Jeremy Corbyn plays down Labour anti-Semitism row ahead of elections


Jeremy Corbyn has insisted there is not a "huge problem" with anti-Semitism in Labour and vowed to stay on as leader even if the party received a mauling at the ballot box on Thursday.

He acknowledged he could face a challenge but said he was "not having sleepless nights" about it and told critics they should "respect the mandate" he has after his landslide win in the leadership contest.

Mr Corbyn declared he would be "carrying on" no matter what the result of the election results in England, Scotland and Wales. 

The contests will provide the first national test of Mr Corbyn's leadership as Labour critics insist the party must make gains, with former shadow cabinet minister Michael Dugher suggesting a benchmark of another 400 seats.

But with experts forecasting though the party could lose hundreds of seats in England - and apparently on course for another difficult night in Scotland and a tough fight in Wales where devolved governments are up for election - Mr Corbyn insisted in a Daily Mirror interview: "There are no goals, no targets - the best result we can get."

His strongest hope of a headline-grabbing victory lies with Sadiq Khan wresting back the London mayoralty after eight years of Tory Boris Johnson at City Hall.

But while the Labour candidate remains the bookies' favourite, the Tooting MP is engaged in a concerted effort to prevent his campaign being derailed by the anti-Semitism row and to distance himself from both Mr Corbyn and ex-mayor Ken Livingstone.

Mr Corbyn played down the impact of the controversy on Mr Khan, saying he did not think the row over allegations of anti-Semitism had "damaged his chances at all".

Three Labour councillors were suspended on Monday over comments about Israel, repeating the action taken against MP Naz Shah and Mr Livingstone, but Mr Corbyn said: "No, there is not a huge problem.

"What there is is a very small number of people that have said things that they should not have done.

"We have therefore said they will be suspended and investigated."

Despite Mr Corbyn's claim that only a "small number" of people were involved in alleged anti-Semitism, the Daily Telegraph suggested that as many as 50 people had been suspended by Labour's compliance unit in the past two month.

A Labour Party source said: "This is a wild overestimate. The Labour Party takes anti-Semitism very seriously and that's why Jeremy has set out a robust plan to tackle the issue."

The source indicated that the "majority" of suspensions for anti-Semitism were already in the public domain. 

Mr Corbyn has set up an independent investigation into anti-Semitism and other forms of racism within Labour led by former Liberty chief Shami Chakrabarti.

The row has deepened splits between Mr Corbyn and many of his MPs, but the leader vowed to face down any challenge to his position.

"If there is one, there is one - but I'm not having sleepless nights about this," Mr Corbyn said.

"I was elected with a very big mandate to do the job, and I am doing the job.

"I was elected on a mandate from a very large majority of members and supporters of the party. I intend to carry out that mandate."

In a message aimed at his critics in the Commons he said: "The Parliamentary Labour Party are a very important part of the Labour movement - but it's not the only part."

Mr Corbyn's denial that there is a "huge problem" came after shadow cabinet minister Lucy Powell said: "There clearly is an issue with anti-Semitism in the Labour Party otherwise we wouldn't have spent the best part of the last six or seven days talking about it.

"I think it is a very small element within the Labour Party and probably a small element in wider society as well. And that's why we are taking swift action to root it out."

Asked about Mr Livingstone's future within the party, she told Channel 4 News: "That will be a matter for the National Executive Committee who will look at that and they will come to their own view."

But she added: "I think it's very, very difficult to see a circumstance where his suspension would be lifted and he would be readmitted."