Gordon Brown pleaded with Jewish voters “not to give up” on Labour as the party was mired in another round of infighting over its response to anti-Semitism claims.
The former prime minister said there had to be a cultural shift in the party and Jeremy Corbyn had to show he could enforce the necessary changes.
His comments came as:
– The party was hit by claims of a “civil war” over the future of Jeremy Mr Corbyn’s closest aides.
– Labour is braced for further revelations over anti-Semitism in a major TV documentary.
– Mr Corbyn faces crunch decisions over the direction of Brexit policy.
Addressing the problems of anti-Semitism among some parts of the party, Mr Brown said: “This is not just a problem of policy, it is a problem of culture and the culture has got to change.”
During an event in Hampstead Synagogue in north London, Mr Brown called for the automatic expulsion of people against whom there is “irrefutable evidence” of anti-Semitism, adding “these cases clearly exist”.
Asked by an audience member whether he would advise the Jewish community to vote Labour, he said: “I would urge you, tempting as it may be, not to give up on the party who in its origins was a party that fought racism in this country.”
Another audience member suggested Mr Corbyn may need to stand down for everyone to be able to move forward on the issue.
Mr Brown said he would not be drawn on Mr Corbyn’s future but added: “I am going to say, there has to be change of policy.
“Can the present leader conduct and enforce that change of policy? That is for him to answer.”
Mr Brown’s intervention came after Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson hit out at a clampdown on former staff blowing the whistle on the party’s handling of anti-Semitism allegations ahead of a BBC Panorama documentary due to be aired on Wednesday.
The Sunday Times reported up to half a dozen ex-employees have torn up non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to speak to the programme.
According to the newspaper, Carter Ruck – acting on behalf of Labour – has written to Sam Matthews, the party’s former head of disputes, warning he could face legal action for breaking his NDA.
Another former aide also received warnings last year from a different law firm representing Labour, the paper said.
Mr Watson said: “Using expensive media lawyers in attempt to silence staff members is as futile as it is stupid. It’s not the Labour way and I deplore it.”
Meanwhile, shadow chancellor John McDonnell dismissed claims he had called for Mr Corbyn to fire two of his closest aides, Karie Murphy and Seumas Milne.
Mr McDonnell rejected the claims, telling the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “I have confidence in them, of course I do. I have not told anyone to be sacked or anything like that.”
Shadow Cabinet minister Barry Gardiner also sought to play down the row, telling Sky News: “The idea that they put forward that there’s a civil war in the Labour Party – let’s look at the real divide in this country.
“The real divide in this country is not within the Labour Party, the real divide in this country is between what the Conservatives are trying to do with our country and the rest.”
He also defended the party’s use of gagging clauses, insisting they were not being used to cover up wrongdoing.
Mr Gardiner said he would welcome an objective investigation of anti-Semitism in Labour but “my understanding of this programme is that has not been balanced and impartial in that way”.
It involved talking to former party staff members who had a “political axe to grind”, he claimed.
A spokesman for Panorama said: “The Labour Party is criticising a programme they have not seen.
“We are confident the programme will adhere to the BBC’s editorial guidelines.
“In line with those, the Labour Party has been given the opportunity to respond to the allegations.”
The party is also struggling to reach a united policy on Brexit, with Mr Corbyn expected to have further consultations with trade union bosses about Labour’s stance on supporting another referendum.
Mr Gardiner, who has previously insisted Labour is “not a remain party now”, said: “We have always been a remain and reform party.
“We tried to reconcile ourselves with what the democratic will of the people was at that referendum and we tried to do that sincerely.
“But we have always said we would not accept a no-deal.”
Mr McDonnell said Labour had to decide on its Brexit policy “sooner rather than later” because the new prime minister could call a snap election and his party’s attempt to bridge the gap between Leave and Remain voters had failed.
He said he would vote to stay in the EU in another referendum and “would want to campaign for Remain”.
Mr McDonnell told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that Mr Corbyn was consulting trade unions and there would be further shadow Cabinet discussions to decide the party’s stance.
“I actually think he is doing the right thing,” he said.
“Everything about Jeremy is about building consensus and I think on this issue you need to bring people with you.”