100% support [in terms of the] investigation. And he said as well yesterday that the investigation would be independent and it would be fast. He’s done the right thing. But members expect him to go a bit further,” he added.
Responding to the interview, Peter Mason from the Jewish Labour Movement urged Mr McDonnell to “take responsibility”.
He said: “Mr McDonnell has been asked by us on a number of occasions to disassociate himself with factions within the party that have denied, undermined and victimised those who have called out antisemitism, and he has failed to do so.
“He must take responsibility, as must others, for his own contribution to enabling and fostering a culture of harassment and racist bullying within the party.”
He added JLM has “mobilised” 70 whistleblower testimonies into the other EHRC accounts from former and existing staff and officers, as well as hundreds of accounts from victims.
“Ever since we called in the EHRC to launch an independent investigation in the autumn of 2018, we have consistently maintained that the leadership and governance of the Labour Party is fundamentally broken,” he said.
“For that, each and every person involved must take their responsibility. There can be no excuses for deeply offensive, racist language and behaviour, whether expressed by senior staff in private messages to each other, or by Labour Party members directed toward Jewish members in meetings and online.
“The report, authored by the current legal and governance unit, is but one account that seeks to explain how such an a culture of anti-Jewish racism has gripped the party.”
Earlier this week, Sir Keir Starmer and his deputy Angela Rayner announced an independent investigation was to be launched which would focus on the commissioning and contents of the report, as well as how it was put into the public domain.