Anti-Semitism row being used to attack Corbyn, says Labour frontbencher

Accusations of anti-Semitism are being used by some people as a means to attack Jeremy Corbyn, a veteran Labour frontbencher has said.

Shadow Northern Ireland minister Stephen Pound insisted that Labour is not an anti-Semitic party, but acknowledged that it "without doubt" has a problem which will cost it votes in some areas in May's council elections.

Mr Pound told BBC Radio 4's Westminster Hour that the party should deal with any allegations in its own way, rather than complying instantly with demands for members to be expelled.

MP portraits
MP portraits

His comments came as frontbench colleague Liam Byrne warned there was "real alarm" at the scale of the problem within the party, while comedian and National Executive Committee member Eddie Izzard said Labour needed to "make amends" to the Jewish community.

The party has moved to distance itself from a series of pro-Corbyn social media groups after an investigation by The Sunday Times found they contained hundreds of violent and abusive messages.

Mr Pound said: "My point is the Labour Party is not the enemy of Judaism.

"I think the Labour Party without a doubt has a problem, but on the other hand there are some people who are riding that horse to attack Jeremy Corbyn anyway."

Asked whether Mr Corbyn's opponents were using anti-Semitism as a stick to beat the Labour leader, the Ealing North MP said: "A small number of them are, and unfortunately in the world of social media nowadays a small number of people can get a huge amount of attention."

Mr Pound said Labour had to "make it absolutely clear that our proud record on being an inclusive party does extend to every single person in this country".

But he added: "The minute somebody outside the party says, 'You the leader need to expel that person', then ... hang on a second, we will deal with this our way and if we have a problem with dealing with the Jewish community then that is our problem.

"We will not have people screaming from the outside saying, 'Sling this person out, chuck that person out'.

"We will take care of this. We will clean up this mess because we are the Labour Party, we are not an anti-Semitic party, we're not a racist party. We're a party for everyone."

Mr Pound added: "I think it's my duty as a Labour member of Parliament to actually reach out to these people who are hurting. I'm not going to rest until the Labour Party has rebuilt those bridges because we are not anti-Semitic."

He said the row would "inevitably" cost Labour votes in areas such as the north London borough of Barnet, where there is a large Jewish population.

"Yes of course it can, but Barnet is one borough," he said. "Inevitably, of course it will, but the real story behind these local government elections is (Conservative-led) Northampton County Council, which has gone bankrupt."