The three Labour leadership hopefuls have clashed over the party’s response to antisemitism allegations in a Sky News debate.
Each of Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy and Sir Keir Starmer – who are hoping to replace Jeremy Corbyn – asserted their own efforts in tackling the issue of Jewish hate.
In sometimes heated exchanges, the contenders also questioned whether their rivals had been as outspoken as they should have been in past years.
The issue was raised by a member of the audience at Dewsbury Town Hall, in West Yorkshire, who asked how shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir and shadow business secretary Ms Long-Bailey could “stand by” the party’s leadership in the middle of Labour’s antisemitism crisis.
“How on Earth did you stand by the leadership when you know so many Jewish people were made to feel they couldn’t vote for the Labour Party?,” they asked.
Labour is still under inquiry by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission over its handling of antisemitism allegations, with the independent body expected to publish its findings later this year.
Sir Keir stressed there had been “robust discussion” and “massive rows” over antisemitism within the shadow cabinet and he was “pushing time and again” for greater action.
“I said we need the international definition of antisemitism, we need to change our rules so we can throw people out if they are clearly antisemitic, and we need to open the books to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission,” he said.
“I didn’t just do it in the shadow cabinet, I did it in the public and on the media as well.”
Ms Nandy, who was briefly in the shadow cabinet before resigning in June 2016, challenged Sir Keir directly over the shadow cabinet’s role.
She said: “If we do not acknowledge how badly the shadow cabinet as a whole got this wrong, we will not earn the trust of the Jewish community.”
The Wigan MP claimed “a collective failure of leadership at the top of the party for years” had “given a green-light to antisemites everywhere that they had a home in Labour.”
She added: “I spoke up about this when I was in the shadow cabinet, it’s the only time when I broke collective responsibility.
“I am half-Indian and I know what racism feels like, and I know it cannot be your battle alone to fight it.”
But Sir Keir branded Ms Nandy’s suggestion that the shadow cabinet snubbed the chance to view the party’s submission to the EHRC as “nonsense”.
He said: “Shadow cabinet should be confidential and I don’t break the confidences.
“It was [ex-Labour deputy leader] Tom Watson and I that were asking for that submission and we were offered it.”
He also claimed fellow current shadow minister Ms Long-Bailey “didn’t speak out in the same way as I did”.
But Ms Long-Bailey said she “expressed my concern many, many times” and countered: “Keir knows that I spoke at shadow cabinet a number of times about this.”
With Labour having recently suffered its fourth general election defeat in a row – its worst defeat since 1935 – she added: “The time for retrospective criticism of each other has gone – we are in a crisis.”
But another audience member challenged the candidates’ assertion of the need for action.
He said he had “never once” heard an antisemitic comment in his more than 40 years’ membership of Labour.
“This is about propaganda against a leader [Mr Corbyn] who’s fought antisemitism in his constituency, he’s fought racism, he’s driven out right-wing people,” he added.
“It’s propaganda… and the Tories benefit.”