Top ex-Labour figure warns anti-Semitism could cost party next UK election

Former House of Commons Speaker Michael Martin calls for special party conference on anti-Jewish attitudes, a ‘genuine problem’ in the party

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Lord Martin of Springburn, formerly Michael Martin, seen while he was Speaker of the House of Commons in the UK Parliament in 2009 (YouTube screenshot)
Lord Martin of Springburn, formerly Michael Martin, seen while he was Speaker of the House of Commons in the UK Parliament in 2009 (YouTube screenshot)

As the issue of anti-Semitism within the UK Labour Party returns to the headlines, a former Speaker of the House of Commons has called for a special party conference to discuss the issue, warning that it could cost the party the next election.

Michael Martin told The Guardian newspaper that he was “appalled” by the state of affairs, that he believed the party had a genuine problem with anti-Semitism and that he disagreed with those who said it was only being used as a tool to dislodge the party’s leader Jeremy Corbyn.

“If you ran a restaurant, and it was dirty and there were cockroaches, you wouldn’t get away with saying ‘The restaurant down the road is dirty and has cockroaches too.’ You would be expected to sort out the problem,” he said.

His decision to speak out publicly stemmed from his inability to attend last Monday’s 1,500-strong Jewish community protest outside Parliament because of health issues, he said.

Members of the Jewish community hold a protest against Britain’s opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn and anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, outside the British Houses of Parliament in central London, on March 26, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Tolga AKMEN)

“You recall the saying, ‘Evil happens when good men do nothing.’ I have not been attending parliament because I’m on sick leave, but if I had been there on Monday last week, I would have joined the protest,” he said.

“I don’t want anyone ever coming back to me and saying, ‘Michael, you said nothing about anti-Semitism.’”

He went on: “I think the time has come when we’ve got to get a one-day conference – that conference can be done in a regional basis, or in a national basis – but we need the membership to come together and say, ‘In no circumstances are we anti-Semitic. We are a democratic party and we thrive on decency.'”

He added, “The only way that the Labour Party can improve the quality of life for men and women, and children, is if they are elected to public office and they have a parliamentary majority,” he said. “And if Labour is seen as anti-Semitic, then that is going to be at risk.”

Britain’s opposition Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves a Commonwealth Day Service at Westminster Abbey in central London, on March 12, 2018. (AFP/Daniel Leal-Olivas)

Martin, a Catholic who now sits in the House of Lords as Lord Martin of Springburn, said it was a Jewish politician — Myer Galpern, the first Jewish Lord Provost of Glasgow, Scotland — who inspired him to enter politics.

Having lost his uncle and almost losing his father during World War II, he also wanted to ensure that people remembered the sacrifices that generation had made against anti-Semitism and fascism, he added.

Martin is the latest in a string of senior current and former Labour Party members to speak out against what they see as the failure to act against anti-Semitism within the party’s ranks.

Over the weekend, Sir David Garrard, a prominent Jewish donor to Labour, announced he would no longer have anything to do with the party because of the anti-Semitism scandals. The political party he once supported “no longer exists,” said Garrard, according to The Guardian. Garrard, a retired property developer, had given Labour around £1.5m ($2.1 million) under three different leaders since 2003.

Garrard said “As one of the former leading political and financial supporters of the Labour party, of which I was a member for so many decades, I no longer feel any affinity with, or connection to, what it seems to have become. I have watched with dismay and foreboding the manner in which the leadership has, in my view, over the last two years, conducted itself. I consider that it has supported and endorsed the most blatant acts of anti-Semitism. And yet it has failed to expel many of those who have engaged in the grossest derogatory fantasies about Jewish/Zionist conspiracies — and Jewish characterizations and accusations which conjure up the very kind of anti-Semitic attacks that led to such unbearable consequences for innocent millions in the past.”

Sir Alan Sugar at the Arqiva British Academy Television Awards BAFTA in London, May 12, 2013. (Jon Furniss/Invision/AP)

Sir Alan Sugar, who left the party in 2015 over its business policy, on Sunday responded to a request from Labour shadow chancellor John MacDonnell by deleting a tweet he had shared that he said had been “doing the rounds” showing Corbyn seated next to Adolf Hitler.

The Observer newspaper, meanwhile, said Sunday that the Labour Party had a backlog of more than 70 cases of alleged anti-Semitism to deal with and that new allegations were still surfacing.

The Sunday Times reported Sunday that 12 senior staff members working for UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and shadow chancellor John Mcdonnell are members of Facebook groups containing anti-Semitic comments.

A statement from the Labour Party said no one in Corbyn’s or McDonnell’s office had seen, posted or endorsed anti-Semitic or abusive messages and stressed that the Facebook groups were not officially connected to the party in any way.

Hours later, Corbyn deleted his personal Facebook account.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed