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Jeremy Corbyn denies Labour crisis after Ken Livingstone suspended

Published 28/04/2016

Labour MP Naz Shah in the House of Commons
Labour MP Naz Shah in the House of Commons

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has denied his party is in crisis, after Ken Livingstone was suspended by Labour for "bringing the party into disrepute" over comments about Hitler.

The party is launching an investigation into the former London mayor's conduct after outraged senior Labour figures lined up to call for him to be kicked out.

Backbencher John Mann was also hauled in for a dressing down by party chief whip Rosie Winterton after he launched a furious face-to-face attack on Mr Livingstone, accusing him of being a "Nazi apologist".

Mr Corbyn said that Mr Livingstone's remarks would be investigated and dealt with by Labour's General Secretary and National Executive Committee.

And the Labour leader told the BBC: "It's not a crisis. There's no crisis. Where there is any racism in the party it will be dealt with and rooted out. I have been an anti-racist campaigner all my life."

Asked, during an election visit to Hull, whether the party had a "problem with anti-Semitism", Mr Corbyn replied: "No, there is not a problem. We are totally opposed to anti-Semitism in any form within the party.

"The very small number of cases that have been brought to our attention have been dealt with swiftly and immediately, and they will be."

Mr Livingstone's suspension came after he took to the airwaves for a series of interviews in an attempt to defend Bradford West MP Naz Shah from allegations of anti-Semitism.

Ms Shah was suspended on Wednesday pending an investigation into controversial social media posts about Israel which she made before becoming an MP.

But Mr Livingstone insisted that while her remarks were "over the top", she was not anti-Semitic, and that he had never encountered anti-Semitism in 40 years in the Labour Party.

He sparked fury among colleagues by going on to claim that Hitler had supported Zionism "before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews".

Within minutes of his BBC London interview, Labour MPs - including several members of the shadow cabinet - were queuing up to demand his suspension or removal from the party.

Labour's London mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan described his comments as "appalling and inexcusable" and shadow cabinet member Chris Bryant told the House of Commons he was "sick and tired" of people trying to explain away anti-Semitism, adding: "Yes, I'm talking to you, Ken Livingstone."

Even the chairman of the left-wing Momentum group of Corbyn supporters, Jon Lansman, said it was time Mr Livingstone "left politics altogether", adding: "All political lives end in failure and he should now depart voluntarily."

Mr Livingstone was harangued by Mr Mann as the pair arrived for separate interviews at broadcast studios in Westminster's Millbank.

As the former London mayor, phone clamped to his ear, attempted to conduct a radio interview, the Bassetlaw MP jabbed his finger at him, accusing him of being a "Nazi apologist" and attempting to "rewrite history".

The party later said in a statement that Ms Winterton had "made it absolutely clear to John Mann that it is completely inappropriate for Labour Members of Parliament to be involved in very public rows on the television".

The statement added: "She was very clear about how seriously this was viewed. John Mann fully accepted and understands this."

Labour MP Louise Ellmann, who was chairwoman of the Jewish Labour Movement until earlier this year, welcomed Mr Livingstone's suspension, but said it was "difficult to understand" why Mr Mann should face disciplinary action for confronting him.

Ms Ellmann told the Press Association: " Jeremy Corbyn, as leader of the Labour Party, should recognise the seriousness of the incidents of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party and be seen to take more decisive action more quickly."

But Mr Corbyn told Sky News: "Anybody who thinks this party is not cracking down on anti-Semitism is simply wrong. We have suspended where appropriate, we have investigated all cases. We will not tolerate anti-Semitism in any form whatsoever in the party."

A number of Jewish groups called for Mr Livingstone's immediate expulsion from Labour.

Gideon Falter, chairman of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, said: "He is a hardened politician who has spent his political career accommodating anti-Semitic extremists and making anti-Semitic gaffes.

"Jeremy Corbyn should understand that zero tolerance for racism is all or nothing, and it is time for Ken Livingstone to be banished or for Corbyn to stop pretending to oppose racism."

Jonathan Arkush, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: "Ken Livingstone's comments were abhorrent and beyond disgraceful.

"He denies anti-Semitism in Labour when the evidence is there for all to see. He lacks any sense of reality and decency. He must now be expelled from the Labour Party."

London mayor Boris Johnson told LBC radio: "There is plainly some sort of virus of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party that needs to be addressed."

Mr Corbyn told the BBC: "My job is to lead the party, my job is to ensure all members of the party behave in an appropriate way. There were concerns about the language used by Ken Livingstone, as there were one or two other people.

"A number of people, a very small number of people I have to say, in the entire party membership, have been suspended pending investigation.

"We are not tolerating anti-Semitism in any way or indeed any other kind of racism."

Asked how he felt to suspend a close friend, Mr Corbyn said: "Obviously very sad, but there is a responsibility to lead the party."

He suggested that some of the attacks on Labour were motivated by the party's "strength" under his leadership.

"The party membership is the biggest it has been in my lifetime. There are 400,000 individual members, there's 100,000 affiliated supporters, there are three million affiliated trade union members," he said.

"It's a very big organisation and I suspect that much of this criticism that you are saying about a crisis in the party actually comes from those who are nervous of the strength of the Labour Party at local level."

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